The Rivals

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Mrs. Malaprop / Delia Character Analysis

Lydia Languish’s aunt and guardian, Mrs. Malaprop is a self-important and pretentious woman of around fifty, and the comedic heroine of the play. Her speech is garbled by malapropisms (ridiculous misuses of words), as she tries to use sophisticated language, the meaning of which she does not understand, making for some of the play’s funniest moments. She lectures Lydia on obedience and proper behavior for a young lady, claiming that it is Lydia’s duty to marry someone her elders choose for her. Meanwhile, Mrs. Malaprop herself has fallen in love with Sir Lucius O’Trigger, with whom she is corresponding under the pen name Delia. Unfortunately, Sir Lucius actually has no interest in Mrs. Malaprop, but has been led by the wily maid Lucy to believe that Delia is Lydia’s pen name.

Mrs. Malaprop / Delia Quotes in The Rivals

The The Rivals quotes below are all either spoken by Mrs. Malaprop / Delia or refer to Mrs. Malaprop / Delia. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Sheridan and His World Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Dover Publications edition of The Rivals published in 1998.
Act 1, Scene 2 Quotes

What business have you, miss, with preference and aversion? They don't become a young woman; and you ought to know, that as both always wear off, 'tis safest in matrimony to begin with a little aversion. I am sure I hated your poor dear uncle before marriage as if he'd been a blackamoor—and yet, miss, you are sensible what a wife I made!—and when it pleased Heaven to release me from him, 'tis unknown what tears I shed!—

Related Characters: Lydia Languish (speaker), Mrs. Malaprop / Delia (speaker)
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

Mrs. Malaprop, ever unable to read her audience, attempts to convince Lydia to obey her elders and marry a man that they choose for her by telling Lydia that she herself hated Lydia’s uncle (while using a racist slur to emphasize her point) before she married him. One would expect her to say that their marriage turned out well, but because of the way she garbles her speech, she communicates the opposite. She says “Heaven released me from him” instead of “Heaven released him from me,” which was a poetic way to describe someone’s death. Instead of saying that she “shed unknown tears,” which would mean too many tears to count, she says it is “unknown what tears I shed,” which suggests that she may not have cried at all at his death. But whether or not the Malaprops’ marriage was a happy one, Lydia has nothing but disdain for her silly aunt’s advice on how to be a proper lady or whom to marry.

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Mrs. MALAPROP
I would have her instructed in geometry, that she might know something of the contagious countries;—but above all, Sir Anthony, she should be mistress of orthodoxy, that she might not mis-spell, and mis-pronounce words so shamefully as girls usually do; and likewise that she might reprehend the true meaning of what she is saying. This, Sir Anthony, is what I would have a woman know;—and I don't think there is a superstitious article in it.
Sir ANTHONY
Well, well, Mrs. Malaprop, I will dispute the point no further with you; though I must confess, that you are a truly moderate and polite arguer, for almost every third word you say is on my side of the question.

Related Characters: Mrs. Malaprop / Delia (speaker), Sir Anthony Absolute (speaker)
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

Sir Anthony has said that women should not be taught to read, because reading exposes them to harmful ideas. Mrs. Malaprop objects and Sir Anthony asks her to give an account of the proper course of education for a woman. The assumption at the time was that women needed to be educated only for their role in society, and any further knowledge would ruin or pervert their feminine virtues. No one is a less fit advocate for the importance of education for women than Mrs. Malaprop, who fancies herself to be eloquent and well-educated, but mixes up the large words she uses so that her meaning is nearly always garbled. Here, she uses the word “geometry” for “geography,” “contagious” for “contiguous,” “orthodoxy” for “orthography,” “reprehend” for “apprehend,” and “superstitious” for “superfluous.” Sir Anthony notes that the mistakes in Mrs. Malaprop’s speech make her a poster child for the argument against educating women. While the play sees Sir Anthony’s position as extreme, it also does not mount any real criticism to the conservative assumption of the era that there should be limits placed on what women studied and learned.

Act 2, Scene 2 Quotes

Sir LUCIUS
[Reads.] Sir—there is often a sudden incentive impulse in love, that has a greater induction than years of domestic combination: such was the commotion I felt at the first superfluous view of Sir Lucius O'Trigger.—Very pretty, upon my word.—Female punctuation forbids me to say more, yet let me add, that it will give me joy infallible to find Sir Lucius worthy the last criterion of my affections. Delia. Upon my conscience! Lucy, your lady is a great mistress of language. Faith, she's quite the queen of the dictionary!—for the devil a word dare refuse coming at her call—though one would think it was quite out of hearing.

