The Rivals


Richard Sheridan

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Gentlemanly Honor and Dueling Theme Analysis

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.
Gentlemanly Honor and Dueling Theme Icon

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 lying, by calling him a name, or by making advances on his wife or sweetheart, the insulted gentleman was obligated by the rules of honor to challenge the offending gentleman to a duel. If he failed to issue a challenge, his reputation as a gentleman would be ruined because he would be seen as either admitting to his lack of honor, or as displaying a lack of courage that, regardless of the truth of the charges against him, was itself dishonorable.

Part of the idea behind the institution of dueling is that, because gentlemen knew what kinds of behavior would offend another man’s honor and cause him to issue a challenge to a duel, this knowledge served as an important check on the behavior of noblemen, leading them to think twice before they lied, cheated, or sexually harassed women.

Captain Absolute fits perfectly into this ideal vision of dueling. He sees dueling as a necessary but unpleasant fact of life. Although he finds it unreasonable that Sir Lucius O’Trigger challenges him to a duel without giving any explanation, after trying to coolly reason with Sir Lucius without getting a satisfactory answer from him, he accepts the challenge. In other words, Absolute acts as an absolute gentleman: he always shows a cool and reasonable temperament, but when challenged by a social equal he courageously meets his obligations to fight and preserve his honor. As a captain who has been in a marching (or active) regiment for his entire adolescence, Captain Absolute has been steeped in the culture of gentlemanly honor. A Captain in the army not only had his own honor to protect, but the honor of the army and of the King to whom the army swore loyalty.

Sir Lucius, on the other hand, is far too keen to fight in duels himself and to see others fight in them. He challenges Absolute to a duel without giving any reason, and even urges Faulkland, who has come to the duel to support Captain Absolute as his second, to duel Acres. Sir Lucius seems to see duels as fun and exciting, and his extreme interest in duels shows that, when carried too far, this social institution which helped to regulate the behavior of young men could also lead to unnecessary carnage and grieving families.

Despite the character of Sir Lucius, though, The Rivals is not attempting to level a deep criticism of either gentlemanly honor or of the institution of dueling. Nowhere is this more visible than through the character of Squire Acres. As a country squire, Acres lacks Captain Absolute’s formal military training, as well his knowledge of how to act the part of a sophisticated gentleman in general and of the rules of dueling specifically. Most importantly, though,he also lacks courage.As a result, Acres first overcompensates: because he is trying to fit in within the social world of the city of Bath, Acres allows himself to be persuaded by Lucius O’Trigger that he has grounds to challenge Beverley to a duel where there are none. He is not really prepared, however, for the risk involved, and is greatly relieved when Beverley turns out not to exist.

Sir Lucius O’Trigger then insults Acres by calling him a coward, but Acres refuses to defend his honor. In the world of the play such failures, of both knowledge and courage, are unforgivable in a gentleman, and Squire Acres is portrayed throughout as a coward and a fool.

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Gentlemanly Honor and Dueling Quotes in The Rivals

Below you will find the important quotes in The Rivals related to the theme of Gentlemanly Honor and Dueling.
Act 2, Scene 2 Quotes

Nay, Sir Lucius, I thought you wa'n't rich enough to be so nice!
Upon my word, young woman, you have hit it:—I am so poor, that I can't afford to do a dirty action.—If I did not want money, I'd steal your mistress and her fortune with a great deal of pleasure.—However, my pretty girl, [Gives her money] here's a little something to buy you a ribbon; and meet me in the evening, and I'll give you an answer to this. So, hussy, take a kiss beforehand to put you in mind. [Kisses her.]

Related Characters: Sir Lucius O’Trigger (speaker), Lucy (speaker), Lydia Languish
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 3, Scene 4 Quotes

But he has given me no provocation.
Now, I think he has given you the greatest provocation in the world. Can a man commit a more heinous offence against another than to fall in love with the same woman? Oh, by my soul! it is the most unpardonable breach of friendship.
Breach of friendship! ay, ay; but I have no acquaintance with this man.
I never saw him in my life.
That's no argument at all—he has the less right then to take such a liberty.
Gad, that's true—I grow full of anger, Sir Lucius!—I fire apace! Odds hilts and blades! I find a man may have a deal of valour in him, and not know it!

Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 4, Scene 1 Quotes

I say then, it would be but civil in honour never to risk the loss of a gentleman.—Look'ee, master, this honour seems to me to be a marvellous false friend: ay, truly, a very courtier-like servant.—Put the case, I was a gentleman (which, thank God, no one can say of me;) well—my honour makes me quarrel with another gentleman of my acquaintance.—So—we fight. (Pleasant enough that!) Boh!—I kill him—(the more's my luck!) now, pray who gets the profit of it?—Why, my honour. But put the case that he kills me!—by the mass! I go to the worms, and my honour whips over to my enemy.

Related Characters: David (speaker), Squire Bob Acres, Sir Lucius O’Trigger
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 5, Scene 1 Quotes

You see before you a wretch, whose life is forfeited. Nay, start not!—the infirmity of my temper has drawn all this misery on me. I left you fretful and passionate—an untoward accident drew me into a quarrel—the event is, that I must fly this kingdom instantly. O Julia, had I been so fortunate as to have called you mine entirely, before this mischance had fallen on me, I should not so deeply dread my banishment!

Related Characters: Faulkland (speaker), Julia Melville
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 5, Scene 3 Quotes

Upon my conscience, Mr. Acres, your valour has oozed away with a vengeance!
Not in the least! Odds backs and abettors! I'll be your second with all my heart—and if you should get a quietus, you may command me entirely. I'll get you snug lying in the Abbey here; or pickle you, and send you over to Blunderbuss-hall, or anything of the kind, with the greatest pleasure.
Pho! pho! you are little better than a coward.
Mind, gentlemen, he calls me a coward; coward was the word, by my valour!
Well, sir?
Look'ee, Sir Lucius, 'tisn't that I mind the word coward—coward may be said in joke—But if you had called me a poltroon, odds daggers and balls——
Well, sir?
I should have thought you a very ill-bred man.
Pho! you are beneath my notice.

Related Characters: Squire Bob Acres (speaker), Sir Lucius O’Trigger (speaker)
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis: