The Rivals

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Sir Anthony Absolute Character Analysis

A rich baronet with an extremely short fuse, prone to becoming furious at the slightest provocation and with a habit of making decisions hastily. Sir Anthony wants to secure his son Absolute a fortune that will help bolster his social position. To this end he meddles in his son’s life, telling him he must marry whomever he, Sir Anthony, chooses or else be disinherited. Sir Anthony ran away with Absolute’s mother for love, however, and is nostalgic for the lust and excitement of young love. Sir Anthony is fiercely against women being allowed to read novels, which he thinks makes them forget their duty. Sir Anthony is also Julia’s guardian, but has little involvement in managing her upcoming marriage.

Sir Anthony Absolute Quotes in The Rivals

The The Rivals quotes below are all either spoken by Sir Anthony Absolute or refer to Sir Anthony Absolute. 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

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.

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Act 2, Scene 1 Quotes

ABSOLUTE
What, sir, promise to link myself to some mass of ugliness! to——
Sir ANTHONY
Zounds! sirrah! the lady shall be as ugly as I choose: she shall have a hump on each shoulder; she shall be as crooked as the crescent; her one eye shall roll like the bull's in Cox's Museum; she shall have a skin like a mummy, and the beard of a Jew—she shall be all this, sirrah!—yet I will make you ogle her all day, and sit up all night to write sonnets on her beauty.
ABSOLUTE
This is reason and moderation indeed!

Related Characters: Captain Jack Absolute / Ensign Beverley (speaker), Sir Anthony Absolute (speaker)
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

Sir Anthony is extreme in his demand of obedience in his son. He wants Absolute to agree unconditionally to marry the woman he chooses even if the match he intended was ugly and humpbacked. This extreme position is meant to be parodied as is signaled by the vivid description Sir Anthony gives of his son’s hypothetical ugly bride-to-be. The play is mocking the view that young people owe it to their parents and guardians to cede control over the direction they choose for their lives. Sheridan had personal reasons to want to mock this position, as his own father had resolutely opposed his marriage to Elizabeth Linley, and had tried to force him to become a lawyer. At the time that Sheridan wrote the play, his father had still not forgiven him for his marriage to Linley.

Act 3, Scene 1 Quotes

Sir, I repeat it—if I please you in this affair, 'tis all I desire. Not that I think a woman the worse for being handsome; but, sir, if you please to recollect, you before hinted something about a hump or two, one eye, and a few more graces of that kind—now, without being very nice, I own I should rather choose a wife of mine to have the usual number of limbs, and a limited quantity of back: and though one eye may be very agreeable, yet as the prejudice has always run in favour of two, I would not wish to affect a singularity in that article.

Related Characters: Captain Jack Absolute / Ensign Beverley (speaker), Lydia Languish, Sir Anthony Absolute
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

Absolute has told his father that he will marry any girl his father chooses for him, as Sir Anthony had previously demanded. He does not reveal that he knows that his father wants to arrange for him to marry Lydia, the girl he is already courting, because he is determined to make his father feel how ridiculous was his demand that Absolute show him perfect obedience and surrender any control over his own future. This conflict between the generations has an easy solution, but Absolute is still determined to win a point against his father as a comeuppance for the bullying way Sir Anthony tried to control him. Sheridan was likely also trying to send a message to his own father, who had tried and failed to control his son’s choice of a wife.

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Sir Anthony Absolute Character Timeline in The Rivals

