The School for Scandal

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A sharp-tongued, hypocritical schemer and gossipmonger, Lady Sneerwell is the center of a group of high-society men and women who spend their time gossiping and creating scandals. Lady Sneerwell ruins reputations by submitting stories to the gossip columns and by paying others to forge incriminating letters. In love with Charles Surface, Lady Sneerwell conspires with Joseph Surface to prevent an engagement between Charles Surface and Maria, who Joseph hopes to marry for her money.

Lady Sneerwell Quotes in The School for Scandal

The The School for Scandal quotes below are all either spoken by Lady Sneerwell or refer to Lady Sneerwell. 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:
Concealment and Exposure Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Dover Publications edition of The School for Scandal published in 1991.
Act 1, Scene 1 Quotes

LADY SNEERWELL. Yes, my dear Snake; and I am no hypocrite to deny the satisfaction I reap from the success of my efforts. Wounded myself in the early part of my life by the envenomed tongue of slander, I confess I have since known no pleasure equal to the reducing others to the level of my own injured reputation.

SNAKE. Nothing can be more natural. But, Lady Sneerwell, there is one affair in which you have lately employed me, wherein, I confess, I am at a loss to guess your motives.

Related Characters: Lady Sneerwell (speaker), Snake (speaker)
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:

Lady Sneerwell is in her dressing room, consulting with Snake, a man she hires to plant false stories in the gossip columns and to forge incriminating letters. Lady Sneerwell is the leader of the group of high society gossipmongers. Unlike gossips such as Mrs. Candour or Joseph, however, she does not seek to hide the pleasure she derives from ruining other people’s reputations. Nor does she pretend that gossip is merely a way to showcase her own wit and intelligence, like Sir Benjamin or Mr. Crabtree do. Instead, Lady Sneerwell freely admits that she gossips because she is bitter about the suffering inflicted on her by past rumors. Although she knows the harm that gossip can inflict on the lives of those whose reputations are ruined, she seeks revenge for what happened to her through gossip.

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Act 2, Scene 2 Quotes

MRS. CANDOUR. Now, I'll die, but you are so scandalous, I'll forswear your society.

LADY TEAZLE. What's the matter, Mrs. Candour?

MRS. CANDOUR. They'll not allow our friend Miss Vermillion to be handsome.

LADY SNEERWELL. O surely she is a pretty woman.

CRABTREE. I am very glad you think so, ma’am.

MRS. CANDOUR. She has a charming fresh colour.

LADY TEAZLE. Yes, when it is fresh put on.

MRS. CANDOUR. O fie! I'll swear her colour is natural: I have seen it come and go.

LADY TEAZLE. I dare swear you have, ma'am: it goes off at night, and comes again in the morning.

SIR BENJAMIN. True, ma'am, it not only comes and goes, but, what's more—egad, her maid can fetch and carry it!

MRS. CANDOUR. Ha! ha! ha! how I hate to hear you talk so! But surely now, her sister is, or was, very handsome.

Related Characters: Lady Teazle (speaker), Lady Sneerwell (speaker), Mrs. Candour (speaker), Sir Benjamin Backbite (speaker), Mr. Crabtree (speaker), Miss Vermillion
Page Number: 16-17
Explanation and Analysis:

The gossipmongers are gathered at Lady Sneerwell’s house to engage in the activity they love best. Each betrays a bit about their motivation for gossiping in their discussion of the unfortunate Miss Vermillion’s beauty, or lack thereof. Mrs. Candour pretends not to be a gossip, portraying herself as a good-natured woman who is shocked by the negative things she hears said about her acquaintances. At the same time, she goads others on, and often cannot help herself from adding her own subtle jabs, as when she says that Miss Vermillion’s sister “is, or was, very handsome.” Lady Sneerwell is much more interested in ruining her acquaintances’ reputations than she is in mocking their appearances, so she abstains from this kind of conversation for the most part. Both Sir Benjamin and Lady Teazle, however, see gossip that mocks other people’s physical imperfections as the most fun form of gossip. In their opinions, this kind of gossip serves to prove their own quick wit and intelligence. Mrs. Candour says that Miss Vermillion’s face is naturally flushed, not augmented with cosmetics—she says that she has seen her color “come and go” when she blushes. Sir Benjamin and Lady Teazle seize on this figure of speech, each trying to outdo each other with their jokes about how cosmetics can “come and go”: makeup comes when it is applied in the morning and goes when it is washed off at night; makeup comes when the maid carries it into the room and goes when the maid carries it out.

