The Rivals


Richard Sheridan

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The Rivals: Act 2, Scene 2 Summary & Analysis

Lucy is out on the street looking for Sir Lucius. When she finds 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 in love, that has a greater induction than years of domestic combination.” The letter continues in this snooty yet flirtatious tone, but makes very little sense. Sir Lucius asks Lucy about the odd language of the letter, to which Lucy responds that “Delia” has a lot of experience. He asks how she has so much experience at only seventeen, and Lucy explains that she only meant that Delia is very well-read. Sir Lucius notes the arbitrary use of language, but does not let it bother him, saying he would run away with his “Delia” if he weren’t poor and didn’t need her aunt’s consent in order to keep her fortune. He gives Lucy some money and kisses her, and she flirts back, pretending to be dimwitted all the while.
Lucy almost loses track of her falsehoods here, forgetting that she must deceive Sir Lucius about the identity of his correspondent while also acting simpleminded and flirtatious in order to keep his trust and get a good tip. Although Sir Lucius thinks the language of the letter is strange, using impressive vocabulary incorrectly, he is much more interested in marrying someone rich, young, and beautiful and raising his own fortunes, and gives little thought to the intellect of his future wife. He feels he must get her aunt’s permission for the marriage, because unlike Absolute who has a fortune of his own, Sir Lucius is poor. This also means he can expect opposition to the match from the young heiress’s guardian.
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Sir Lucius leaves and Fag approaches. Lucy continues to pretend simplicity, but Fag tells her to be straight with him, then reprimands her for passing letters to Sir Lucius, saying he will tell his master, Ensign Beverley, 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. Fag laughs at this piece of news, but says he must hurry off to tell his master of it. Lucy, not realizing that Absolute and Beverley are the same person, replies that she is serious and that Absolute sounds like he will be a formidable rival, but that he should tell his master that he still has Lydia’s love.
Lucy and Fag are two of a kind, two servants who see opportunities if they can gain the trust of their masters. Both are ready to deceive one another or to deceive their masters. Although Lucy assures Fag that Sir Lucius is not a competitor for Beverley, Fag does not give up his master’s secret to Lucy. Each is weighing which secrets are best kept and which are best disclosed to gather information and gain advantage.
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