Friday, March 17, 2006

Off with his head!

From Today in Literature:

On this day in 1740, writing as Captain Hercules Vinegar, Henry Fielding summoned poet laureate Colley Cibber to court, charged with the murder of the English language. Fielding was not only a satiric playwright and novelist but a lawyer (soon, a Justice of the Peace) and a notorious wag; his joke would have been popular among London's coffee house wits, most of whom would know of Fielding's enmity for Cibber, if not share it. Cibber was a well-known but second-rate writer and actor in London, most famous for his adaptation of Shakespeare's Richard III, in which there was no "winter of our discontent" or "my kingdom for a horse," but such Cibberisms as "Off with his head -- so much for Buckingham!" It was the only version of the play acted in England for over 150 years, so popular that attempts to do Shakespeare's original were booed off the stage.

I nearly choked on a swig of my English Breakfast tea when I read that last part. Booed off the stage? I put down a triangle of toast spread with orange marmalade and continued reading:

Cibber was seen by Fielding and the others -- Alexander Pope made Cibber the dunce-hero of The Dunciad -- as a puffed-up, self-promoting, Man of Literature. In chapter one of Joseph Andrews, written several years after the murder charge, Fielding takes aim at Cibber's two-volume autobiography, marveling how it "was written by the great person himself, who lived the life he hath recorded, and is by many thought to have lived such a life only in order to write it."

Go read the rest of the article. As Bertie Wooster would say, it's pretty ripe stuff.

If Mr. Fielding had lived a hundred years later, might he have attempted to rescue the English-speaking world from the "poetry" of William McGonagall? As I finished my tea and toast just now, I had a fine time imagining that.


Neal said...

Obscure quote of the day:

"You are Colley Cibber and I claim my £5!"

Now, who can tell me where that comes from?


The Sanity Inspector said...

Something to do with this, I daresay:

He was known only for some years, by the name of Master Colley. After waiting impatiently for some time for the Prompter's Notice, by good fortune he obtained the honour of carrying a message on the stage, in some play, to Betterton. Whatever was the cause, Master Colley was so terrified, that the scene was disconcerted by him. Betterton asked, in some anger, who the young fellow was that had committed the blunder. Downes replied, 'Master Colley!'--'Master Colley! then forfeit him!'--'Why, Sir," said the Prompter, 'he has no salary.'--'No!' said the old man; 'why then put him down 10s. a week, and forfeit him 5s.'
-- Thomas Davies, Dramatic Miscellanies

Brenda Coulter said...

Sanity Inspector, I drew a complete blank on that one, but your guess didn't seem to come close enough, so I went Googling.

How about that, Neal? Do I win anything?

Trista Bane said...

I wasn't drinking tea, but almost swallowed my tongue! Booed off the stage?

You should hopp over to my blog and read my post from a few weeks back on how Shakespeare has influenced the English language.

Neal said...

Right on the mark Brenda! :-)

I suppose you should really win £5, but it wouldn't be much use to you. In the meantime, how about my undying admiration at your ability to be resourceful?

Not enough? OK, how about this rather fun link

Brenda Coulter said...

Hi, Trista. Leave us a link to your Shakespeare post and I'll take a look at it later. Right now I'm struggling with a migraine, so I'm going to toss up a quick blog post and get out of here.

Neal, the undying admiration was more than enough, truly. ;-) But thanks for the link. I'm going to blog it.

Neal said...

Like your Einstein post! Hope the migraine gets better.