SIR PETER. Madam, madam, I beg your pardon—there’s no stopping these good gentlemen's tongues. —But when I tell you, Mrs. Candour, that the lady they are abusing is a particular friend of mine, I hope you'll not take her part.

LADY SNEERWELL. Ha! ha! ha! Well said, Sir Peter! but you are a cruel creature, —too phlegmatic yourself for a jest, and too peevish to allow wit in others.

SIR PETER. Ah! madam, true wit is more nearly allied to good-nature than your ladyship is aware of.

LADY TEAZLE. True, Sir Peter: I believe they are so near akin that they can never be united.

SIR BENJAMIN. Or rather, madam, suppose them to be man and wife, because one seldom sees them together.

Related Characters: Lady Teazle (speaker), Sir Peter Teazle (speaker), Lady Sneerwell (speaker), Sir Benjamin Backbite (speaker)
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

Sir Peter is visiting his neighbor Lady Sneerwell, but he disapproves of the way the gossips mock their acquaintances. He is fed up with listening to one of his good friends be mocked and expresses his disapproval to them as an eloquently stated moral sentiment. The gossips, however, use his words as an occasion to show off their wit, as well as their cynical view of morality. Lady Teazle jokes that wit and good-nature (that is, morality) are like a brother and sister: too closely related to be married. Sir Benjamin, in a jab particularly likely to wound Sir Peter, who is sensitive about the rumors that he and Lady Teazle fight, says that wit and good-nature are like a man and wife who fight and avoid one another.

Act 5, Scene 2 Quotes

SIR BENJAMIN. Aye, there; I told you Mr. Surface was the man.

MRS. CANDOUR. No, no, indeed; the assignation was with Charles.

LADY SNEERWELL. With Charles! You alarm me, Mrs. Candour!

MRS. CANDOUR. Yes, yes, he was the lover. Mr. Surface, to do him justice, was only the informer.

SIR BENJAMIN. Well, I’ll not dispute with you, Mrs. Candour; but, be it which it may, I hope that Sir Peter’s wound will not—

MRS. CANDOUR. Sir Peter’s wound! Oh, mercy! I didn’t hear a word of their fighting.

LADY SNEERWELL. Nor I, a syllable.

SIR BENJAMIN. No! what, no mention of the duel?

MRS. CANDOUR. Not a word.

SIR BENJAMIN. O Lord, yes, yes: they fought before they left the room.

LADY SNEERWELL. Pray, let us hear.

MRS. CANDOUR. Aye, do oblige us with the duel.

Related Characters: Lady Sneerwell (speaker), Mrs. Candour (speaker), Sir Benjamin Backbite (speaker), Lady Teazle, Sir Peter Teazle, Joseph Surface / Mr. Surface , Charles Surface
Page Number: 63-64
Explanation and Analysis:

The gossipmongers have heard that Sir Peter discovered his wife at Joseph Surface’s house and suspects her of adultery. They have all swarmed the Teazle house, looking to swap information about the scandal and to show that they know more than the others. They cannot, however, agree on any of the details. Given the rumor that Charles and Lady Teazle were involved in an affair, some assume that he is the Surface brother involved. Others, with just as little real knowledge, assume that if Lady Teazle was at Joseph’s home, he was the brother involved in the act of adultery. As they jockey to show their superior knowledge, the gossips further fabricate hypothetical situations (Sir Peter dueling with the guilty brother, and being injured in the duel), making themselves look ridiculous and revealing their own shallow dependence on gossip to build themselves up. Even Mrs. Candour, who usually pretends to have the best intentions, is so hungry for the scandalous news that she is more interested in hearing the story of a duel than she is concerned for Sir Peter’s health and wellbeing.

