George Colman the Younger:
Summaries of Selected Plays
The following list of plays is arranged alphabetically. The list includes an identification of each play's genre along with the date of its first theatrical performance and the number of nights it ran. Unless otherwise noted, these plays were performed in the Haymarket theater.
The main purpose of this list, however, is to provide summaries for as many of the plays as I can. To date the list includes completed summaries for all of the major plays and many of the minor pieces. I will add more as I finish them. In other words, this is a work in progress and remains subject to revision. If any visitor to this page finds inaccuracies or other errors, please notify me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Actor of All Work, or First and Second Floor
Debut: 13 August 1817.
The Afticans, or War, Love, and Duty
A three-act musical comedy. Based on Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian's Selico, Nouvelle Africaine.
Debut: 29 July 1808; 31 performances.
The Battle of Hexham, or Days of Old
A three-act musical historical drama. Adeline, disguised, searching for her fugitive husband, Gondibert, and arrives at Henry the Sixth's camp at Hexham just before Henry's doomed battle against Edward the Fourth. Gondibert had fled six months earlier because his support of Henry's cause had put his life in danger; he now lives in the forest as the captain of a band of robbers. The battle is a disaster, and the principal players escape to the forest separately. Gondibert captures a new victim, the defeated Queen Margaret, then learns her identity and offers his assistance; after all, they are on the same side. When his men bring him another captive, the disguised Adeline, she recognizes him and tests his faithfulness; when his answers suit her, she reveals her identity, and the emotional reunion scene plays out. The Queen and her child, the Prince of Wales, escape to France, and Gondibert enjoys an amnesty declared by the victorious Edward.
Debut: 11 August 1789; twenty performances, and many revivals in later years.
Blue-Beard, or Female Curiosity
A melodrama. Written for Drury Lane from Gretry's Barbe bleue. Its story is insignificant; sinking doors, sepulchers, skeletons, cracks in the earth, collapsing buildings, and constant musical numbers, all cater to the audience's hunger for spectacle.
Debut: 16 January 1798; 63 performances.
A farce. Loosely translated from LAnglais (1781), by the French playwright Joseph Patrat. A waiter with no money, James, has been fired for falling in love with Annette, his employer's daughter. James meets a suicidal but wealthy Englishman who thinks at first that James would like to join him in death. But when he learns that James is only broke, the Englishman, Megrim, gives him money. Megrim also misunderstands Annette, thinking she loves him, and her father mistakes Megrim's request for her hand as an offer to relieve him from bankruptcy. James then provides that relief with Megrim's gift. The lovers are happy, the father is out of debt, and Megrim has found, in acts of benevolence, the pleasure he has been seeking to make his life worthwhile.
Debut: 24 April 1798; two performances at Covent Garden, eight at the Haymarket.
The Family Party [authorship uncertain]
A farce. Unremarkable fluff about an old, dull tradesman who, though quite wealthy, is not particularly eager to become a gentleman, and his interactions with a ridiculous, recently knighted fop.
Debut: 11 July 1789; six performances.
Doctor Hocus Pocus, or Harlequin Washed White
Debut: 12 August 1814.
The Female Dramatist
A two-act farce. A hack writer hopes to trick Mrs. Metaphor, an admirer of the drama, into a marriage beneficial only to himself. Eventually Mrs. Metaphor (an adaptation of Mrs. Melpomene from Tobias Smollett's novel Roderick Random, 1748) learns the truth and the schemer's hopes are rightfully dashed.
Debut:16 August 1782; played only one night.
Feudal Times, or The Banquet Gallery.
A melodrama. Written for Drury Lane. A ruthless baron, his forbidding castle, a kidnapped and imprisoned lady, a siege, and a last- minute escape before the castle's tower explodes, are the spectacular elements in lieu of a plot.
Debut: 19 January 1799; 39 performances.
Gay Deceivers, or More Laugh than Love
Debut: 22 August 1804; fifteen performances.
The Gnome-King, or The Giant-Mountains,
A "Dramatick Legend" in two acts.
Debut: 6 October 1819
The Heir at Law.
A three-act comedy. When a wealthy but distant relation dies and his son is lost at sea, the inheritance and title fall to an unlikely husband and wife who suddenly become Lord and Lady Duberly though the Lord loses none of his malapropist charm. Their sudden elevation prompts them to hire the eccentric scholar Dr. Pangloss as tutor to their son Dick. Dr. Pangloss seems unable to speak without quoting and giving attribution; meanwhile, young Dick prefers yearning for his beloved Cicely, the country lass, to studying. He pays Pangloss a bonus salary not to bother him with studies. Soon, however, Dick convinces himself that to marry Cicely, common as she is, would demean him, and suggests that she become his mistress; naturally, their love is finished. But wait the true heir, Moreland, is not lost at all! He returns, unaware of his father's death, to locate his fiancee, who has fallen on hard times and moved to a new address, and who also happens to be Cicely's employer. When at last Moreland finds her, there also is Dick, repentant, betrothed to Cicely. Dick's parents, the temporary lord and lady, have come along, and now everyone finds out who is who (the upstart Lord Duberly exclaims, "Eh? what? Henry Moreland! Why zounds! the late Lord Duberly's lost heir!"). The reunited couples are happy, Cicely has won a lottery, and the former Lord and Lady feel relieved to be common again. Only Dr. Pangloss loses out; he realizes, quoting Otway, "That I'm not worth a ducat."
