I Am Mrs. Malaprop of the Oracular Tongue

Sure, if I reprehend any thing in this world it is the use of my oracular tongue, and a nice derangement of epitaphs! –Mrs. Malaprop

In my finest moment, I played Mrs. Malaprop from Richard Sheridan’s The Rivals(1775). All right, it wasn’t a fine moment, rather a stint of readers’ theater while wearing a wig of bouffant curls. But it was a defining moment, because in playing Mrs. Malaprop, I acted out my own character–the woman with the cracked brain who always jumbles up her words and pulls out the wrong ones from the rucksack of her mind (for more on a rucksack of words, click here).

When the “enamel of philosophy protecting my mind has cracked,”* as James Boswell would say, I not only muck up my words, but I turn to the very same insane Boswell’s London Journal(1762-1763), where I find myself pretending to cavort around 18th C London with Boswell and Thomas Sheridan. Yes, you might think this is a sign of pure insanity, because, here I am–usually at two in the morning–envisioning myself as Mrs. Malaprop, one of Richard Sheridan’s characters, while all the time drinking my beer and eating my beefsteak and bread w/ Boswell and the playwright’s father. Just in case you’re wondering, James Boswell, better known as Samuel Johnson’s biographer, supped w/ almost everybody of note in the London literary world at that time, but he seemed to have a particular affinity for Thomas Sheridan, father to Richard. Hence, I cling to my ghostly connection w/ these two brilliant men.

I’m not sure whether I should laugh or cry at continuously playing the part of Mrs. Malaprop. After all, I’m supposed to be a wordsmith. I’m supposed to have a grasp of language. Yet, I choose my words w/ careful wrongfulness–conjunctions for injunctions, prepositions for propositions. Or was that Mrs. Malaprop who made those errors? I hardly know any more.

Don’t you think that as writers we should strive to get our words right? Shouldn’t we drop the malaprops by whatever means possible? Are you laughing at me? Oh, come on, I can’t be the only writer out there who blunders her words. I’m ripping the wig from my head right now! Something tells me my sleep is incipient, and the beer w/ Boswell is a montage in my overtly fecal imagination. Let me at least bid the men adieu–“I will dismember you in my dreams as giants of the livery world.” Adieu, Adieu.

For more on Mrs. Malaprop, read the play: The Rivals.

For more on James Boswell, read his London Journal or Boswell’s Presumptuous Task by Adam Sisman (*the quote comes from pg. 6 of this book).

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