Note on the text
- School for Scandal opened in 1777 at the Drury Lane Theatre in London
- It was heralded as a "real" comedy
- Whilst popular with the 18th Century, it has not been as successful in contemporary audiences
- This is largely due to the difficulty of portraying anti-sematism (hatred towards jews, in particularly due to money-lending)
- The play comes across as artifificial in dress, speech and motivations
- A 'comedy of manners', satirisation of the manners of a social class, is less appealing today, as in the 1700s, the rules of society were far less wide randing.
- "today's audience supposes itself to be watching ART. Sheridan's audience was looking at the funnies." - Peter Woods
- Regardless of this, School for Scandal remains a standard for comedies of manner, and is considered Sheridan's defining work.
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Act 1 scene 1 analysis
- The dialogue of the scene is full of references to deception, 'a feigned hand', 'suspicion' and 'intrigue', and the majority of the beginning of this scene is characterised with a bitter edge
- Sheridan's satiric purpose is identified in the opening lines, as he reveals the vices which he will attack in the opening of the play.
- The scene opens on Lady Sneerwell and Snake, 'drinking chocolate'. This defines them as upper class from the very beginning. Chocolate would be something for the higher class, and tea and ale
- Initially, we are aware of the typifying names - 'Sneerwell' - snide or mocking, 'Snake', decieving, 'Captain Boastall', pompous. This allows us to deduce what type of character they may be.
- There nature is revealed through the ways in which they spend their time. It is clear they enjoy gossip and slander, 'The paragraphs ... were all inserted?'
- Lady Sneerwell opening expresses her enjoyment of slandering in this scene, 'I am no hypocrite to deny the satisfaction I reap from the success of my efforts'
- Joseph is described as 'artful, selfish, and malicious' before he appears on stage, and Sir Peter's admiration of him suggests how gullible he is
- Charles is described as 'that libertine, that extravagant, that bankrupt in fortune and reputation' early on in the play.
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Act 1 scene 1 analysis continued
- Sheridan can be seen to expose shallowness and reputation, 'Man of Sentiment' as 'a sentimental knave'. Through the play, it becomes clearer that Sheridan views it as a cover for duplicity, and finds it hypocritical.
- Maria can be seen to emphasise the moral contrasts in the play, and views Sir Benjamin as 'disagreeable'.
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Act 1 scene 2 analysis
- We are first introduced to Sir Peter's honesty and openness, 'Lady Teazle made me the happiest of men - and I have been the miserablest dog', there is almost a balance between his language and feelings.
- His openness serves as a contrast against Lady Sneerwell's set, which is emphasised by Rowley's belief in the younger brother Charles
- Sir Peter claims Joseph 'acts up to the sentiments he professes', and we are already aware of the apparent irony of this claim.
- Sheridan also plays upon Josephs unawareness, 'I was never mistaken in my life', where he has already condemned himself for being ignorant of his quarrels with his wife.
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Act 2 scene 1 analysis
- In this scene we meet Lady Teazle, and we can plainly see her fiery spirit, 'I ought to have my own way in everything', something which is seen as a direct defiance of social order.
- 'If you wanted authority over me, you should have adopted me and not married me',
- 'i'm no more extravagant than a woman of fashion ought to be' clear division of town and country life, includes much verbal sparring and wit, and can be seen to demonstrate a classic husband and wide routine.
- Sir Peter can be seen as authoritarian and penny pinching, and their argument reaches a conclusion with Lady Teazle turning the lack of taste she had upon first marrying him against him
- 'but i bear no malice against the people i abuse' , it is clear that Lady Teazle believes this is the way that fashionable society behaves, so she is following their way of life.
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Act 2 scene 2 analysis
- Here the school is on stage, and Sheridan provides the audience with amusing examples of the malicious delight, including criticising members of their own circle.
- The tone is mostly comic, and Mrs Candour's lines sum up the audience's attitude to the scene, 'Well, you make me laugh but I vow I hate you for it'.
- Mrs Candour claims she will 'never join in ridiculing a friend', whilst she manages to criticise someone if every speech. Her dialogue could be deemed as skillful, through both putting across the pretense of defense, and making attacking remarks.
- We can see how Crabtree and Benjamin live up to their impression given in Act 1, and they are clearly full of their own importance
- We are shown Joseph's skill with dialogue in his short speech, showing his artfully constructed 'sentiments', which are much more constructed than Candour's 'thoughtless tumblr',, and appear to condemn slander whilst allowing a speaker to 'falsify from revenge'.
- Maria is able to see through him, and her words lack wit, but she conveys her disapproval of her disloyalty to his brother.
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Act 2 scene 3 analysis
- Here the pace is varied and Sir Oliver's humour is somewhat gentler mockery, condemning 'malicious, prating, prudent gossips ... who murder characters to kill time'
- Joseph behaves in ways that are 'false or mean' and it is likely that their uncle will prefer Charles.
- The purpose of the plot of this scene is to announce that he and Rowley have planned a test of the brothers' characters, and it establishes that he stands for a more generous stand of morality.
- 'if he salutes me with a scrap of morality in his mouth, I shall be sick directly'
- Sir Oliver's intention is to expose what is 'in their hearts', and he hopes to find genuine emotion
Reference: York Notes
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Act 3 scene 1 analysis
- Rowley defends Charles, quoting Shakespeare 'as our immortal bard expresses it'
- Rowley is portrayed as seeing beyond the surface, and discerning a good spirit, and as Sir Oliver shares this judgement, it makes the audience aware of rescue for the young lovers
- Sir Oliver accompanies Moses, again using a typifying Jewish name, in the guise of a broker.
- Sheridan touches on contemporary concerns about high rates on interest and the exploitation of borrowers, he portrays the 'friendly jew' relatively sympathetically, but a modern audience may consider them close to anti-sematic.
- Sir Oliver's comment 'I'm very sorry to hear it' implies that work as a moneylender is very unsavoury, and unsuitable for Christians.
- Sheridan uses much financial humour, 'honest moses'
- 'a good honest trade you're learning sir oliver', showing some of Sheridan's own context and his bitterness of money
- 'how happy i should be if i could tease her into loving me', showing that Sir Peter still loves her, even if he loses his temper towards her
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Act 3 scene 1 analysis continued
- The scene is important in portraying the relationship between Sir Peter and Lady Teazle
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