Isaac Bickerstaffe

Isaac Bickerstaffe

Bickerstaffe, Isaac, c.1735-c.1812, English dramatist, b. Ireland. Included among his comedies and ballad operas are The Maid of the Mill (produced in 1765) and The Padlock (produced in 1768).
This article is about the Irish playwright; for the pseudonym used by Richard Steele, Joseph Addison, and Jonathan Swift, see Isaac Bickerstaff.
Isaac Bickerstaffe or Bickerstaff (26 September 1733? - 1812?) was an Irish playwright. He was in early life a page to Lord Chesterfield when Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. He served as an ensign and then 2nd lieutenant in the Northumberland Fusiliers. He arrived in London in 1755 and produced many successful comedies based on Marivaux and other French playwrights and opera librettos. With Thomas Arne he wrote Love in a Village (1762), the first English comic opera. His The Maide of the Mill (1765), with music by Samuel Arnold and others, was also very successful. Bickerstaffe also wrote bowdlerized versions of plays by William Wycherley and Pedro Calderon de la Barca. His Love in the City (1767), The Padlock (1768), based on "The Jealous Husband" in Cervantes' Novelas (this included the character Mungo, a negro servant played by Dibdin, one of the earliest comic black roles in English drama). He also wrote The Life of Ambrose Guinet (1770).

In 1772 Bickerstaffe fled to France, suspected of homosexuality. The actor-producer David Garrick was implicated in the scandal by the lampoon Love in the Suds by William Kenrick. The remainder of his life seems to have been passed in penury and misery, and little is known about his death.

Long after Bickerstaffe's disappearance, his colleague Charles Dibdin was frequently accused of plagiarizing his songs.

Selected works

  • Love in a Village (1762)
  • The Maide of the Mill (1765)
  • The Padlock (1768)
  • Lionel and Clarissa (1768)
  • The Recruiting Serjeant (1770)
  • The School for Fathers (1772)
  • He Would If He Could


  • Peter A. Tasch, ed., The Plays of Isaac Bickerstaff, 3 vols, (New York: Garland 1981)
  • Smith, William. Early Irish Stage (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1955), p. 287
  • Tasch, Peter A. The Dramatic Cobbler: The Life and Works of Isaac Bickerstaff (Lewisburg: Bucknell UP [1971])
  • Stanford, W. B. Ireland and the Classical Tradition (IAP 1976; 1984), p. 110

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