Collection No. 79: News from Parnassus, by Arthur Murphy

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

Publication details

Author: Murphy, Arthur
Author dates: 1727-1805
Title: News from Parnassus

First played: 1776
First published: 1786
C18th availability: Available from ECCO (in The Works, 1786)

Modern availability: Available from LION (1996)

Genre: Comedy / Farce

Character types: French; Italian

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Signor Boccalini arrives from Italy and advises the English artistic community.

La Fleur, Signor Boccalini’s French servant, anxiously tries to prevent a mob from seeing his master. However, some visitors manage to get inside to ask Boccalini for ‘news from Parnassus.’ Rantwell, an actor, and Vellum, a newspaper editor, ask Boccalini, a satirist, to contribute material to the stage and to current literature. Vellum admits that all the information in a newspaper is made up by the authors. He describes the times he has been put on trial for his slander; somehow, he always manages to be acquitted. Rantwell and Vellum quarrel about which profession better pleases the public. They ask Boccalini whether Shakespeare disapproves of Roscius’s (Colman’s) retirement. Rebus, a poet, arrives, and Boccalini sees Vellum and Rantwell out. Rebus describes the “pathetic comedy” he is writing. Boccalini encourages him to turn it into a tragedy. Catcall, a critic, arrives. He condemns the playhouses for abandoning the practice of asking for admission after the first act of the play (allowing him to see one act for free) and for prohibiting members of the audience backstage. Boccalini dismisses him when La Fleur enters with news that a sick man in a chair would like to come in. Fitzfrolick, a “pantomime poet”, emerges from the chair and demonstrates his skill as a mime. All the other characters enter and criticize Fitzfrolick for never giving his actors any lines and not publishing his works; he jumps out a window. Boccalini tells Vellum that newspapers are “the poison for the soul”, suggests that Rantwell refrain from disputing with other actors if he wishes to keep his name out of the papers, and encourages Rebus to write naturally and without ostentation. Fitzfrolick returns, dressed as an alligator; Boccalini urges him to have a little more common sense. Finally, Boccalini tells Catcall to have “knowledge and candour” instead of “noise and riot” in his criticism: “Apollo foretells that the generosity of the public will reward [his] endeavours”.

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Secondary commentary

A) Bode, Robert F. ‘Arthur Murphy: December 27, 1727-June 18, 1805.’ 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. 29 May 2008.

"In the same year he wrote New From Parnassus, a one-act farce, which was produced at the opening of the modified Covent Garden on 23 September 1776. The play relies for its effect primarily on a number of satiric pieces. The plot involves the arrival in London of Boccalini, a noted satirist, who has brought the news from Parnassus which at first he refuses to divulge. In spite of the protective efforts of his servant La Fleur, several people of different literary professions gain access to the satirist, who then proceeds to dispense his news, thereby satirizing various literary and literary-related professions. Because of the purpose of the play's production, it had a limited run, although contemporary and modern critics agree in praising it."

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Varieties & Dialects

Overview of varieties / dialects

La Fleur, a French servant, speaks with a strong accent and uses French expressions. All other characters speak in StE (even the Italian Boccalini!).

Varieties / dialects

Variety: La Fleur (French)
a. Sample of dialect
[page 391]

La Fleur.
De people in dis country it is all mad---rap, rap, rap---knock a de house down! I wish I was again en Provence;
(more knocking at the door)
vat is you would have?---De law in dis country it give liberty; de liberty it is break a de head, break a de house, put Frenchman in de horsepond, vat you will. It is all mad for de news;
(more knocking)
and it will not wait till de news come. Ah ça, I must open door.
(opens the door, and peeps out)
Vat is you want?

b.1 Orthography: “de”, “dis”
b.2 Grammar: “de people…it is”; “knock a de house”; “vat is you would have”; “de news come”; “Vat is you want?”
b.3 Vocabulary: French: “en Provence”; “Ah ca”
c. Nationality: French
d. Character profile: French servant
e. Consistency of representation: consistent

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Narrative comments on varieties and dialects

You may well ask. the ancients had but an imperfect notion of it: I can tell the whole story of Ovid's Metamorphosis better than Ovid himself.

Better than Ovid! is the English a better language than the Latin?

We never use any language. Significant dumb shew is our method. How would you tell a man, without speaking, to bring you some cherries?
Does any language come up to that?

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Other points of interest

The C18th newspaper:
After some noise; our end is answered first.---A newspaper, Sir, is a great school of science: most of the modern authors have never been at any other. With a good genius for lying, a tolerable stock of malice, a store of envy, and not a grain of literature, they write in the Journals for three or four years; then set up for men of great talents, and from their garrets, or the Fleet, come forth novels, histories, plays, essays upon spirit and matter, whole reams  in praise of themselves, and a torrent of abuse against every species of merit.

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©2008 Arden Hegele