“The School for Scandal” by Richard Brinsley Sheridan is generally considered as one of Richard masterful play that represents a comedy of manners. This play satirizes the deeds and customs of upper classes brought out through a witty exchange of ideas and a convoluted plot with comic situations that are utilized in order to describe the shortcomings of the characters. In regards to characters, the play entails stock type characters such as the flirt, the gossip, the wastrel, the bore, the rich uncle, among others. However, some individuals have unique qualities. There is avoidance of romantic sentimentality by comedies of the eighteenth century. In this drama, the author satirizes malevolent gossip and two-facedness in a trendy society of London in the 1770s. Therefore, this paper intends to provide an analysis of “The School for Scandal,” by Richard Brinsley Sheridan.
The School for Scandal is set or brought to the public attention at the Drury Lane Theatre in London, in May of 1777. The play marked as an enormous success to Sheridan. It was heralded the play as a “real comedy” that would succeed the sentimental dramas that had filled the stage during the time. The genre of the play is a comedy, which is usually a light, rather amusing, play that deals with contemporary issues in our daily lives. It is a drama with a satirical slant. However, it concludes happily. Sheridan used this comic as a way of correcting social absurdities (Crehan, 215).
Firstly, characterization, major part of this play is rich of characters with humorous expositions. The delineation of these characters is aimed at provoking entertainment and laughter to the audience. Main characters in the play include the protagonist: Charles Surface who is a youthful bachelor disreputable for his lavishness, indulgence, very generous, and he loves a woman known as Maria. On the other hand, there are two antagonists: Joseph Surface and Lady Sneerwell. Joseph Surface is a person who pretends to be an honorable man who is in the real sense is a scoundrel double-dealer. Lady Sneerwell as antagonist plots with Joseph Surface to ensure that Maria and Charles break up. There are other subordinate characters such as Sir Olive Surface a wealthy uncle of Charles and Joseph Surface, Sir Benjamin Backbite an annoying youth ready to pursue Maria, Mrs. Candour prolific gossiper, Sir Oliver, St. Peter Teazle, and others who are servants like, William, Trip, Rowley, and Mr. Stanley among others (Sheridan, 93). These protagonists and antagonists create the two sides of the play where other are not willing to support other people’s relationships and; therefore, the antagonists strive to sabotage the affairs of the protagonist.
Secondly, there are various themes presented in the play such as defamation of character whereby Sheridan with the aim of bringing out his principal theme of comedy, he employs the act of criticism of the odious practices of slander in the form of written letters and libel. Another theme is the theme of Hypocrisy whereby Joseph Surface pretends to be an honorable man while he tries to sabotage his brother’s affairs with Maria. Mrs. Candour and her ilk also act as if she is against gossips while, in the real sense, she delights in spreading rumors. For instance, she lies to Maria when Maria attempts to advise her to stop meddling in other people’s affairs. In addition, she asserts that there is nothing that can be done, as gossiping is part of people’s daily lives, and no one can restrain them (Sheridan, 62).
Thirdly, there is also the theme of deceptive appearance, and this is brought out clearly through Charles Surface who is considered a scoundrel double-dealer who in reality is an upright man, and supremely a decent fellow.
Steadfast Integrity is another theme, in spite of all the wrongdoing portrayed in the play while in reality when one looks at the moral resolve of characters like Maria who utterly refuses to gossip and denounces the practice and clearly brought out in Act 1 in the conversation between Lady Sneerwell and Sir Benjamin and later between Maria and Mrs. Candour.
Finally, there is the theme of Pitfalls of Idleness, which is an implied theme within the play. Most of the characters live on inherent property and money, and such a kind of idleness is the leading cause of their mischief. They engage mostly in telling and listening to scandalous stories, as well as gambling and drinking amongst the youths.
The climax of the play occurs towards the end of Act 5 after Rowley introduces Snake through a warm welcome. Snake and Lady Teazle then give a testimony against Lady Sneerwell, and this implies that they are against Joseph. Through this frank confession, we see Lady Teazle throwing herself on Sir Peter’s mercy (David, 93).
The major aim of Sheridan’s play was to create a caricature of his own time and society by using comic characters from civilized urban society. The structure of the poem is that of a succession of scenes with several plot strands and this can be seen with the delay of Charles Surface until halfway through the play (Christian, 258).
Sheridan’s play can be considered as a hallmark of witty and sparkling dialogue through amusing characters, jaunty and ridiculous situations, funny intrigues, incisive social satire, human foibles and the penetrating insight of human relationship. In short, the play is full of epigrams, and aphorism, and this is shown through Sheridan’s epigrammatic dialogue, which creates comic suspense. Most importantly, The School for Scandals can be considered as a blend of satire and compassion rather than a play that exposes scandals.
Crehan, Coser. The School for Scandal. University of London Press, Ltd, 1967, pp. 217-340.
David, Damrosch. Teaching British Literature, New York: Longman Publishers, 2003, pp. 67- 249.
Deelan, Christian. “The Original Cast of the School for Scandal”, the Review of English Studies, 13 (1962), 257-266.
Richard B., Sheridan. The Plays & Poems of Richard Brinsley Sheridan: The school for scandal. University of Michigan; B. Blackwell. 2007, pp. 6-93.