Richard Sheridan’s play The Rivals is set during the Georgian Period in Bath, a city in Somerset, England under the rule of George III (ruled 1760-1820). Thus, the play takes place in an urban setting while still being removed from the greater hustle and bustle of London, the capital city. By setting the events of The Rivals in such a location, one which is surrounded by rural countryside but is still decidedly in the middle of increasing industrialization and economic growth, Sheridan is able to depict the growing number of people in England who were most immediately impacted by the country’s consumer revolution and economic success.
British social hierarchy in the 18th century was highly stratified, even with the increasing upward mobility of the lower classes due to industrial innovation. Rules regarding manners and codes of conduct were meant to be adhered to, especially in high society and, even more particularly, for young women. The economic stakes of finding a proper marital match as a young woman were significant, as Mrs. Malaprop’s concern for Lydia’s future and Julia’s steadfast devotion to her ever-doubting Faulkland demonstrate. Sheridan’s awareness and sympathetic depiction of the tense stakes surrounding marriage and familial relationships reveals a playwright deeply in tune with the issues of his contemporary society.