Related Characters: Sir Lucius O’Trigger (speaker), Mrs. Malaprop / Delia, Lucy
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

Lucy has just delivered a letter from “Delia” to Sir Lucius, whom she has deceived to believe that Delia is Lydia’s pseudonym, when it is actually Mrs. Malaprop’s. The situation provides a perfect study of the ease with which a practiced deceiver like Lucy can manipulate two people who are not perceptive about the world around them. Mrs. Malaprop, besides being unaware that she makes a fool of herself through her scrambled use of language, does not realize that the pseudonym “Delia” is actually a scrambled version of the name “Lydia,” which will lead Sir Lucius to assume he is corresponding with the niece, not the aunt.

Sir Lucius, on the other hand, puts no effort into trying to understand the letter he has received. Although it is garbled, her meaning can be sussed out. Mrs. Malaprop compares her current feelings to Sir Lucius to her feelings during her “years of domestic combination,” by which she means the years of her marriage. Although the language is unconventional, it is only because Sir Lucius is determined to understand the letter as he wants to and not for what it actually says that he fails to understand this clear evidence that he is not corresponding with a young girl who has never been married before, but with her older, widowed aunt.

Act 3, Scene 3 Quotes

Well, but Mrs. Malaprop, as the girl seems so infatuated by this fellow, suppose you were to wink at her corresponding with him for a little time—let her even plot an elopement with him—then do you connive at her escape—while I, just in the nick, will have the fellow laid by the heels, and fairly contrive to carry her off in his stead.

Related Characters: Captain Jack Absolute / Ensign Beverley (speaker), Lydia Languish, Mrs. Malaprop / Delia
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

Absolute has just met and utterly charmed Mrs. Malaprop. He has led her to believe that he knows about Lydia and Beverley, but sees himself as Mrs. Malaprop’s ally in trying to break that couple up. Of course, he is tricking Mrs. Malaprop, because he is Beverley, but he also wins Mrs. Malaprop’s trust completely by suggesting they should be co-conspirators in a plan to deceive Lydia. Thus Absolute further entangles himself in deception and trickery here, and Mrs. Malaprop further allows herself to be taken in by any who wish to manipulate her. In his own life, Sheridan himself carried out a complicated elopement involving many separate deceptions, so the process of scheming before an elopement would have been a familiar one to him.

Act 4, Scene 2 Quotes

Then he's so well bred;—so full of alacrity, and adulation!—and has so much to say for himself:—in such good language, too! His physiognomy so grammatical! Then his presence is so noble! I protest, when I saw him, I thought of what Hamlet says in the play:— "Hesperian curls—the front of Job himself!— An eye, like March, to threaten at command!— A station, like Harry Mercury, new——" Something about kissing—on a hill—however, the similitude struck me directly.

Related Characters: Mrs. Malaprop / Delia (speaker), Captain Jack Absolute / Ensign Beverley , Lydia Languish
Related Symbols: Foreign Words
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

Mrs. Malaprop is praising Absolute to Lydia, in the hopes of convincing Lydia to fall in love with him over Beverley. Absolute’s eloquence and flattery of her have prompted Mrs. Malaprop to reach for the most elevated language she can think of: the language of Shakespeare’s plays. But, of course, she misquotes the lines from Hamlet horribly. These lines are: “Hyperion’s curls, the front of Jove himself, / An eye like Mars to threaten and command, / A station like the herald Mercury / New-lighted on a heaven-kissing hill.” Mrs. Malaprop’s mispronunciation of the names of ancient Roman Gods is a particularly hilarious instance of her pretentiousness pushing her to use words she does not understand. For instance, she confuses Jove, the Roman king of the Gods, with Job, the biblical character who loses all of his prosperity and everyone he loves.

So, while I fondly imagined we were deceiving my relations, and flattered myself that I should outwit and incense them all—behold my hopes are to be crushed at once, by my aunt's consent and approbation—and I am myself the only dupe at last!—[Walking about in a heat.]

