The Rivals


Richard Sheridan

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Themes and Colors
Sheridan and His World Theme Icon
False Identities and Artifice Theme Icon
Language and Pretension Theme Icon
The Role of Women Theme Icon
Courtship and Generational Conflict Theme Icon
Gentlemanly Honor and Dueling Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Rivals, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Sheridan and His World

Richard Brinsley Sheridan wrote The Rivalsat the age of twenty-six, hoping to turn bad publicity into good and make money in the process. Although it is not autobiographical, The Rivalsdrew on Sheridan’s experiences during his scandalous courtship of his own wife. Sheridan used the notoriety that his courtship had received through the rumor mills of British society to spark a widespread interest in his play, fill theater seats, and make his fortune. Much…

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False Identities and Artifice

Confusion about who is who drives the plot of The Rivals. Several of the characters invent entirely new people in order to delude others and gain their goals. Other characters merely pretend to be people they are not, often by affecting to be more intelligent or fashionable than they truly are.

The most pressing question for the plot of The Rivals is when Absolute’s created identity of Ensign Beverley will be unmasked as…

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Language and Pretension

The best comedy in the play is a result of the witty dialogue and rhetorical tricks that Sheridan employs. The characters in the play whom Sheridan portrays with respect – Captain Absolute, Julia, even Lydia – all have a mastery of language, while those he holds up for mockery lack such skill and, therefore, their use of language betrays their vain attempts to appear better than they are. This quality of the play…

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The Role of Women

In the late 18th century, when The Rivals was written, there were firm notions for how women should behave. Prior to marriage, a girl of noble birth was supposed to be pure and simple in her understanding of the world and to place her trust in her elders, who would select a man from the same class for her to marry.

The rigidness of these expectations for young girls is parodied in the portrayal of…

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Courtship and Generational Conflict

The Rivals revolves around two engaged couples: Lydia and Captain Absolute, and Faulkland and Julia. But in the play getting married isn’t as simple as falling in love, because the older generation take an active role in approving or seeking to block matches dictated by the heart.

Sheridan, still in his early twenties when he wrote The Rivals, mocks the control the older generation seeks to exert over the young. Although Sir

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Gentlemanly Honor and Dueling

For men of the British nobility in the late 18th century, honor was an important social institution. To be considered a gentleman one had to be honorable, which meant being truthful, virtuous, and well-mannered. At the same time, being honorable required courage: both courage in a physical altercation, but also, more commonly, the courage to defend one’s honor when it was questioned by another.If one gentleman insulted another, for instance by accusing him of…

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