Sheridan, Richard Brinsley (1751-1816), British dramatist whose work is considered the finest development of the comedy of manners in 18th-century England.
It is a polite world of fashion but Sheridan makes its vices appear foolish by exaggerating them in humorous portraiture. His plot is usually from everyday life. He possesses excellent verbal talent and sense of theater.
Sheridan’s School for Scandal is considered to be his masterpiece. It consists of a series of gossipy and fast-paced scenes that exposes contemporary foibles through the actions of the characters. It is an attack on artificiality of human behavior and sentiments. This play is remarkable for five features: Plot Construction, Characterization, Dialogue, Setting or Stage Craft, and Vision or Philosophy.
Scandal: A young girl married to an old man who has money by which he keeps this young girl and others engaged. Lady Sneerwell makes fun of such marriage and that’s why she makes the plot.
The plot is a conspiracy which deals with how to make a suspicion in the mind of Sir Peter to separate him from his wife Lady Teazle. Lady Sneerwell and her company run the school for scandal. During the uncle’s absence, they make such plot
Wit: Wit means right thing at the right time. Caricaturing is a part of scandal mongering. One starts and other ends. True wit is from nature. And the intention behind such wit is to improve the person. For instance, the conversation between Crabtree and Sir Benjamin about ‘defining’ a woman shows wit at its best. Crabtree remarks that it is “the oddest countenance”, and “it is a collection of features.” Sir Benjamin tells it to be “an Irish front.”
Repartee: It is quick but intelligent response. The conversation between Sir Peter and Lady Teazle is nice example of repartee.
Damnation Scene: (Humor and Irony of Situation) – Act IV-scene IV
1. Plot Construction
The plot is sequential arrangement of events or casual cause and effects. Events are arranged both sequentially and casually which makes the plot perfect.
The plot of the play is interesting and well-constructed. Some people make a plot to break the relationship between Sir Peter and Lady Teazle. The plot is made by Lady Sneerwell and others which is executed by Joseph Surface by luring Lady Teazle. Lady Teazle leaves the old husband and makes love with Joseph. The plot is executed well but gets discovered at last.
Both Charles Surface and Sir Oliver provide contrast. They are rather caricatures. They are the puppets in the hands of the dramatist. They perform what their characteristics presented by their names.
The characters of the play have their own significance by their names. Sheridan’s characterization draws upon the theory of Ben Johnson. He changes Ben Johnson’s theory. He makes one particular characteristic or weakness appear and plays on it. For instance, Joseph is totally exposed; there is no depth and roundness which provides humor. The humor is created by such characters because of their limitations suggested by their names.
Characterization is caricature. Humor comes from the characters, their peculiar characters. Act-iv – curtain episode – is situational comedy.
Crabtree: Crab can climb on the tree and can sting. He has qualities as his name suggests and he exploits and kills joy and all happiness by his witty remarks.
J. Surface: He operates on surface level by leading superficial life. He is a scandal monger. He is a sentimental hypothetic, a most eligible bachelor. As Peter says, “a model for the young men of the age.”
Charles Surface: He is an extravagant fellow. He contrasts with his brother Joseph. There is loyalty and sincerity in his character. He cares for his uncle.
Lady Teazle: She is a simple character. She is from village and young who marries an old man for money and for living in London.
Witty dialogues are crafted one after another quick and fast. And witty repartees provide humor.
4. Stage Craft
Stage craft is very rare. It requires good direction and skilled playwright to manipulate it. In this play The School for Scandal, it is very well managed. No character is seen who has no role to play. The characters disappear as soon as the characters’ work gets over. The scene behind the screen and the damnation scene are well arranged in acts.
There is no philosophy, simple fun in the play. The playwright delivers the message that we act foolishly as we are human beings then why punishment?