Debut: 15 July 1797; 27 performances, and many revivals for more than a century.
Inkle and Yarico
A musical comedy in three acts. Based loosely on Richard Steele's Spectator no. 11. Inkle, a young Englishman seeking his fortune in the West Indies, becomes lost in the forest, where he meets and falls in love with the Indian maiden Yarico. Together with Inkle's man and Yarico's handmaiden, the couple flees hostile natives and arrives in the Barbadoes. There Inkle decides to seek the wealthier hand of the English governor's daughter Narcissa and for this reason tries to sell Yarico as a slave, in spite of owing her his life (in Steele's version Inkle's treachery was motivated entirely by prospects of profit, not marriage). Unfortunately for Inkle, the would-be purchaser is the governor himself, who soon discovers the betrayal. In his indignant anger he condemns the slave trade in general and Inkle in particular. But all is well by the end, for Inkle repents and marries Yarico. For more detail and analysis, see Linda Troost's article, "Social Reform and Comic Opera: Inkle and Yarico."
Debut: 4 August 1787; twenty performances; revived again many times in succeeding years.
The Iron Chest
A five-act drama. Based on William Godwin's political novel, The Adventures of Caleb Willianis (1794). Sir Edward Mortimer (Falkland in the source) is a reclusive, moody squire whose steward Wilford (Caleb Williams) learns of the squire's past acquittal for the murder of a man who had persecuted and tormented a young woman. Later Wilford innocently provokes Sir Edward by a casual reference to murder and is so startled by the squire's violent departure that he tries to open the man's locked iron chest, only to be caught in the act when Sir Edward returns. Sir Edward confesses that the crime was indeed his and warns Wilford not to leave the house or reveal the secret. Wilford escapes anyway and becomes a prisoner to a band of robbers, with whom he remains until Sir Edward's men find him and bring him back to face false charges of thievery. The squire has planted jewels in Wilford's trunk, but a search reveals that he has also quite stupidly left the original murder weapon, a bloody knife. As if this were not enough, he somehow left a detailed narration of his guilt, which he intended to destroy before his death. Confronted by such irrefutable evidence, he confesses, looking toward the next world.
Debut: 12 March 1796; four performances at Drury Lane, thirteen at the Haymarket.
John Bull, or The Englishman's Fireside
A five-act comedy. Mary Thornberry, seduced and abandoned by Frank Rochdale, has fled home lest her father learn of her sin. Near a public house, she is saved from a ruffian by Peregrine, recently shipwrecked off the coast. Peregrine brings her into the pub, hears her story, and registers special interest when he learns that Frank had been ordered by his father to abandon her. The father, Sir Simon Rochdale, has already chosen a wealthy bride for Frank. Upon hearing Rochdale's name, Peregrine is determined to intervene. He leaves Mary with the landlord and sets off. While he is away, Tom Shuffleton arrives, sent by his friend Frank to help Mary if he can. Frank truly loves her but cannot disappoint Sir Simon. Far from aiding her, as soon as he sees her, Tom wants her for his own mistress and gives her the name of an old friend in London, who is of course a woman of no good repute. Just then Peregrine arrives and, after a brief dispute, Tom leaves. Behind Peregrine comes Mary's father, Job Thornberry, whom Peregrine has met in town and whom a trusted friend has just bankrupted; Peregrine then gives Job the money he needed, revealing that thirty years earlier Job had given Peregrine, then a boy, a gift of money himself. Now Job and his daughter are reunited, and Job goes to Sir Simon to insist upon justice for Mary. Sir Simon refuses, whereupon Peregrine reveals that Sir Simon is his younger brother. As a boy Peregrine had run away to sea; he has returned as the rightful Rochdale heir. Sir Simon gives his assent, which pleases Mary and Frank, and Peregrine's ship is suddenly discovered and his great wealth restored.
Debut: 5 March 1803; 48 performances.
The Law of Java
A three-act musical comedy.
Debut: 11 May 1822
Love Laughs at Locksmiths
Debut: 25 July 1803; 31 performances.
