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…read analysis of Sheridan and His World
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…read analysis of False Identities and Artifice
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…read analysis of The Role of Women
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…read analysis of Courtship and Generational Conflict
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…read analysis of Gentlemanly Honor and Dueling