Collection No. 66: The Mogul Tale, by Elizabeth Inchbald

Publication Details | Synopsis | Secondary Commentary |Varieties & Dialects | Other

Publication details

Author: Inchbald, Elizabeth
Author dates: 1753-1821
Title: The Mogul Tale

First played: 1784
First published: 1788, for the booksellers. 20 p.
C18th availability: Available from ECCO (1788)

Modern availability: Available from LION (1997)

Genre: Comedy / Farce

Character types: Indian; Business / Trades

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A balloon with a working-class English couple and a doctor blows off course, arriving in India. The Mogul tries to make the wife his concubine, while her husband pretends to be the Pope. Despite threats of torture, the Mogul is generous and allows the travelers to return home safely.

Act I.
Two concubines speculate about the identity of the Mogul’s new paramour. Sophia, the paramour, enters; she is unhappy because her friends have rejected her. A balloon descends; the ladies are terrified. Johnny, his wife Fanny and the Doctor arrive in the balloon. They have blown a thousand miles off course and do not know where they are. The concubines arrive and tell them that they are in the Great Mogul’s territory, and that they must befriend the Mogul’s eunuch guards if they are to survive. Johnny and Fanny bicker about having decided to come on the trip. A eunuch enters to summon the guests to an audience with the Great Mogul. This gentleman tells the eunuchs that he wishes to terrify the Europeans, but that he does not want to kill them. Johnny and Fanny ask a eunuch how to survive the encounter; he recommends acting boldly and bravely, which will apparently confuse the Mogul. The eunuch introduces the Doctor as an ambassador of England and Johnny as the Pope of Rome (to Johnny’s disgust). The Mogul is attracted to Fanny; Johnny tries to dissuade him from her by saying that she is a fallen nun who is traveling with them, but the Mogul demands that they be separated.

Act II.
The eunuch intercepts a letter, allegedly from the Doctor, which he gives to the Mogul. According to this document, the foreign visitors evidently plan to see whether a European or Indian woman is most easily transported in the balloon. The drunken Johnny flirts with the concubines, to the eunuch’s horror, as Johnny is supposed to be the (chaste) Pope. Fanny is tormented by the concubines who think that she will become the Mogul's next favourite. The husband and wife are reconciled when Johnny chooses to court Fanny (whom he believes to be a concubine). The eunuchs announce that the visitors are to be tried for the Doctor’s plot to kidnap a concubine. At the tribunal, the Doctor denies any such plan and Johnny reveals that he is a cobbler. The Mogul hints that they will die, but pardons them at the last minute because they are destitute and have been blown off course by chance; despite his ‘savage’ nature, the Mogul has learned charity and treats these English people better than their countrymen have treated his. They prepare to depart: Fanny thanks the Mogul for not killing her husband, and Johnny thanks him for not ravishing his wife.

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Secondary commentary

A) Spencer, Jane. ‘Inchbald , Elizabeth (1753–1821)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 28 May 2008.

"Eventually her farce The Mogul Tale, submitted to Colman under an assumed name, was accepted. Three English characters fly to the Orient in a balloon; the topical interest of balloon ascents helped make the play popular, and it had a good run at the Little Theatre in the Haymarket in July and August 1784. Inchbald acted in it herself—stammering with nerves on the first night—and, once its success was assured, declared her authorship and took applause for it from the stage. Colman paid her 100 guineas for the farce."

B) Napier, Elizabeth R. ‘Elizabeth Inchbald: October 15, 1753-August 1, 1821’. Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 39: British Novelists, 1660-1800. Edited by Martin C. Battestin, University of Virginia. The Gale Group, 1985. LiteratureResourceCenter. 28 May 2008.
"[In] 1784 her first production, The Mogul Tale, a flimsy comedy inspired by the ballooning experiments of the Montgolfier brothers in France, was accepted by George Colman and acted to great applause at Covent Garden."