Related Characters: Lydia Languish (speaker), Captain Jack Absolute / Ensign Beverley , Mrs. Malaprop / Delia
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

Absolute’s deception has been uncovered, and Lydia is furious to learn that Beverley was a fictional persona that he made up. She is explicitly angry that her hopes to deceive her relatives will come to naught, and instead she finds that she has been deceived herself. This moment shows that the play has just as satirical a view on the position taken by the young as the old in the conflict surrounding courtship between the older and younger generation. Just as Sir Anthony hopes to control his son Absolute’s future absolutely, Lydia puts an undue emphasis on her desire to rebel against her aunt. By showing that both sides of the generational gap were prone to foolishness when trying to settle the important matter of sons and daughters’ marriages for the best, Sheridan takes a conservative position on whether marriages ought to be arranged or not. Ridiculing both Lydia and Sir Anthony, the play treats the topic humorously, but mounts no real criticism to the social practice of the time.

Act 5, Scene 1 Quotes

LYDIA
Why, is it not provoking? when I thought we were coming to the prettiest distress imaginable, to find myself made a mere Smithfield bargain of at last! There, had I projected one of the most sentimental elopements!—so becoming a disguise!—so amiable a ladder of ropes!—Conscious moon—four horses—Scotch parson—with such surprise to Mrs. Malaprop—and such paragraphs in the newspapers!—Oh, I shall die with disappointment!
JULIA
I don't wonder at it!
LYDIA
Now—sad reverse!—what have I to expect, but, after a deal of flimsy preparation with a bishop's license, and my aunt's blessing, to go simpering up to the altar; or perhaps be cried three times in a country church, and have an unmannerly fat clerk ask the consent of every butcher in the parish to join John Absolute and Lydia Languish, spinster! Oh that I should live to hear myself called spinster!

Related Characters: Lydia Languish (speaker), Julia Melville (speaker), Captain Jack Absolute / Ensign Beverley , Mrs. Malaprop / Delia
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:

Lydia complains to Julia about her disappointment at finding out that Beverley was a false identity of Absolute’s. The picturesque elements of the elopement that she dreamed of are drawn from the sentimental literature Lydia reads, but also would have been familiar to Sheridan from his own experiencing wooing and eloping with Elizabeth Linley.

Lydia also disparages the trappings of a conventional wedding. She is especially bothered by the idea that her marriage will be approved of by society, which seems to her vulgar and unexciting, and she hates the unromantic idea that there will be a financial component to the arrangement of her marriage. But she dramatizes her situation to the extreme when she says that she never dreamed that she would become a spinster: someone as wealthy, beautiful, and young as Lydia would have had plenty of other opportunities to marry.

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Mrs. Malaprop / Delia Character Timeline in The Rivals

