Medical Characters

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Introduction to Character Type

The designation "Medical characters" within this collection represents characters who act as members of the medical profession; however, this designation is not limited to physicians, but includes a few apothecaries, a veterinarian, and a disguised character who pretends to be a physician. The only real physicians in the collection occur in Bickerstaff's Dr. Last in His Chariot (1769), although the eponymous Dr. Last is a quack. Dr. Last's poor grammar and pronunciation ("janders" for "jaundice", for example) reinforce the inferior quality of his diagnoses and his recommended treatments. However, the other doctors in Dr. Last do not inspire much more confidence, as they delay making a diagnosis at all. Another unreliable portrayal of a physician occurs in Richard Brinsley Sheridan's St. Patrick's Day (1775; published 1788); the German doctor claiming that the Justice has only six months to live is not really a medical practitioner at all, but a military man (the Irish Lieutenant) in disguise.

Apothecaries occur more frequently than do physicians in this collection of plays, appearing in The Spleen (1776), False Impressions (1797), and The Sailor's Daughter (1804). However, Machoof, the apothecary in The Spleen, is really a horse-doctor who is attempting to break into a higher level of the medical profession by marketing a new cure-all drug. Rubrick's willingness to do business with this obvious quack is a sign of corruption within the medical community. Another false apothecary, "Lindsay" (really Sentamour), appears in The Sailor's Daughter; however, this character is forgiven by the audience as he is only using the guise to get to know Julia, and he does not treat any patients. Real apothecaries occur in Cumberland's False Impressions (Scud) and The Sailor's Daughter (Hartshorn). These characters are linked by an unusual speech trait: unlike the plays' other characters, they speak exclusively in sentence fragments, as this example from False Impressions demonstrates:

Scud. Miserable man that I am; my Jenny tête-a-tête with Harry Algernon!---a rake, a rogue, a rantipole. Hah! here she comes---
(Enter Mrs. Scud.) Light of my eyes, joy of my heart, fair as a lily, come to my arms! Out all night---sigh'd for my darling---counted the minutes---terrible long absence ---how did you bear it?---Doubt you've been lonesome--- (Cumberland 3).

As Mrs. Hartshorn comments in The Sailor's Daughter, "He gabbles without thought. There is no continuity, as my first husband us'd to say, in his discourse" (34). It is unclear why Cumberland assigned this speech trend to his apothecary characters. It is possible that the flustered apothecary is a stock character type, but as it does not appear in any other dramatist's works, there is not enough evidence to support the assumption.

The plays containing "Medical" characters also include their petulent patients, particularly D'Oyley and Ailwou'd in The Spleen and Dr. Last in His Chariot respectively. These characters are hypochondriacs, diagnosing themselves with every possible ailment and looking to their (false) doctors for confirmation of their findings. The medical characters in Dr. Last take financial advantage of this particular trait of their ailing patient, another comment on medical practices of the time. The physicians, apothecaries and patients in the collection satirize the foibles of the eighteenth-century medical profession, particularly the abundance of quack remedies and false doctors.

Works Cited:

Cumberland, Richard. False Impressions. London: C. Dilly, 1797. Literature Online. 13 August 2008.

Cumberland, Richard. The Sailor's Daughter. London: Luke Hansard for Lackington, Allen & Co, 1804. Literature Online. 13 August 2008.

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List of Plays

Dr. Last in His Chariot (Bickerstaff)

The Spleen (Colman)

False Impressions (Cumberland)

The Sailor's Daughter (Cumberland)

St. Patrick's Day (R.B. Sheridan)

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©2008 Arden Hegele