Sheridan's 'The Rivals'

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  • Created by: Susy
  • Created on: 30-12-13 17:40

Shakespeare's influence on Sheridan

Preface to 1st published edition: 'by no means conversant with plays in general' and 'to avoid every appearance of plagiary'

JAMES MORWOOD: both writers link love with a journey towards self-knowledge and maturity. Although Sheridan does not have WS's depth of feeling his moral vision is similar.

Shakespear uses the image of the lover's eye - in Rivals:

  • Julia (the play's touchstone for faithful love allied to sound judgment) tells Faulkland 'my heart has never asked my eyes' (III.ii.76-77).
  • Jack explains Lydia's caprice in rejecting him as a failure to allign look of loving with look of 'duty' which causes her to 'squint' (IV.iii.81-85).
  • Lydia does not see Beverley for who he really is (Jack) true of all deceptions. 
  • True sight further explored through farce in IV.ii with Lydia turning her back on Jack, accuses her aunt of blindness (50-67) and 'looks round by degrees' (99) to see she has been decieved
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Language, Form and Structure in 'The Rivals'


The play requires 9 settings with only 14 scenes in total. Character, situatio and theme are explored in the lodgings (5 x interiors) Shorter street scenes feature meetings, expositions and the sharing of the news. Sheridan's preference for writing duologues accounts for the loose, episodic structure. 'The Rivals' is made up of four loosely connected plot strands. (1) It is unusual that the main plot finds its roots in the laughing comedy traddition whilst it is (2) the subplot which draws on the more serious sentimental traddition. (3) minor characters (Acres, Lucius and David) and (4) duelling strands Plot subordinate to character and character to language - Sheridan's working scripts show he constructed scenes around witticisms Uses props (letters, money, books, pistols and swords) sparingly but to strong purpose. Focos of dialogue, action or visual humour as the primary concern of the play is language rather than symbols.

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Effect on Audience

Sheridan wrote for a living to please a highly vocal, powerful clientele, knew repertoire inside out and could be resistent to change. Greater the sense of participation this audience felt the greater their pleasure. Rivals popular due to the way Sheridan kept them in the know. 

Opening scenes divulge many secrets - Beverley and Jack 'are one and the same person' (I.i.31), Mrs M is 'Delia' (I.ii.66).

Dramatic Irony - III.iii in the meeting with Jack and Mrs M as he reads his own letter. From IV.ii audiences approches the denoument with complete understanding of the misunderstandings that enmesh all of the characters. Expectation of comic anagorisis and it's means become the focus of interest for the audience.

Preps audience - each character is discussed and introduced before his enterance to attune the audience to the witticisms. e.g. Julia cues Mrs M 'her select words so ingeniously misapplied, without being mispronounced' (I.ii.161-162)

Characters address the audience -  building rapport e.g. Jack's asides 'I'll tease him a little before I tell him' (II.i.61-62) and 'If she holds out now the devil is in it!' (III.iii.`90)

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Farce and Burlesque

Bob Acres and Lucius O'Trigger are the play's most farcical characters - presence on stage is to show human folly at its most self-indulgent.

Acres unwitting torture of Faulkland makes him a farcical agent of misrule and he mangles his language as he mimics his betters e.g. his 'oath referential' (II.i.342) burlesques the play's concern with the nature of the relationship between language and reality. 'Od's' makes it seem as the God himself has sanctioned Acres' swearing. His 'restive side-curls', clothing and dancing mimic high culture and this 'Devon monkeyrony' (III.iv.4) are elements of the physical and visual modes of farce.

Sir Lucius an agent of misrule (catalyst for the two duels). The preparation for the duels burlesques the ritual codes of manly behaviour by disrupting their expressions with sheer incompetence and fright. At heart 'fighting Bob' (IV.i.127) is extremely afraid.

