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Bad Grammar in the Eighteenth-Century:

Mid-Century Dramatists and Public Opinion

An interpretive survey of 93 eighteenth-century comedies created by Arden Hegele under the supervision of Professor Carol Percy.

Overview | Introduction | Plays by Authors & Dates | Plays by Trend | Character Types | Contact


This annotated collection of mid- to late-eighteenth-century comedies (from Thomas Sheridan's The Brave-Hearted Irishman, first performed in 1742, to Richard Cumberland's The Sailor's Daughter, which premiered in 1804) was the focus of a 2008 undergraduate research project funded by the University of Toronto; the project was updated in 2009 to include Bickerstaff's The Hypocrite, The Plain Dealer, and The Absent Man, bringing the number of catalogue entries to 93 . Each entry examines variation in vocabulary, grammar and orthography in the language of characters in plays by canonical and minor dramatists writing for the British stage. Texts were selected from a collected database of 370 plays and were chosen for detailed analysis based on their degree of language variation. The versions of the plays used for the project are available from the Eighteenth-Century Collections Online (ECCO) and from Literature Online (LION).

The template for the catalogue entries is based on that used for The Geoffrey Bullough Collection of nineteenth-century fiction at the University of Sheffield. The template contextualizes the play (publication information, genre, trends, and character types), provides a detailed synopsis, and includes secondary commentary from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and the Literature Resource Center. The "Varieties & Dialects" field provides an overview of language varieties, and includes multiple entries analyzing specific dialect trends according to character type:

Variety: [name]
a. Sample of dialect:
[page #]


b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar
b.3 Vocabulary
c. Nationality
d. Character profile
e. Consistency of representation

The recurring character types are grouped; each is accompanied by an analysis explaining the major linguistic trends associated with the character type, and the character type's main functions within the action of the plays.

The playwrights examined are Isaac Bickerstaff, John Burgoyne, Catherine (Kitty) Clive, George Colman the Elder, Hannah Cowley, Richard Cumberland, Samuel Foote, David Garrick, Oliver Goldsmith, Elizabeth Griffith, Elizabeth Inchbald, Hugh Kelly, John Philip Kemble, Charles Macklin, Arthur Murphy, Joseph Reed, Frances Chamberlaine Sheridan, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, and Thomas Sheridan. Links to Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entries for the playwrights are provided in the Plays by Authors & Dates . The plays are also grouped by trends (Nationality, Class, Dialect, Contemporary Satire, Gender and Popularity) in the Plays by Trend.

Note: the links to ECCO, LION, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and the Literature Resource Center were established through the University of Toronto and may not work with an external browser. Please contact your library for links to these resources.

I would like to thank Professor Percy for her insight and kind supervision, as well as the University of Toronto Excellence Awards program for the opportunity to complete this project.


Arden Hegele

Department of English

University of Toronto

arden (dot) hegele (at) utoronto (dot) ca


© 8 May 2009 Arden Hegele