Richard Brinsley Butler Sheridan

  • Full name:  Richard Brinsley Butler Sheridan.
  • Born: 30 October 1751, Dublin, Ireland.
  • Sheridan was an Irish satirist, a politician, a playwright, poet, and long-term owner of the London Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.
  • He was also a Whig MP for 32 years in the British House of Commons.
  • He is known for his plays such as The Rivals, The School for Scandal, The Duenna and A Trip to Scarborough.
  • In 1775 Sheridan’s first play, The Rivals, was produced at London’s Covent Garden Theatre.
  • Died: 7 July 1816, Savile Row, London, United Kingdom.

The Rivals | Act 1, Scene 1

The play opens in a city of Bath, England.
Two servants, Fag and Thomas, meeting on a city street.
Captain Jack Absolute – Master of Fag.
Ensign Beverley - Captain Jack’s new persona. 
Sir Anthony Absolute – Master of Thomas.
Lydia Languish – Lover of Captain Jack Absolute.
Lucy – Lydia’s maid.

This brief scene, loaded with exposition, moves at a lively pace. The two servants contrast in personality. Fag, who is Captain Jack Absolute’s servant, is sophisticated and witty, and Thomas, Sir Anthony’s coachman, is naïve and unpolished. The most important plot disclosure is that Captain Jack Absolute and Ensign Beverley are one and the same person. But the scene also functions to provide a view of the play’s setting, the fashionable resort of Bath. Fag manages to offer a concise summary with his description of the daily rounds, even as he hints that the sameness of it all may induce boredom and frustration.

The Rivals | Act 1, Scene 2

Lucy has been in search for library books for Lydia. “The Tears of Sensibility” and “The Sentimental Journey”. Julia Melville - cousin of Lydia enters. Lydia Languish and her maid Lucy are in the lodgings of Mrs. Malaprop, Lydia’s aunt and guardian. Faulkland – lover of Julia. Upon the approach of Mrs. Malaprop and Sir Anthony Absolute, Lydia urgently orders Lucy to hide the volumes that might be considered controversial or offensive, leaving only didactic collections such as Lord Chesterfield’s Letters open to view. The two are attempting to arrange a marriage between Lydia and the Captain. At the end of the scene, Lucy the maid delivers a monologue, gleefully celebrating the earnings she has accumulated from delivering, and sometimes misdirecting, love messages from one character to another.

The Rivals | Act 2, Scene 1

The setting is Captain Jack Absolute’s lodgings in Bath. Sir Anthony Absolute is surprised that his son is in Bath. Fag promises that he has spread about the news that Jack Absolute is in Bath for “recruiting” (i.e., military or professional) purposes. Faulkland enters, and first, the two men discuss Absolute’s affair with Lydia. The Captain reveals that he has not seen Lydia since their “quarrel,” and Faulkland suggests that Absolute and Lydia elope.

Acres enters, and Faulkland becomes distressed upon learning from him that Julia has been all “Health! Spirit! Laugh! Song! Dance!” in his absence, while he has been so depressed. After Acres exits, Sir Absolute and Jack discuss Jack’s future. Sir Anthony tells Jack that he is prepared to settle a substantial inheritance on the young man, but only on the condition that Jack follows his father’s directions in his choice of a wife. When Jack seems hesitant, Sir Anthony becomes highly irritated and exits in a huff.

The Rivals | Act 2, Scene 2

In this scene the maid Lucy opens the action by preparing to deliver another love letter—in this case, a sweet greeting from “Delia” to Sir Lucius O’Trigger. Sir Lucius believes that Delia is Lydia Languish, but the real author of the letter is Mrs. Malaprop, who has developed an affection for him.

Sir Lucius enters, remarking that he missed meeting Lucy earlier only because he fell asleep and took a nap at the Parade coffeehouse. Lucy produces the letter, which Sir Lucius reads aloud, marveling at the use of language by the writer, whom he believes is only 17. Lucy only remarks that the writer has much experience. Sir Lucius gives Lucy money and flirts with her before he departs.

Fag enters, telling Lucy that he has seen her give Sir Lucius a letter. Lucy, however, discloses that the letter’s author is Mrs. Malaprop, not Lydia. She also tells Fag that Sir Anthony Absolute has proposed his son Jack as a suitor and husband for Lydia.