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Harvard Classics

July 7 – Sheridan: The School for Scandal

Scandal That Lurked Behind Lace and Powder
The painted lips of the eighteenth century ladies and gallants vied with one another in whispering scathing gossip, in gleefully furthering the destruction of a good name. Sheridan depicts this gay world with a brilliant spicy pen.
(Sheridan buried in Westminster Abbey, July 7, 1816.)
Read from Sheridan‘s SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL Vol. 18, pp. 115128

Richard Brinsley Butler Sheridan (30 October 1751 – 7 July 1816) was an Irish satirist, a politician, a playwright, poet, and long-term owner of the London Theatre RoyalDrury Lane. He is known for his plays such as The RivalsThe School for ScandalThe Duenna and A Trip to Scarborough. He was also a Whig MP for 32 years in the British House of Commons for Stafford (1780–1806), Westminster (1806–1807), and Ilchester (1807–1812). He is buried at Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. His plays remain a central part of the canon and are regularly performed worldwide.

Act I

Scene I: Lady Sneerwell, a wealthy young widow, and her hireling Snake discuss her various scandal-spreading plots. Snake asks why she is so involved in the affairs of Sir Peter Teazle, his ward Maria, and Charles and Joseph Surface, two young men under Sir Peter’s informal guardianship, and why she has not yielded to the attentions of Joseph, who is highly respectable. Lady Sneerwell confides that Joseph wants Maria, who is an heiress, and that Maria wants Charles. Thus she and Joseph are plotting to alienate Maria from Charles by putting out rumours of an affair between Charles and Sir Peter’s new young wife, Lady Teazle. Joseph arrives to confer with Lady Sneerwell. Maria herself then enters, fleeing the attentions of Sir Benjamin Backbite and his uncle, Crabtree. Mrs. Candour enters and ironically talks about how “tale-bearers are as bad as the tale-makers.” Soon after that, Sir Benjamin and Crabtree also enter, bringing a good deal of gossip with them. One item is the imminent return of the Surface brothers’ rich uncle Sir Oliver from the East Indies, where he has been for sixteen years; another is Charles’ dire financial situation.

Scene II: Sir Peter complains of Lady Teazle’s spendthrift ways. Rowley, the former steward of the Surfaces’ late father, arrives, and Sir Peter gives him an earful on the subject. He also complains that Maria has refused Joseph, whom he calls “a model for the young men of the age,” and seems attached to Charles, whom he denounces as a profligate. Rowley defends Charles, and then announces that Sir Oliver has just arrived from the East Indies.

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