The Life of Samuel Johnson

Source: William Adams, in James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson (London: Oxford University Press, 1953, orig. pub. 1791), p. 141

Production: Samuel Johnson, Irene, Drury Lane, London, 6 February 1749

Text: Before the curtain drew up, there were catcalls whistling, which alarmed Johnson’s friends. The Prologue, which was written by himself in a manly strain, soothed the audience, and the play went off tolerably, till it came to the conclusion, when Mrs. Pritchard, the heroine of the piece, was to be strangled upon the stage, and was to speak two lines with the bowstring round her neck. The audience cried out “Murder! Murder!” She several times attempted to speak; but in vain. At last she was obliged to go off the stage alive.

Comments: William Adams (1706/7-1789) was a Doctor of Divinity, Fellow and Master of Pembroke College, Oxford, and a friend of Samuel Johnson (1709-1784). Johnson’s play Irene was a classical verse tragedy set after the fall on Constantinople, in which the Sultan takes the Christian Irene as his mistress. The play was put on by David Garrick (who played Demetrius, a Greek nobleman) at Drury Lane on 6 February 1749, under the title Mahomet and Irene, with Hannah Pritchard playing Irene. The play, which ran for nine performances despite some public displeasure, was a commercial success but an artistic failure. Adams’ impressions of the first night were given to James Boswell for his Life of Samuel Johnson. The play was subsequently altered so that Irene’s murder took place off stage.

Text of Irene at Project Gutenberg