The Rivals


Richard Sheridan

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The Rivals: Act 3, Scene 4 Summary & Analysis

In his lodgings, Acres and his servant David discuss the changes Acres has made to his appearance. David says that those back at Acres’s home, Clod-Hall, would scarcely recognize him with his new hairstyle.
Acres has dramatically changed his appearance fashionable, but since the only remark on his appearance is that he is hardly recognizable, it seems unlikely that he looks more attractive or more fashionable.
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David leaves, and Acres practices dancing, but complains that although he is fine at dancing English country dances, he is struggling to learn the fashionable French dance steps because they are taught to him using foreign words. “Pas this, and pas that, pas t’other! – damn me! My feet don’t like to be called paws!” he exclaims.
Acres’s pretentions run up against his simple, country understanding of language when he tries to learn French dances. The French word for step is “pas,” and is pronounced “pah.” Acres, who is struggling to master these dances that all true gentleman know, hears this as “paw.”
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Sir Lucius, a friend of Acres, enters and asks why Acres has come to Bath. Acres explains that he has come for love. He describes his situation with Lydia, although he does not disclose her name. He says that he fell in love with a woman, got encouragement from her family, then followed her to Bath only to find that her friends now plan to marry her off to someone else. The cause of this, he explains, is another lover, Beverley.
Acres is trying to court Lydia in the traditional way, by arranging the marriage with her family, while also hoping to secure her love by improving himself. At the same time, there is an unintended deception between him and Sir Lucius, who is also hoping to marry Lydia.
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Sir Lucius asks if Acres’s rival has taken his place unfairly, to which Acres unthinkingly agrees. Sir Lucius says it obvious, then, that Acres must call his rival out for a duel. Acres, surprised, says that there has been no provocation, but Sir Lucius counters that stealing the woman another man loves is a terrible thing to do to a friend. Acres objects that he is not friends with Beverley, but Sir Lucius says that it is even worse, in that case. Acres says that Sir Lucius is stirring his anger, but he wishes he had a bit more of a reason that gave him a right to be angry before he calls for a duel. Sir Lucius counters that great men of history like Alexander the Great did not worry about what was right when their honor was concerned.
Sir Lucius’s approach to dueling is to disregard many of the conventions about what causes justify challenging someone to fight. In this respect, he is clearly supposed to resemble Mathews, the man Sheridan himself dueled. Sir Lucius argues for the duel using opposing arguments, and mistakes a capacity to win in violent combat for a sign of greatness. Acres has at least a general sense of what kind of an insult constitutes grounds for calling someone out to fight, but because of his desire to become a true gentleman, he is easily influenced by Sir Lucius’s arguments.
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Acres says he feels as though he is discovering his own valor as Sir Lucius works him up, but Sir Lucius responds that it is proper to be calm when writing a challenge. Sir Lucius dictates a standard letter of challenge with a civil tone, which strikes Acres as not nearly menacing enough. As Acres prepares to send the letter, Sir Lucius recommends that he get the duel over with as soon as possible. Sir Lucius says he can be reached by letter, but is off to settle a matter of his own: he plans on challenging a captain who has made insulting remarks about Ireland. Acres says he wishes he could watch Sir Lucius kill someone, to get courage and inspiration. Sir Lucius again tells Acres to be courageous but not agitated, and they both exit.
Acres knows little about the proper decorum for writing a challenge, but his pretentions suggest to him that he ought to go to extremes by writing an aggressive letter. Sir Lucius, meanwhile, once again gets things backwards when he tells Acres to rush into the duel. Friends of combatants were supposed to urge them to delay and give the matter thought before rushing into combat. The final irony here is that Sir Lucius and Acres themselves have just as much of a reason to duel one another—for they both hope to marry Lydia—as Acres has to duel Beverley.
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