Act 5, Scene 3 Quotes

LADY SNEERWELL. The torments of shame and disappointment on you all.–

LADY TEAZLE. Hold, Lady Sneerwell,—before you go, let me thank you for the trouble you and that gentleman have taken, in writing letters from me to Charles, and answering them yourself; and let me also request you to make my respects to the scandalous college, of which you are president, and inform them, that Lady Teazle, licentiate, begs leave to return the diploma they gave her, as she leaves off practice, and kills characters no longer.

LADY SNEERWELL. You too, madam—provoking—insolent—May your husband live these fifty years!

Related Characters: Lady Teazle (speaker), Lady Sneerwell (speaker), Sir Peter Teazle, Charles Surface
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:

Lady Sneerwell’s plot to force Charles to marry her has been revealed by Snake. She is enraged, embarrassed, and bitter, and tries to flee the scene. Before Lady Sneerwell can leave, however, Lady Teazle states that she has decided to leave her circle of fashionable gossipmongers. Prior to being ensnared in a scandal that threatened to hurt her husband, Lady Teazle had believed herself to be in sophisticated company and to be distinguishing herself by the wit she showed when gossiping. Lady Teazle now realizes exactly how destructive rumors can be and hopes to turn over a new leaf in her marriage, while also exiting the “school for scandal” of which Lady Sneerwell is “president.” The possibility of a new understanding between husband and wife is beyond Lady Sneerwell’s comprehension, however. She does not realize that Lady Teazle hopes to have a more harmonious marriage, and rather suggests that Lady Teazle is hoping for her husband to die and leave her a rich widow—so Lady Sneerwell’s parting “curse” to Lady Teazle actually sounds more like a blessing. Lady Teazle herself had made this same joke earlier in the play, but now she sees that such insults are neither funny nor sophisticated, but rather a sign that someone is lashing out cruelly.

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Lady Sneerwell Character Timeline in The School for Scandal