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Character Pairs 1

Sir Antony and Mrs M (clarity of speech)

  • Foolish, authoritarian and agressive but largely ineffectual
  • Gout = bad-tempered to the C18th mind
  • Baronet - lowest rung of the aristocratic ladder (squeezed between growing monied middle class and established power of estate-owning gentry)
  • Mrs M intelectual pretensions.
  • Both amourous but comic mismatch between style and content of their pompous speech

Jack and Lydia (common sense)

  • Jack features in 8/14 scenes, most asides & comment on others folly = alliance with audience
  • Man of honour: dupes Lydia but with purpose of marriage not seduction, 'won't let it be an amicable suit' prepared to defend his 'claim against any man whatever'.
  • Lydia fed by books and adopts a fashionable caprice (strong disruptive force in the play) BUT becomes increasingly pro-active moves from languishing on her sofa to a chair to Julia's dressing room and then to Kingsmead Fields where she proposes to Jack.
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Character Pairs 2

Faulkland and Julia (empathy)

Julia reveals a pschological subtlety to her fiance that is out of step with the burlesque nature of the play's other characters. Sheridan tries to make this work by placing the Faulkland/Julia's encounters in discrete scenes - private torture of the couple's world. I.ii.119-139 marked in 1790s prompt script for omission by actors which is annotated in Sheridan's hand: 'The only Speech in the play that cannot be omitted.' Julia is the subordinate character, long and sententious speeches lacking the wit which characterises the rest of Sheridan's play. Does not act to determine her own future.

Acres and Sir Lucius (fighting prowess) Acres' attempts to transform his identity through mimicry and consumerism are bound to fail. There were serious concerns about the feminizing of culture in Georgian high society and so the character of Acres allows audience to mock men's concern for fashion without undermining one of their own kind. O'Trigger is naturally belligerent and loves to fight duels - provoking both of the duels in the play. Following criticism, Sheridan took care to soften this role. 'he had too much pride and delicacy to sacrifice the feelings of a gentleman to the necessities of his fortune.' I.ii 352

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Characters 3

Fag and Lucy vs. Thomas and David (simplicity and pretence, honesty and fakery)

Fag is keen to ape his master's manners, is interested in money and is somethings of a trendsetter amongst serventes (I.i) whereas

Thomas is used to reflect the value of being true to your identity with the use of colloquial language and coach references, his comments about wigs and his references to Jack and **** back in the village.

Lucy who embodies the worst aspects of the self-serving busybody servent is placed in direct contrast to Thomas. She is the greediest person in the play taking money and presents from five people with little or no intention of providing them any service. Her oath 'O Gemini!' (I.ii.320) reflects her calculated fostering of two traits: simplicity and guile.

David suggests the value of simplicity and rural way of life as can be seen by his rejection of the concept of honour as an unstable value - exposes the hollow conceits of the heroic code e.g. that honour goes to the grave with one 'just the place where I could make a shift to do without it' (IV.i. 31-2)

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Marriage - Love or Money

Women may think that they 'guide the plot' (Epilogue line 6) but money appears to underwrite the script of their lives.

Some of the play's most memorable imagery takes money as its metaphor, connecting it to intagibles such as love and reputation, thus pointing up the tension between human and commercial values. Love as a casualty of the marriage market.

  • 'a lapdog that eats out of gold' (I.i.57)
  • 'How charming will poverty be with him!' (III.iii.177)
  • 'if you have the estate, you must take it with the livestock on it.' (II.i.419)
  • language of love (heart, angel, vows, pledged) comically opposed to language of commerce (business, foreclose, redeeming, exchange, lost)
  • Jack believes it best when filial duty, financial security and love are allied
  • Lydia believes that Jack sees here as a 'mere Smithfield bargain'  (V.i.161)
  • IV.iii Faulkland decides to test Julia to see whether she is 'sterling ore' or merely 'dross' and 'allay'. If she is of the best metal he will allow his 'name' to be 'stamped' on her like a king's on a coin.
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