Sheridan, Richard Brinsley. The School for Scandal.
Written by Mr Garrick. The short prologue consists of rhymed couples, in which the reciter wonders at the necessity of establishing a school for scandal. He believes that raising scandal is a natural faculty of man, as much as eating and drinking. He points out the hypocrisy of those who delight in gossip but hate to be subjected to gossip themselves. He concludes that fighting against scandal is a lost cause.
Lady Sneerwell, the most ingenious forger of scandal in London, plots mischief with the assistance of her attendant Snake. She focuses on the family of Sir Peter Teazle and the two young men, Joseph Surface and Charles, to whom Sir Teazle acts as a guardian. Joseph possesses "the most amiable character" and is "universally well spoken of", while Charles is "the most dissipated, wild, [and] extravagant young fellow in the world" (16). Joseph is attached to the widowed Lady Sneerwell, Charles admires Sir Teazle's ward Maria. The aim of Lady Sneerwell is to win the attention of Charles. Sir Teazle is an old bachelor married to a young wife, a country girl who soon got used to luxury and keeps on vexing her husband with dissipating his fortune, well knowing that her husband loves her sincerely and would not deny her anything.
Lady Teazle defends her extravagance to her husband by claiming that she acts as a fashionable woman of quality ought to. She is one of the members of the School for Scandal run in Lady Sneerwell's house by the Lady herself. Sir Teazle disapproves of gossip, he takes it for a murder of characters committed by "old maids" and "disappointed widows" to kill time and divert themselves (34). His innocent ward Maria is of the same view. Joseph Surface reveals to be not as virtuous as his reputation suggests, he indeed took great pains to build up an appearance of a worthy man. Joseph admits that his interest in Lady Sneerwell was originally but a means to get to the heiress Maria, but now he realizes he found real affection for Lady Sneerwell.
Sir Oliver Surface, uncle of Joseph and Charles, arrives to London and decides to test the characters of his nephews for himself. Sir Oliver pretends to be one Mr Premium, a broker ready to lend the bankrupt Charles some money, and calls at Charles's house. Charles is found drinking with his mates, he just offers a toast to his loved Maria and one of his fellows sings a bawdy song. Charles frankly admits to be "an extravagant young fellow that wants to borrow money" and is ready to give fifty or even hundred percent for the loan (50). As a security he claims to have an uncle at Bengal, meaning Sir Oliver, from whom he expects to inherit a fortune. He has already sold the family china and library and has nothing more to dispose of but old family portraits. Sir Oliver feigns interest in the paintings and is shocked to see that Charles is ready to sell his relatives.
Charles sells all the pictures to Sir Oliver, his fellow named Careless acts as an auctioneer, knocking the relatives down. Charles sells even the portrait of his father, becoming a parricide, but he would not sell the painting of his uncle. Seeing this, Sir Oliver forgives Charles all his extravagance. Charles commands a part of the money just raised to be sent to his bankrupt relative Mr Stanley who asked him for help.
Lady Teazle calls at Joseph with whom she cuckolds her husband. Sir Teazle happens to call at the same time and Lady Teazle hides herself behind a screen. Sir Teazle is concerned for his wife's affections, but he suspects Charles rather than Joseph. Charles happens to call and Sir Teazle hides himself in a closet. Charles purges himself from Sir Teazle's suspicions, but he unfortunately betrays that Joseph is the lover. Sir Teazle discovers his wife behind the screen.
Sir Oliver pretends to be Mr Stanley and calls at Joseph, known as a man of sentiment, to borrow from him some money. Joseph pretends bankruptcy, denying he has ever received any money from his uncle, and refuses. Sir Oliver resumes his true identity and all the major characters of the play are confronted. Snake betrays Lady Teazle and reveals that he has been writing letters to Charles in Lady Teazle's name. Lady Teazle, reconciled with her husband, returns the diploma of Lady Sneerwell's Academy for Scandal. Sir Oliver appoints Charles his heir. Maria obtains the desired consent of Sir Teazle to marry Charles. Charles, though he promises nothing, is on his way to reform under the influence of Maria.
Written by Mr Colman. Spoken by Lady Teazle who bids goodbye to London life and prepares herself for a boring married life in the country.
A sparkling comedy of manners. There is little outward action, the play is based on clever dialogues, verbal wit, and a masterly use of irony. It is built on the model of Restoration comedy: features aristocratic rakes, characters disguising themselves for someone else, hiding themselves in closets, forging complicated plots against one another, etc.
The play satirizes aspects of a fashionable upper-class London society. It plays with surfaces and appearances, which is suggested by telling names: e.g. Joseph Surface appears to be a man of value, but under the surface proves to be a rake. Shows the ways by which a scandal is developed: e.g. a sheep of one worthy lady has twins, due to mishearing and distortion the lady herself is eventually reported to have given birth to a fine son and daughter. Presents marriage as a punishment and the type of an old man marrying a young social-climbing woman. Includes a satire on the character of Jews when Jew Moses instructs Sir Oliver how to act as a money-lender would.
AuthorSheridan, Richard Brinsley. (1751 - 1816)
Full TitleThe School for Scandal.
First PerformedLondon: Drury Lane, 1777.
FormPlay. Comedy of manners.
Sheridan, Richard Brinsley. The School for Scandal. (1777). New York: Doubleday, 1950.