Sophisticated Characters

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

Introduction to Character Type

Sophistication and affectation are frequently satirized in this collection of plays. The appellation "Sophisticated characters" designates those individuals who express an interest in fashion and who alter their behaviour accordingly. Both men and women are concerned with an appearance of sophistication; however, because an air of fashion and cosmopolitanism is not necessarily dependent on money, predominantly female characters employ this technique to rise socially.

Acting as a polar opposite to the "country" character type, this character type employs an elevated, artificial dialect to distinguish itself as sophisticated. Lady Bab, of Burgoyne's The Maid of the Oaks (1774) prides herself on her worldliness; however, to seduce the fashionable Dupeley, she pretends to be an uneducated shepherdess. Lady Bab's sophisticated dialect contains a great deal of French and occasionally instances of bad grammar, as in this example:

Lady BAB . Only fit for sheep-walks and Oakeries !---I beg your pardon, Mr. Oldworth---in town it wou'd just raise you to the whist-party of old lady Cypher, Mrs. Squabble and lord Flimzey; and at every public place, you wou'd stand among the footmen to call your own chair, while all the maccaronies passed by, whistling a song through their tooth-picks, and giving a shrug--- dem it, 'tis pity that so fine a woman shou'd be lost to all common decency.

MARIA, (smiling)I believe I had better stay in the Oakery, as you call it; for I am afraid I shall never procure any civility in town, upon the terms required.

Lady BAB . Oh, my dear, you have chose a horrid word to express the intercourse of the bon ton; civility may be very proper in a mercer, when one is chusing silk, but familiarity is the life of good company. I believe this is quite since your time Mr. Oldworth, but 'tis by far the greatest improvement the beau monde ever made. (Burgoyne 20-21).

Lady Bab's comments upon the civility and familiarity of the town jar with her poor grammar ("you have chose") and unconventional vocabulary ("dem it"); Maria's standard speech implies her greater degree of virtue. Lady Bab's French vocabulary ("bon ton", "beau monde") recalls the speech of two other "Sophisticated" characters: Lord Trinket, in Colman's The Jealous Wife (1761), and Mrs. Diggerty in Macklin's The True-Born Irishman (1762). The recurrent use of French idioms by sophisticated Londoners demonstrates an upper-class fixation with the fashions of France.

Mrs. Diggerty is an interesting case, as she is a middle-class Irishwoman attempting to transform herself into an English cosmopolitan. Her language reflects a dialectical change from her native speech (orthographically represented in Standard English) to the mincing tones of an Englishwoman, and contains fashionable French terms, such as "grand monde" and "bon ton" (which she prounounces "bun tun", losing the effect) (Macklin 21). To affect further sophistication, Mrs. Diggerty has changed her name from O'Dogherty and gives parties for such rakes as the notorious Count Mushroom. The play concludes with her atonement and reversion to her less sophisticated Irish identity.

The relationship of female sophistication to class is most closely examined in Burgoyne's The Heiress (1786). In this play, the rich, fashionable and low-born Miss Alscrip hires the disguised heiress Miss Alton to be her companion, and attempts to emulate Lady Emily's speech:

Lady Emily (affectedly) No, I went home directly from the Opera: projected the revival of a cap; read a page in the trials of Temper; went to bed and dream'd I was Belinda in the Rape of the Lock.
Mrs. Blandish. Elegant creature.
Miss Alscrip. (aside) I must have that air, if I die for it. (imitating) I too came home early; supped with my old gentleman; made him explain my marriage articles, dower, and heirs entail; read a page in a trial of Divorce, and dream'd of a rose colour equipage with emblems of Cupids issuing out of Coronets (Burgoyne 35)

Hypocritically, Miss Alscrip asserts that she cannot stand "vulgar imitation", but that she does not wish "to be without affectation" (36). The importance of artifice in cultivating a sophisticated persona is suggested here. However, Lady Emily, who represents real virtue, is relieved when their interview comes to an end, at which point she resumes her natural speech. Lady Emily's subtle but effective mockery of Miss Alscrip's sophistication satirizes the aspirations of lower-class women who, like Mrs. Diggerty, seek to elevate themselves to a higher social rank through an appearance of sophistication.

