Sheridan, Richard Brinsley

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Sheridan, Richard Brinsley

Richard Brinsley Sheridan, 1751–1816, English dramatist and politician, b. Dublin. His father, Thomas Sheridan, was an actor and teacher of elocution and his mother, Frances Sheridan, published two novels and a successful play. Sheridan was educated by tutors and at Harrow. After his elopement in 1773 with Elizabeth, daughter of the composer Thomas Linley, Sheridan began writing for the theater and in 1776 became part owner and director of the Drury Lane Theatre. His masterpieces are The Rivals (1775) and The School for Scandal (1777), comedies of manners that blend the brilliant wit of the Restoration with 18th-century sensibility. Both plays affectionately satirize fashionable society with its materialism, gossip, and hypocrisy. Although each ridicules sentimentalism, neither is itself entirely free of that attribute. The Critic (1779) was a dramatic burlesque modeled on The Rehearsal by the 2d duke of Buckingham. Sheridan's other works include the comic opera The Duenna (1775) and A Trip to Scarborough (1777), an adaptation of The Relapse by Vanbrugh. Entering Parliament in 1780, he allied himself with the Whigs and became one of the most brilliant orators of his time. He played a prominent part in the impeachment of Warren Hastings and with Charles James Fox defended the French Revolution. During the course of his political career he was secretary of the treasury (1783), treasurer of the navy (1806), and member of the Privy Council (1806). A close friend of the prince regent, he was a leader of London society. The burning in 1809 of the new Drury Lane Theatre virtually ruined Sheridan financially. He was arrested and imprisoned for debt in 1813. After his death, he was given a splendid funeral by his wealthy former friends.

See his plays ed. by C. Price (2 vol., 1973); his letters ed. by C. Price (3 vol., 1966); biographies by W. Sichel (1909), M. Bingham (1972), and F. O'Toole (1998); M. S. Auburn, Sheridan's Comedies (1977); J. Loftis, Sheridan and the Drama of Georgian England (1977).

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