The School for Scandal


Richard Sheridan

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The School for Scandal: Act 2, Scene 3 Summary & Analysis

Sir Oliver and Rowley are at Sir Peter’s house, waiting for Sir Peter to come in. Sir Oliver laughs at Sir Peter for having married a young woman from the countryside after swearing to always remain a bachelor, then asks Rowley about Sir Peter’s negative feelings towards Charles. Rowley explains that Sir Peter is prejudiced against Charles partially because of rumors spread by gossipmongers that Charles and Lady Teazle are having an affair. Rowley believes that if Lady Teazle has feelings for one of the brothers, it is Joseph, not Charles. Sir Oliver says he will not let himself be prejudiced against Charles by rumors and will judge for himself. Rowley says he believes Sir Oliver will approve of Charles’s honesty and good-nature. Sir Oliver recalls that he and his brother were wild as young men, but grew into good men. Rowley predicts the same will happen to Charles.
Although Sir Peter looks down on the gossips, he still places faith in the rumors he hears. He knows that there are rumors that he and his wife do not get along, which is true, and rumors that Charles is extravagant with his money and in a great deal of debt, which is also true. He has thus concluded that the rumors about his wife and Charles may be true as well. Rowley is a better judge of character than Sir Peter, and he is equally concerned with the happiness and prosperity of both the Surface and Teazle families. He hopes that Sir Oliver will see through the gossip to understand the Surface brothers’ true characters.
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Sir Peter enters and he and Sir Oliver greet each other warmly. Sir Oliver is about to mock Sir Peter for marrying, but Rowley warns him off. Sir Oliver asks after Charles, and Sir Peter says that Charles is a lost cause, but Joseph is exactly as a young man should be and is well spoken of by everyone. Sir Oliver says that he thinks anyone without any enemies must not be honest. Sir Peter says Sir Oliver will see when he meets Joseph, who speaks eloquently about sentiment and morality. Sir Oliver says he does not like it when people moralize, but he also doesn’t mean to defend Charles for all his mistakes. Instead, he plans to test the two brothers and learn their real characters. The three men go to drink a bottle of wine and talk over this plan. As they leave the room, Sir Oliver says he does not like to see too much prudence in young men, as he thinks a bit of wildness is good for their growth.
Sir Peter believes that Joseph’s eloquence on moral topics and his reputation for morality are a testament to his good character. Sir Oliver believes that what a person says and what other people say about them are conclusive proof of that person’s good character. Indeed, Sir Oliver feels that a perfect reputation and remarkable eloquence may be a sign that something is being concealed. To be sincere is sometimes to cause offense, especially, he suggests, in a young man. Sir Oliver makes it his goal to discover whether the Surface brothers’ reputations conceal their true characters or reveal them.
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