A three-act musical historical drama. Based loosely on a pair of stories in Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote (1605). Set during the fifteenth-century Spanish siege of Granada, the play features two sets of crossed lovers: the Spaniard Virolet and his Moorish beloved Zorayda, who wishes to convert; and Virolet's sister Floranthe and her beloved Octavian. Octavian haunts the mountains near Granada, out of his wits with melancholy for Floranthe, whose father had forbidden their marriage in favor of another suitor. Octavian thinks he has killed this suitor and thus must hide in the mountains; Floranthe searches for him with the news that the rival recovered and married another. During the siege, meanwhile, Virolet has escaped, with Zorayda's help, from his imprisonment by her father, Bulcazin, and they too flee across the mountains. Everyone eventually arrives at the same place, including Bulcazin, who then attempts to kill his daughter. Octavian intervenes and threatens to kill Bulcazin, but Virolet arrives and spares him. Gratefully Bulcazin awards Zorayda to Virolet, and everyone rejoices.
Debut: 3 August 1793; 25 performances, and many revivals in later years.
New Hay at the Old Market
A two-scene prelude. It mocks both the tremendous size and the pompous performances of the other two theaters (Drury Lane and Covent Garden) and introduces the character of Sylvester Daggerwood, a fictitious actor who quotes Shakespeare in his sleep, and who was so popular that Colman later shortened the play to one act and named it after him.
Debut: 9 June 1795; 32 performances, and many revivals as Sylvester Daggerwood well into the next century.
The Poor Gentleman
A five-act comedy. The gentleman of the title, Lieutenant Worthington, a poor, retired, wounded officer on half pay, refuses offers of assistance in his financial distress, which only increases as the play progresses. His daughter Emily, meanwhile, is the target of a young rake, whose assault on her is frustrated by Bramble, one of Worthington's would-be benefactors. The rake challenges Bramble, but the duel is interrupted by Worthington, arriving to fight his own battles of honor. The rake repents. Then Bramble's uncle, Sir Robert, reveals that he has paid Worthington's debt to forestall the poor gentleman's arrest; in return he demands Worthington's blessing on a marriage between Bramble and Emily, and the play ends happily.
Debut: 11 February 1801; 25 performances at Covent Garden
Poor Old Hay-Market, or Two Sides of the Gutter
A one-scene prelude. A lament about competition from the Drury Lane theater, temporarily housed across the street from Colman's own Haymarket theater.
Debut:15 June 1792; seven performances.
The Quadrupeds of Quedlinburgh, or the Rovers of Weimar
A comedy. Based on Canning and Frere, "The Rovers; or The Double Arrangement."
Debut: 26 July 1811
The Review, or the Wags of Windsor
A farce. Written to conform to songs that had already been composed, the insignificant plot features Caleb Quotem, an eccentric jack-of-all-trades who has little to do with any story but whose constant chatter keeps the farce from moving forward too quickly.
Debut: 1 September 1800; nine performances.
Stella and Leatherlungs, or A Star and a Stroller
An afterpiece for Drury Lane.
Debut: 1 October 1823
The Surrender of Calais
A three-act musical historical drama. Six citizens of Calais, in response to an offer from the attacking English King Edward, volunteer to sacrifice themselves so that their fellow townspeople might be spared. To this kernel story (from an old tale by Jean Le Bel in Vrayes Chroniques) Colman added a romantic subplot: Julia and Ribaumont, crossed in love by her father, the governor, separately plan to volunteer for hanging, he in secret and she, learning of his intentions, in disguise. Before King Edward, Julia reveals that Ribaumont is not really a citizen of Calais, and offers herself instead. Edward condemns both, whereupon Julia discloses her identity, Edward softens and frees them, and his Queen Philippa convinces him to free all the volunteer prisoners. And, of course, Edward rules that Julia and Ribaumont may now marry.
Debut: 30 July 1791; 28 performances, and many revivals in later years.
Turk and No Turk
A musical comedy in three acts. The wanton young hero, Ramble, cannot marry his Emily: all the parents forbid it. Emily's father does approve of the rich Turk who shows up to sue for her hand, and who is of course Ramble himself. The inevitable discovery comes during the wedding ceremony, but somehow everything works out, and the marriage is blessed.
Debut: 9 July 1785; ten performances.
Two to One
A three-act tale of young love crossed by parents' intentions and ambitions, perpetuated by trickery and disguise, finally to be blessed by everyone.
Debut: 19 June 1784; nineteen performances.
Ways and Means; or A Trip to Dover
A farce. Sir David Dunder's, a wealthy baronet, invites two young gallants, Random and Scruple, to his manor, mistaking them for rich tradesmen instead of secret suitors to his two daughters. The couples, realizing that one of the daughters is to be married off to someone else the next evening, take advantage of Sir David's hospitality by planning to elope. Their plans misfire humorously when Random's servant, drunk and confused, moves a chair from its hallway position marking the daughters' door to a position outside Sir David's room. The predictable bedroom-confusion scene in Sir David's chamber leads to his discovery of the plot just as Random's estranged father arrives at the manor. Of course, all ends happily, and the right marriages ensue.
Debut: 10 July 1788; nine performances; more popular in later years.
We Fly by Night, or Long Stories
Debut: 2 January1806; 31 performances.
Who Wants a Guinea?
A five-act comedy.
Debut: 18 April 1805; 9 performances.
Debut: 11 December 1810. Two performances (production halted by lawsuit).
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