The timeline below shows where the character Sir Anthony Absolute appears in The Rivals. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, Scene 1
False Identities and Artifice Theme Icon
Language and Pretension Theme Icon
...of Bath. Fag is surprised to see Thomas, but Thomas explains that his ever-impulsive master, Sir Anthony Absolute , decided on the spur of the moment to bring his entire family to town... (full context)
Language and Pretension Theme Icon
...is paying Lucy money. Meanwhile, Fag rushes off to tell Absolute that his father ( Sir Anthony ) has come to town. (full context)
Act 1, Scene 2
Courtship and Generational Conflict Theme Icon
...of her cousin Lydia. They embrace and Julia explains that she came to Bath with Sir Anthony Absolute ’s party and that Sir Anthony will arrive soon to present himself to Lydia’s aunt... (full context)
Language and Pretension Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
Courtship and Generational Conflict Theme Icon
Lucy now enters to tell Lydia that Sir Anthony has arrived. Julia departs, and Lydia and her maid hurry to hide Lydia’s books. Sir... (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... (full context)
Courtship and Generational Conflict Theme Icon
The conversation then turns to Lydia: Sir Anthony Absolute proposes that she should marry his son, and Mrs. Malaprop agrees, expressing the hope that... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 1
False Identities and Artifice Theme Icon
Language and Pretension Theme Icon
At Absolute’s apartment, Fag tells Absolute that he has seen Sir Anthony , and that Sir Anthony was surprised to hear that his son is in Bath.... (full context)
False Identities and Artifice Theme Icon
Courtship and Generational Conflict Theme Icon
...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 Lydia will still... (full context)
Sheridan and His World Theme Icon
False Identities and Artifice Theme Icon
Absolute then shocks Faulkland by telling him that Sir Anthony has brought Julia to town. Faulkland gets ready to hurry off to see her, but... (full context)
Sheridan and His World Theme Icon
Courtship and Generational Conflict Theme Icon
Acres departs, and Absolute now waits anxiously for his father to enter. When Sir Anthony arrives, he announces to Absolute that he wants to arrange for his son to have... (full context)
Sheridan and His World Theme Icon
Courtship and Generational Conflict Theme Icon
Absolute protests that he is already in love with another and cannot follow Sir Anthony ’s command. Sir Anthony flies into a rage, demanding his son’s unconditional obedience and passionately... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 1
False Identities and Artifice Theme Icon
Courtship and Generational Conflict Theme Icon
...force him to marry the girl he already loves. He determines to make up with Sir Anthony , but at the same time to keep his relationship with Lydia a secret as... (full context)
Sheridan and His World Theme Icon
False Identities and Artifice Theme Icon
Courtship and Generational Conflict Theme Icon
Sir Anthony , pleased with Absolute’s obedience, excitedly reveals that the match he wants to arrange is... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 2
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... (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 not speaking to Lydia. Absolute tells Sir Anthony... (full context)
False Identities and Artifice Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
...her surprise. Hearing 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,... (full context)
False Identities and Artifice Theme Icon
Language and Pretension Theme Icon
Courtship and Generational Conflict Theme Icon
Sir Anthony gets an inkling that his son may be behind this confusion and demands to know... (full context)
Language and Pretension Theme Icon
Courtship and Generational Conflict Theme Icon
Sir Anthony is delighted to learn that Absolute was lying to him when he acted like a... (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... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 1
Language and Pretension Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
Gentlemanly Honor and Dueling Theme Icon
...promises to lead the ladies to the spot, while David goes off in search of Sir Anthony . (full context)
Act 5, Scene 2
False Identities and Artifice Theme Icon
...coming and muffles up his face in hopes of going unrecognized. Still at a distance, Sir Anthony remarks how strange it is: he could have sworn that this was Absolute, but it... (full context)
False Identities and Artifice Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
Courtship and Generational Conflict Theme Icon
...he is going, finally saying he plans to go to Lydia and beg her forgiveness. Sir Anthony begins to opine about the hearts of the young, and as he does so reaches... (full context)
False Identities and Artifice Theme Icon
David runs up to Sir Anthony , screaming about murder. He tells Sir Anthony that Absolute is headed to a duel... (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... (full context)
False Identities and Artifice Theme Icon
Courtship and Generational Conflict Theme Icon
...Absolute facetiously suggests that maybe Acres would like to marry Mrs. Malaprop, but Acres declines. Sir Anthony consoles a distraught Mrs. Malaprop. (full context)
The Role of Women Theme Icon
Courtship and Generational Conflict Theme Icon
...him. Faulkland asks for her forgiveness, saying he does not deserve it. Julia forgives him. Sir Anthony comes forward and says that, although he was Julia’s guardian, he never interfered in Julia’s... (full context)
Sheridan and His World Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
Gentlemanly Honor and Dueling Theme Icon
...wishes the couples good luck and Acres promises to put together a party for them. Sir Anthony announces that the single men should drink a toast to the young couples and to... (full context)