The timeline below shows where the character Mrs. Malaprop / Delia appears in The Rivals. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, Scene 2
Courtship and Generational Conflict Theme Icon
...and that Sir Anthony will arrive soon to present himself to Lydia’s aunt and guardian Mrs. Malaprop . Lydia hurries to fill her cousin in on developments in her love affair with... (full context)
False Identities and Artifice Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
...that she provoked a quarrel with Beverley before she was cut off from him by Mrs. Malaprop . Lydia started the quarrel because she realized that they had never fought before, so... (full context)
Language and Pretension Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
Courtship and Generational Conflict Theme Icon
...Julia departs, and Lydia and her maid hurry to hide Lydia’s books. Sir Anthony and Mrs. Malaprop enter and immediately begin lecturing Lydia on her determination to marry Beverley when her elders... (full context)
Language and Pretension Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
Left alone, Sir Anthony and Mrs. Malaprop debate the value and utility of education for women, with Sir Anthony hinting that books... (full context)
Courtship and Generational Conflict Theme Icon
...then turns to Lydia: Sir Anthony Absolute proposes that she should marry his son, and Mrs. Malaprop agrees, expressing the hope that Lydia will prefer Absolute to Acres, the first match she... (full context)
False Identities and Artifice Theme Icon
Language and Pretension Theme Icon
Left alone, Mrs. Malaprop reflects that she would be glad to no longer be required to serve as her... (full context)
False Identities and Artifice Theme Icon
After Mrs. Malaprop has left, Lucy goes over all the tips and presents she has been given while... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 1
False Identities and Artifice Theme Icon
Courtship and Generational Conflict Theme Icon
...elope and lose Lydia’s fortune in the process, and so Faulkland advises Absolute to ask Mrs. Malaprop and Sir Anthony for Lydia’s hand in marriage. Absolute says he is not sure that... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 2
False Identities and Artifice Theme Icon
Language and Pretension Theme Icon
Courtship and Generational Conflict Theme Icon
Gentlemanly Honor and Dueling Theme Icon
...him, she assumes her guise of being a simple messenger. Sir Lucius reads the letter Mrs. Malaprop sent, which begins with the puzzling declaration that “there is often a sudden incentive impulse... (full context)
False Identities and Artifice Theme Icon
...that Sir Lucius is a rival. Lucy tells Fag that the letter is actually from Mrs. Malaprop , not Lydia, but that Ensign Beverley has an even more serious rival: Captain Absolute.... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 1
Sheridan and His World Theme Icon
False Identities and Artifice Theme Icon
Courtship and Generational Conflict Theme Icon
...that he only cares about pleasing his father. Sir Anthony says he will write to Mrs. Malaprop and Absolute will soon pay Lydia a visit. (full context)
Act 3, Scene 3
False Identities and Artifice Theme Icon
Language and Pretension Theme Icon
Courtship and Generational Conflict Theme Icon
Absolute visits Mrs. Malaprop , who welcomes him with flattering remarks about his pedigree and “the ingenuity of his... (full context)
False Identities and Artifice Theme Icon
Language and Pretension Theme Icon
Mrs. Malaprop pulls out a letter that Absolute had sent to Lydia in his character as Beverley.... (full context)
Sheridan and His World Theme Icon
False Identities and Artifice Theme Icon
Courtship and Generational Conflict Theme Icon
Absolute suggests a plan: that Mrs. Malaprop should allow Beverley to correspond with Lydia, and then when the pair tries to elope... (full context)
False Identities and Artifice Theme Icon
Language and Pretension Theme Icon
At that moment, Mrs. Malaprop sneaks in and begins to eavesdrop. She misinterprets the lovers’ speech and thinks that Lydia... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 2
Language and Pretension Theme Icon
Courtship and Generational Conflict Theme Icon
At Mrs. Malaprop ’s lodgings, Mrs. Malaprop is trying to persuade Lydia to accept Absolute as a suitor.... (full context)
False Identities and Artifice Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
Courtship and Generational Conflict Theme Icon
A servant announces that Sir Anthony and Absolute have arrived. Mrs. Malaprop begs that Lydia act as befits a young lady and show her good breeding, even... (full context)
False Identities and Artifice Theme Icon
Mrs. Malaprop urges Lydia to turn around, while Sir Anthony begins to grow angry at Absolute for... (full context)
False Identities and Artifice Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
...Beverley’s voice, she turns around and exclaims her surprise at seeing Beverley. Sir Anthony and Mrs. Malaprop are dumbfounded and think that Lydia has gone insane. Sir Anthony says, “the girl’s mad!... (full context)
False Identities and Artifice Theme Icon
Language and Pretension Theme Icon
Courtship and Generational Conflict Theme Icon
...son may be behind this confusion and demands to know what’s going on from Absolute. Mrs. Malaprop also begins to suspect. In an eloquent speech, Absolute tells Sir Anthony that he is... (full context)
Language and Pretension Theme Icon
Courtship and Generational Conflict Theme Icon
...he acted like a dutiful son who was indifferent to whether his bride was beautiful. Mrs. Malaprop , however, is shocked to realize that Absolute was the author of the letter calling... (full context)
The Role of Women Theme Icon
Courtship and Generational Conflict Theme Icon
Sir Anthony and Mrs. Malaprop enter, anticipating the sight of two lovers whispering sweet nothings to one another, but instead... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 1
Language and Pretension Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
Gentlemanly Honor and Dueling Theme Icon
Mrs. Malaprop , Fag, and David now burst into the room, Mrs. Malaprop shrieking incoherently about “suicide,... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 3
Gentlemanly Honor and Dueling Theme Icon
Sir Anthony, David, Mrs. Malaprop , Lydia and Julia arrive, with David yelling for Sir Anthony to halt the combatants.... (full context)
False Identities and Artifice Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
Gentlemanly Honor and Dueling Theme Icon
Mrs. Malaprop interjects that all this dueling talk is inappropriate conversation for ladies: it is terrifying Lydia.... (full context)
False Identities and Artifice Theme Icon
Courtship and Generational Conflict Theme Icon
...Lydia will deny her own handwriting and pulls out letters written to him by “Delia.” Mrs. Malaprop tries to interject, but Sir Lucius tells her not to interfere and asks Lydia if... (full context)
Sheridan and His World Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
Gentlemanly Honor and Dueling Theme Icon
...men should drink a toast to the young couples and to an eventual husband for Mrs. Malaprop . Faulkland congratulates Absolute that Lydia came to her senses and reformed her own romantic... (full context)