Charles Coffey

Life
?1700-1745; b. Dublin; wrote successful for London theatre; introduced Irish traditional tunes to stage; plays include The Beggar’s Wedding (1729), ded. to ‘the Provost, Fellows, and the rest of the Learned Society of Trinity College, Dublin’, and containing fifty-six songs set to Irish melodies; The Devil to Pay (1731), a great success on the Irish provincial stage; A Wife and No Wife (1732); The Boarding School (1733); The Merry Cobbler (1735); The Devil on Two Sticks (1745). ODNB PI NCBE DIW OCIL

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Criticism
brief remarks in Andrew Carpenter, ‘Changing Views of Irish Musical and Literary Culture in Eighteenth-centry Anglo-Irish Literature’, Michael Kenneally, ed., Irish Literature and Culture (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1992), p.16 and William Smith Clark, Irish Stage in County Towns 1720-1860 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965), p.287.

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Commentary
Dunbar (Woffington, 1968), ‘Coffey a Dublin schoolmaster, well known as a poet, and author of a light opera, The Beggar’s Wedding, for which he wrote the music as well as the libretto; below normal stature, philosophic owner of ill-favoured countenance, kind heart and unforced charm; friendly with Violante, watched the Lilliputians; when Madame Violante remained in London, Peg asked Coffey to find her stage-work; he contacted Elrington who was reluctant given her age and experience but agreed to let her come to rehearsals; Elrington noticed her attention and began to give her lessons [26]; brought her books and encouraged her education; told her that good command of language was essential, she must read and read; she like the plays he lent, incl. Farquhar’s; discovered facility for learning parts quickly, and acted them to him to his delight; told her she must study the real Quality on every occasion [29]; she played Nell in his Devil To Pay, which Catherine Raftor [Clive] had rehearsed before going to London; Woffington praised by Faulkner in his Journal [31]; no record of intimate association, only good friendship [45]; May, 1740, Charles Coffey travelled with her to London; she called at Rich’s address on advice of Coffey [48]; escorted in London by him during 1740 season [57]; death of Coffey, with whom she ‘could be natural’ [132]

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References
D. J. O’Donoghue, The Poets of Ireland: A Biographical Dictionary (Dublin: Hodges Figgis & Co 1912); Southwark Fair; or, The Sheep-Shearing, an operetta (1729); The Beggar’s Wedding, burlesque op. (1729), The Female Parson; or, the Beau in the Suds, operetta (11730); The Devil to pay, or the Wives Metamorphosed, operetta (1731); A Wife and No Wife (1732), The Boarding School, or the Sham Captain, operetta (1733), The Merry Cobbler; or, the second part of the Devil to Pay (1735), The Devil Upon Two Sticks; or, The Country Beau, burlesque (1745). Coffey one of first, if not first, to use native Irish airs in drama.

Dictionary of National Biography: native of Ireland, deformed; first to use Irish airs in drama, ‘deserves credit’; plays performed Dublin and London; d. 1745. Mícheál Ó hAodha, Charles Coffey in his ballad-opera, The Beggar’s Wedding, a thinly veiled satire on the Dublin Corporation in the style of Gay’s Beggar’s Opera, introduced [not composed] such well-known airs as ‘Eileen Aroon’ and ‘Lillibulero’ [Theatre in Ireland].

Peter Kavanagh, Irish Theatre (1946), Charles Coffey, d. 1745; b. Ireland; deformed; The Beggar’s Wedding (Smock alley, 24 March 1729), ballad opera; produced as one-act in Drury lane, 13 June 1729 as Phebe or The Beggar’s Wedding, the theme being mistaken off-spring; The Devil Upon Two Sticks, or the Country Beau (DL 16 Apr. 1728), ballad opera. Best piece, The Devil to Pay, or The Wives Metapmorhos’d (DL 6 Aug. 1731), from Jevon’s The Devil of a Wife, it ran 28 nights first time up and was acted as many as 25 p.a. down to the 19th c. (Nicoll). Cut down to 3 acts as giving offence to non-conformists by Theophilus Cibber. Other works, Southwork Fair or the Sheep-Shearing (S–F–, 1729), ballad opera; The Female Parson or Beau in the Sudds (Hay., 27 Apr. 1730), ballad opera; A Wife and No wife, farce, never acted (1732); The Boarding School or the Sham Captain (DL 29 Jan 1733), ballad opera borrowed from D’Urfey; The Merry Cobbler or the Second Part of the Devil to pay (DL 6 May 1735) acted ‘one night ... with no applause’ (from Preface of same).

G. C. Duggan, The Stage Irishman (1937), Charles Coffey, The Beggar’s Wedding, printed Dublin 1729; after Gay’s Beggar’s Opera (1728); a new opera, ‘to entertain or amuse the Town with something of Irish birth, ded. facetiously to the Provost, Fellows, and rest of the learned society of TCD. Satire of Corporation of Dublin; Alderman Quorum, JP, ‘a thorough-paced rogue; no local colour, and the beggar-fraternity, Grig, Cant, Gage Mump and Scrip, or their doxies, Strummer, Mosey, Blouse, Drab, Mainsheet, and Tib Tatter, are purely English. For plot, Hunter, the son of the King of the Beggars (Chaunter), falls in love and elopes with Phoebe, the dg. of the Alderman, who turns out to be as low-born as him, so the wedding goes on.

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Notes
Joseph Th. Leerssen, Mere Irish and Fior-Ghael (Amsterdam & Philadelphia 1986), Irish songs and airs popular in the period, such as ‘Eibhlín a Rún’, and ‘Droimeann Donn Dílis’ (the latter a Jacobite song) were incorporated in dramas such as Coffey’s The Beggar’s Wedding, after Gay, which uses the former (1729, p.29). The song ‘Drimmendoo’ is referred to as the typical Irish song in Smollett’s Humphrey Clinker. (Leerssen, p.129 & ftn.)

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