Richard Brinsley Sheridan : Contribution to Prose Comedy

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      His Life : Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816) was born in Dublin, the son of an actor-manager, Thomas Sheridan, and was educated at Harrow. He was intended to read law, but eloped with a famous young beauty, and the necessity of providing for a wife made him turn to literature as a means of making money. At the age of twenty-three he wrote his first play, The Rivals, and by the time he was twenty-nine he had written his last, The Critic. After this he entered Parliament as M.P. for Stafford, and lived a busy social and political life. His plays were so successful that he was able to buy a third of Garrick's share in Drury Lane in 1776, and he became manager of this famous theatre company, a post he held until 1809.

Sheridan's prose comedy, The Rivals (1774), had an enormous success. It was followed in 1775 by a farce called St Patrick's Day; or, The Scheming Lieutenant, and an operatic play, The Duenna, for which his father-in-law, Thomas Linley, composed and arranged the music.
Richard Brinsley Sheridan

      His Works : Sheridan's prose comedy, The Rivals (1774), had an enormous success. It was followed in 1775 by a farce called St Patrick's Day; or, The Scheming Lieutenant, and an operatic play, The Duenna, for which his father-in-law, Thomas Linley, composed and arranged the music. The Duenna had a phenomenal succes. A Trip to Scarborough appeared in 1776, and his best play, The School for Scandal, in 1777. This contains his best character, Lady Teazle, and in it his dialogue is at its most brilliant. His last play was The Critic: or, a Tragedy Rehearsed (1779). It is a very telling attack on the popular sentimental drama, and has been called the best burlesque of its age.

      Features of his Plays : Sheridan's prose comedies all resemble the best of the Restoration comedies without the immorality of the Restoration plays. Again we see the polite world of fashion, but Sheridan makes its vices appear foolish by exaggerating them in humorous portraiture. The plots are ingenious and effective, though they depend largely on a stagy complexity of intrigue. The characters, among whom are the immortal figures of Mrs Malaprop, Bob Acres, and Sir Fretful Plagiary, are stage types, but they are struck off with daring skill, and we find them quite irresistible. The dialogue is brilliant in its picturesque, epigrammatic repartee - indeed, the wit sometimes obscures the characters, nearly all of whom speak with the same brilliance. The plays are remarkable for their vivacity and charm. We give below a typical specimen of Sheridan's dialogue.

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