CliffsNotes on Sheridan's Rivals and School for Scandal

CliffsNotes on Sheridan's Rivals and School for Scandal

CliffsNotes on Sheridan's Rivals and School for Scandal

CliffsNotes on Sheridan's Rivals and School for Scandal

Excerpt

There are many definitions of comedy--brilliant, incisive, and profound. But it is sometimes desirable to avoid the nobler speculations and try to hold fast to concrete and readily observable elements. Any comedy will include one or a number of these features: (1) comedy of character types, (2) amusing intrigues and situations, (3) wit of language, (4) satiric commentary on human foibles, and (5) idyllic love stories whose strongest appeal is the warm glow with which they fill the audience. Since in a play all parts are organically fused, these features are closely related. Comic figures represent a satire on society, and their success as comic figures may be based on witty lines or on the situations in which they are played. Yet one has to try to make arbitrary distinctions simply because without them analysis is impossible.

Sheridan was a master of four of the five kinds of comedy listed above. (It is difficult to see that he had any success, or desire for success, with the idyllic love story that arouses a warm glow.) But what accounts for his reputation as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, English writer of comedy? Other dramatists have created amusing characters, have written incisive social satire, and have invented witty dialogue. Sheridan's admirers say that Sheridan's comic characters go beyond others, that his dialogue is wittier, his situations funnier, and his satire more biting. Yet this is more difficult to illustrate, for other readers may find Garrick funnier or Mrs. Centlivre's situations more farcical.

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