Scottish Characters

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Introduction to Character Type

Scottish characters are easily identified by their distinctive accents, which are represented by non-standard  orthography, although some characters do not display immediate evidence of being Scottish. The presence of a Scottish accent is an important indicator as to the character's morality, with Standard English-speaking Scottish characters taking more positive roles in the plays' actions. Scottish characters are also concerned about others' perceptions of them, particularly about judgments of the quality of their education. Because of this insecurity, the Scottish characters frequently reinforce their strong educational background by alluding to classical or English literature, and by incorporating the vocabulary of other languages into their speech.

In this collection, a Scottish accent is often indicative of an amoral character. This group can be divided into upper- and lower-classes. A few lower-class, corrupted Scotsmen have brief, comedic roles. Machoof, a character appearing in Colman's The Spleen (1776), is a would-be apothecary (really a horse doctor) who mixes quack drugs to cure whatever ailment happens to be in fashion at the time. In Foote's The Englishman Return'd from Paris (1756), the servant Macruthen is accused of pimping for his master Buck in France. In both cases, the characters speak in strong Scottish dialect. In contrast to the amusing lower-class Scottish characters, the upper-class Scotsmen who speak with a strong accent are more menacing than comedic.  Represented by Sir Archy Macsarcasm in Macklin's Love A-La-Mode (1759; published 1779) and by Sir Pertinax Macsycophant in The True-Born Scotsman (1764; published 1786), by the same author, this character type presents the Scotsman as a cruel, villainous figure who is not checked by any moral scruples in his rise to the top. To reinforce the trend of evil dialect speakers, those Scottish characters who speak in Standard English, such as Sir William and Amelia in Colman's The English Merchant (1767), Lord Glenandry in Cumberland's The Passive Husband (1798; published 1813), and Charles Egerton in The True-Born Scotsman, are kindly, ethical characters. The consistency of the amoral, dialect-speaking Scotsman is a telling comment on the London audience's perceptions of Scottish people.

Those with Scottish accents are quickly goaded into irascibility (if they are not already there), often in defense of their nationality or of their education. This trend is seen in Foote's The Orators (1762), in which Donald, a Scotsman who has studied the art of oratory for six weeks, is mocked by the audience of his first oratorical presentation. Likewise, the Scotsman in Reed's The Register Office (1761) is annoyed that the quality of his Latin is questioned, and proceeds to provide more than sufficient evidence that he has been well educated by reciting Latin verse. More language-mixing takes place in Macklin's The True-Born Scotsman (1764; published 1786) as Lady Rodolpha incorporates French into her Scottish dialect, demonstrating her sophistication

L. Rodol. Traith is it my Lord; and upon honour, I am determined it never shall be changed by my consent,  ha! ha! ha!---weel, I vow, vive la bagatelle, would be a most brilliant motto for the chariot of a belle of fashion---what say you till my fancy, Lady Mac Sycophant?
L. Mac. It would have novelty at least to recommend it, Madam.
L. Rodol. Which of aw chairms is the most delightful that can accompany wit, taste, love, or friendship: for novelty I take to be the true je-ne scaisquoi of all worldly bliss.---Cousin Egerton, should not you wish to have a wife with vive la bagatelle, upon her chariot? (Macklin 27-8).

Lady Rodolpha's use of “je-ne-scaisquoi” (standard orthography of that time, as it appears elsewhere), “vive la bagatelle”, and “belle” contrast with her Scottish pronunciation (“Traith”, “weel”, “aw chairms”). The cosmopolitan flavour suggested by her French vocabulary and her superior  social status are indicative of a relatively good education in Scotland. Another jibe at Scottish education is seen in Murphy's The Apprentice (1756), in which a Scottish actor is mocked for his portrayal of Macbeth. Although Shakespeare's character is Scottish, the audience of would-be actors teases the Scot for his speech:

Scotchman. Come now I'll gee you a Touch of Macbeeth .---
1st. Memb. That will be rare, come let's have it.---
Scotchman. What do'st lier at Mon?---I have had muckle Applause at Edinburgh , when I enacted in the Reégiceede ,---and I now intend to do Macbeeth ---I seed the Degger Yesterneet, and I thought I should tha' killed every one that came in my way.---  (Murphy 22).

In this case, however, the Scotsman does not gain the upper hand by proving himself through the merits of his education; his vocabulary ( “muckle”, “Mon”,), orthography (“gee”, “Macbeeth”, “lier”, “Reegiceede”, “Degger”, “Yesterneet”) and grammar (“I seed”) mark him as a provincial, despite the alleged quality of his acting.

The recurring uncomplimentary portrayal of Scottish characters by English and Irish playwrights is likely indicative of a particular social climate, although it may simply be the result of a negative personal experience (cf. Macklin's education). The effort of the Scottish characters to defend their social statuses with education is similar to that of the class-crossing character group; a good education is thus seen by marginalized cultural groups in England as a means of obtaining respect and rank. The mockery of the Scottish characters' emphasis on education is an unfortunate undercutting of this upwardly-mobile aspiration.

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List of Plays

The English Merchant (Colman)

The Spleen (Colman)

The Passive Husband (Cumberland)

The Englishman Return'd from Paris (Foote)

The Orators (Foote)

The Maid of Bath (Foote)

The Female Officer (Kemble)

Love A-La-Mode (Macklin)

The True-Born Scotsman (Macklin)

The Apprentice (Murphy)

The Register Office (Reed)

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©2008 Arden Hegele