A Critical Analysis of Sheridan's 'the Rivals' as a Parody of 18th Cen

1563 Words Jul 13th, 2004 7 Pages
A significant influencing factor on drama of the eighteenth century was the changing nature of the audience. By the middle of the eighteenth century, a straitlaced middle class audience had imparted to drama its vision of morality and disapproval of anything immoral. Comedy had become watered down and sentimentalized. Furthermore, the audience's rejection of unappealing facts following the ugly reality of the French Revolution and the American War of Independence, made emotionalism and tearfulness the order of the day. Oliver Goldsmith and Richard Brinsley Sheridan were two playwrights who saw that if comedy were allowed free reign along this path of sentimentalism, it would signal the end of mirth. Both appreciated the power of pure …show more content…
Sir Anthony tells Mrs. Malaprop roundly

all this is the natural consequence of teaching girls to read. Had I a thousand daughters, by heaven! I'd soon have them taught black art as their alphabet!

The drawing-room culture of the fashionable had a certain artificiality that Sheridan's nature rebelled against. Even as the more serious minded and moral rejected theatre, the beau monde, fond of social display and enjoying the exclusiveness attached to visiting the theatre, had continued to patronize the two or three houses that plays were performed in. This class had imposed its own prejudices and traditions. The desire to cultivate self-respect and courtesy gradually had grown into a meticulous observance of outward forms, and a condemnation of the display of natural feeling, that in its own way pushed comedy into the realm of sentiment where powerful emotion was repressed under a refined manner so that every look and gesture then became a flashpoint of feeling. Sheridan directed some of his wittiest lines against this form of artificiality.

Absolute is the epitome of the refined young aristocrat, albeit as heir to a mere baronetcy he is not the highest in the hierarchy. He moves in the fashionable circles, affects their mannerisms and is part of the new elite that Sheridan approved of: the virile and energetic class of soldiers that gained prominence in the days of the expanding British Empire.

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