C) Patricia Sigl. ‘Elizabeth Inchbald: October 15, 1753-August 1, 1821.’ Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 89: Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Dramatists, Third Series. Edited by Paula R. Backscheider, University of Rochester. The Gale Group, 1989. LiteratureResourceCenter. 8 July 2008.
"Broad English farce--not genteel petite comédie--was Inchbald's point of departure as a dramatist, judging from her earliest known work, A Mogul Tale (1784). She seized upon the most vigorous form in vogue in the 1780s, the theater of equivoque and double entendre that John O'Keeffe had made overwhelmingly popular in The Son-in-Law (1779) and in The Agreeable Surprise (1781). The love of fun, which was as fundamental in Inchbald's work as was her grasp of the affecting and the pathetic, is abundantly evident in A Mogul Tale, which remained a stock piece in the summer Haymarket repertory long after the balloon rage was over. A Wapping cobbler and his wife, Fan, take off from Hyde Park Corner in a balloon with a quack balloon doctor and land in the garden of the Great Mogul, where their outrageous assumed identities lead to a hilarious trial scene. Written probably in early 1784, at a time when affairs in India were under discussion, the farce carries a slight philanthropic message in the Mogul's clemency, but it was for its rich, whimsical humor that it became a favorite of Haymarket audiences. George Colman the Elder, the Haymarket manager, added some touches and strokes that ensured bursts of applause. Still, the framework of comic equivoque and the wealth of comic detail are wholly characteristic of Inchbald in her first phase."

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Varieties & Dialects

Overview of varieties / dialects

All (including the Indian characters) speak Standard English. Johnny the cobbler swears. The ladies of the seraglio and the Mogul make a few grammar mistakes.

Varieties / dialects

Variety: Ladies of the Seraglio
a. Sample of dialect
[page 1]
3d La.
So, here you are musing and plotting mischief against me, because the Sultan loves me; well, the woman who possesses his heart, is sure to have every woman in the Seraglio against her: but there was a time when you was kind to me.
(to the 1st Lady .)

1st La.
Yes my dear Sophie, when you was in distress: and I assure you, that if ever that time should come again, we will be as kind again, and love you as well as ever.

b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar: “there was a time when you was kind to me”; “when you was in distress”
b.3 Vocabulary
c. Nationality: Indian
d. Character profiles: Indian concubines
e. Consistency of representation: consistent

Variety: Johnny (English cobbler)
a. Sample of dialect:
[page 5]
Doctor! why damme Doctor, what's the matter with you---you are ship'd Doctor, damme I say what's the matter with you---Contrive something to say to the Great Mogul.

[page 13]

John. (Drunk)
Lippery wine! Lippery wine! never will drink any thing but lippery wine.
They say they don't drink wine in this country---damme 'tis no such matter for brandy does all the same, though I don't think 'twas brandy neither---But it was devilish good, it has made me quite happy; I wish it does not make me fall in love presently, for I am devilish apt to fall in love when I am drunk---these seems to be a parcel of pretty girls, pretty tipperty winches
(several Ladies crosses)
there they go, so pretty, and so plenty, zounds master Mogul, you have a fine time of it here
( 3d Lady crosses)
Here, hark'e my dear.
( 3d Lady returns)

b.1 Orthography: “winches”
b.2 Grammar: “these seems”
b.3 Vocabulary: repeated swearing (“damme”)
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: English cobbler (lower-class)
e. Consistency of representation: consistent

Variety: The Mogul
a. Sample of dialect:
[page 18]
Will these impostors confess, who and what they are, if they hope any mitigation;---Who art thou, thou pretended ambassador, whose letter I intercepted, wherein you confess yourself an impostor, and wish to ravish from my arms one of my most beautiful females.

b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar: inconsistent “thou/you” use, but otherwise StE
b.3 Vocabulary
c. Nationality: Indian
d. Character profile: surprisingly humane owner of the seraglio
e. Consistency of representation: inconsistent

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Narrative comments on varieties and dialects


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Other points of interest


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©2008 Arden Hegele