A final female character warranting analysis is Mrs. Heidelberg, who appears in Garrick and Colman's The Clandestine Marriage (1766). Mrs. Heidelberg is a middle-aged widow; as Mr. Sterling's sister and the possessor of a large fortune, she tries to cultivate an air of sophistication. However, her awful pronunciation (represented orthographically) betrays her:

Mrs. Heidel. Lord! d'ye think a man of fashion, as he is, can't distinguish between the genteel and the wulgar part of the famaly?---Between you and your sister, for instance---or me and my brother?---Be advised by me, child! It is all politeness and good-breeding. ---Nobody knows the qualaty better than I do (Garrick and Colman 15).

The mispronounced words recurrintg at many points in the play ("wulgar", "famaly" and "qualaty") are the things about which Mrs. Heidelberg is most deceived: her own "qualaty" and that of her "famaly" (save Fanny) are both disproven throughout the play, demonstrating their "wulgar[ity]".

Sophisticated men are not represented sympathetically by the playwrights of this collection. Daffodil, in Garrick's The Male Coquette (1757), Lord Trinket, in The Jealous Wife, Lord Foppington, in Richard Brinsley Sheridan's A Trip to Scarborough (1777; published 1781) and Count Mushroom in The True-Born Irishman are all represented foolishly or worse; the eponymous character in Cumberland's The Fashionable Lover (1772) is another case in point. These fashionable men are represented as effeminate and romantic; these traits mask their cruelty. The plays conclude with these characters' repentence for their folly.

A final example of sophistication occurs in Richard Brinsley Sheridan's The Critic (1779; published 1781), in which Mr. Puff expostulates on "the Art of Puffing". Claiming that the rhetorical technique is much valued in society, Puff has decided to employ himself as a "Professor", instructing students in speech-making and the use of a sophisticated, elevated tone. He describes the fashionable style of speech:

PUFF.Even the Auctioneers now,---the Auctioneers I say, tho' the rogues have lately got some credit for their language---not an article of the merit their's!---take them out of their Pulpits, and they are as dull as Catalogues.---No, Sir; ---'twas I first enrich'd their style---'twas I first taught them to crowd their advertisements with panegyrical superlatives, each epithet rising above the other---like the Bidders in their own Auction-rooms! From ME they learn'd to enlay their phraseology with variegated chips of exotic metaphor: by me too their inventive faculties were called forth.---Yes Sir, by ME they were instructed to clothe ideal walls with gratuitous fruits---to insinuate obsequious rivulets into visionary groves---to teach courteous shrubs to nod their approbation of the grateful soil! or on emergencies to raise upstart oaks, where there never had been an acorn; to create a delightful vicinage without the assistance of a neighbour; or fix the temple of Hygeia in the fens of Lincolnshire! (Sheridan 34-35).

Puff exemplifies the brilliant poetic diction and the use of rhetorical strategies (e.g. repetition, simile, metaphor) that are highly valued by upwardly-mobile and sophisticated characters in this collection. The cultivation of a sophisticated persona as a means of rising socially is demonstrated by Puff's students' willingness to pay for lessons in oratory. The many examples of sophisticated language and the affectation of artifice in this collection of plays suggest that sophistication was considered a vital part of the upper-class society in London. The middle-class characters' recurring efforts to adopt a sophisticated air depicts the upwardly-mobile trend examined elsewhere in these analyses.

Works Cited:

Burgoyne, John. The Maid of the Oaks. London: T. Becket, 1774. Literature Online. 15 August 2008.

---. The Heiress. London: John Exshaw, 1786. Literature Online. 15 August 2008.

Colman, George, and David Garrick. The Clandestine Marriage. London: T. Becket and P.A. DeHondt, 1766. Literature Online. 15 August 2008.

Macklin, Charles. The True-Born Irishman. London: the Booksellers, 1783. Literature Online. 15 August 2008.

Sheridan, Richard Brinsley. The Critic. London: T. Becket, 1781. Literature Online. 15 August 2008.

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List of Plays

The Maid of the Oaks (Burgoyne)

The Heiress (Burgoyne)

The Jealous Wife (Colman)

The Clandestine Marriage (Colman and Garrick)

The Male Coquette (Garrick)

The True-Born Irishman (Macklin)

The Rivals (R.B. Sheridan)

A Trip to Scarborough (R.B. Sheridan)

The Critic (R.B. Sheridan)

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©2008 Arden Hegele