The timeline below shows where the character Lady Sneerwell appears in The School for Scandal. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, Scene 1
Concealment and Exposure Theme Icon
Rumors, Wit, and Cruelty Theme Icon
The play begins in Lady Sneerwell ’s home. She is sitting at her dressing table and talking to Snake, a man... (full context)
Concealment and Exposure Theme Icon
Rumors, Wit, and Cruelty Theme Icon
Snake then asks Lady Sneerwell to explain her motivations for a certain rumor she has asked him to spread. This... (full context)
Concealment and Exposure Theme Icon
Rumors, Wit, and Cruelty Theme Icon
Family Honor and Money Theme Icon
Lady Sneerwell explains that she is really in love with the bankrupt big-spender Charles, not Joseph. Joseph,... (full context)
Concealment and Exposure Theme Icon
Rumors, Wit, and Cruelty Theme Icon
Joseph Surface is then announced, and enters. Lady Sneerwell tells him that she has informed Snake of their plans and that they can trust... (full context)
Concealment and Exposure Theme Icon
The Man of Sentiment Theme Icon
Joseph says he only wishes it were in his power to help his brother, but Lady Sneerwell cuts him off, saying there is no need for him to hypocritically pretend to have... (full context)
Concealment and Exposure Theme Icon
Snake leaves and Joseph tells Lady Sneerwell that she was wrong to place her trust in him, because he has seen Snake... (full context)
Rumors, Wit, and Cruelty Theme Icon
The Man of Sentiment Theme Icon
Maria enters, looking upset. She tells Lady Sneerwell that she slipped away from Sir Peter’s house because Sir Benjamin Backbite and his uncle... (full context)
Concealment and Exposure Theme Icon
Rumors, Wit, and Cruelty Theme Icon
A servant announces that Mrs. Candour’s carriage has arrived. Lady Sneerwell says that Maria will like Mrs. Candour, who has a reputation for being good-natured. Maria,... (full context)
Rumors, Wit, and Cruelty Theme Icon
...his nephew is a wonderful poet who comes up with hilarious rhymes about his acquaintances. Lady Sneerwell asks Sir Benjamin why he never publishes his verse. Sir Benjamin explains that, since his... (full context)
Rumors, Wit, and Cruelty Theme Icon
Family Honor and Money Theme Icon
...to listen to these things said about Charles. She says she feels sick and leaves. Lady Sneerwell sends Mrs. Candour to follow Maria and make sure she is all right. Lady Sneerwell... (full context)
Concealment and Exposure Theme Icon
Rumors, Wit, and Cruelty Theme Icon
The Man of Sentiment Theme Icon
Family Honor and Money Theme Icon
Sir Benjamin and Crabtree leave, still remarking on Charles as they go. Lady Sneerwell laughs at how eager they are to continue gossiping. Joseph says he thinks Lady Sneerwell... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 2
Concealment and Exposure Theme Icon
...be perverse and fight with him by the social set who spend their time at Lady Sneerwell ’s house. (full context)
Act 2, Scene 1
Rumors, Wit, and Cruelty Theme Icon
Lady Teazle then says she is off to Lady Sneerwell ’s house. Sir Peter says that he disapproves of his wife spending her time with... (full context)
Rumors, Wit, and Cruelty Theme Icon
Lady Teazle departs, reminding Sir Peter that he promised to come to Lady Sneerwell ’s, too. Left alone, Sir Peter says that he has failed to exert any control... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 2
Rumors, Wit, and Cruelty Theme Icon
Lady Sneerwell , Mrs. Candour, Crabtree, Sir Benjamin Backbite, and Joseph Surface are drinking tea at Lady... (full context)
Rumors, Wit, and Cruelty Theme Icon
The Man of Sentiment Theme Icon
...while egging the others on. Sir Peter sticks up for one of their targets and Lady Sneerwell accuses him of being cruel for not allowing them to enjoy their jokes. Sir Peter... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 3
Concealment and Exposure Theme Icon
Rumors, Wit, and Cruelty Theme Icon
The Man of Sentiment Theme Icon
Lady Teazle begins to complain that her friend Lady Sneerwell spreads rumors about her, which makes Sir Peter even more suspicious. The worst part, she... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 2
Rumors, Wit, and Cruelty Theme Icon
...Lady Teazle with Joseph Surface, but Mrs. Candour insists that the affair was with Charles. Lady Sneerwell arrives and expresses pity for Lady Teazle, then immediately launches into a discussion of her... (full context)
Rumors, Wit, and Cruelty Theme Icon
...Crabtree gives an extremely detailed account of what happened and how Sir Peter was wounded. Lady Sneerwell realizes that they do not really know what happened and leaves, hoping to find out... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 3
Concealment and Exposure Theme Icon
Rumors, Wit, and Cruelty Theme Icon
In Joseph’s library, Lady Sneerwell is criticizing Joseph for spoiling their plot. She believes that Sir Peter will now support... (full context)
Concealment and Exposure Theme Icon
...knock at the door. Joseph says it must be his uncle, Sir Oliver, and tells Lady Sneerwell to wait in the next room. Lady Sneerwell tells him to make sure that his... (full context)
Concealment and Exposure Theme Icon
Rumors, Wit, and Cruelty Theme Icon
...someone else. Sir Peter and Charles exclaim in confusion, but Maria says that Charles and Lady Sneerwell know the truth. Joseph then opens the door to allow Lady Sneerwell to enter. She... (full context)
Concealment and Exposure Theme Icon
Rumors, Wit, and Cruelty Theme Icon
Snake enters and apologizes to Lady Sneerwell : he says that although she paid him well to lie and forge letters, Rowley... (full context)