Cockney Characters

Introduction to Character Type | List of Plays | Up One Level

Introduction to Character Type

The "Cockney" character group includes individuals who speak with a characteristic dialect: they replace "v" with "w" and vice versa. This is a rather infrequent but very noticeable speech pattern common to lower-class city-dwelling characters. The most marked example is in Sneak's speech in Foote's The Mayor of Garratt (1763; published 1769?) (21):

Major. A Venus!
Sneak. Yes, werry like Wenus – Mayhap you have known her for some time?
Major. Long.
Sneak. Belike, before she was married?
Major. I did, Master Sneak.
Sneak. Ay, when she was a wirgin. I thought you was an old acquaintance, by your kissing her hand; fo’ we ben’t quite so familiar as that – But then, indeed, we han’t been married a year.

In this play, Sneak's wife's dissatisfaction with the marriage and her flirtation with the Major is underscored by the class status suggested by Sneak's language. Mrs. Sneak is the daughter of a nobleman, and is humiliated by her drop in social rank as a result of marriage to Sneak. Other characters demonstrating this speech pattern include the pin-making Minnikins and their anticipated son-in-law Codling (A Trip to Calais (1776; published 1778), by Samuel Foote), who use the expression "vind weer" (Foote 18) for "wind veer", and a Cockney flower-seller in Cowley's Who's the Dupe? (1779), who says "wery" (Cowley 1). Old Cockney, in Bickerstaff's Love in the City (1767), does not have a marked dialect, but has been included because of his name and his relatively low social rank.

Works Cited:

Cowley, Hannah. Who's the Dupe? London: J. Dodsley, L. Davis, W. Owen, 1779. Literature Online. 8 August 2008.

Foote, Samuel. The Mayor of Garratt. London: Paul Vaillant, 1769. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. 8 August 2008.

Foote, Samuel. A Trip to Calais. London: T. Sherlock and T. Cadell, 1778. Literature Online. 8 August 2008.

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List of Plays

Love in the City (Bickerstaff)

Who's the Dupe? (Cowley)

The Mayor of Garratt (Foote)

A Trip to Calais (Foote)

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©2008 Arden Hegele