A School for Scandal, Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s’ comedy of manners, is a surprisingly fast and entertaining read despite being about as old as the United States.
A Comedy of Manner
A comedy of manner is a form of entertainment that satirizes a social class using witty dialogue and stereotypical characters. It’s like most sitcoms we have today, except intelligent. Staying true to the characteristics of comedies of manner, you often know quite a bit about a character with just their names. All the Moses’s, Sneerwells, Snakes, and Surfaces induce giggle with every appearance. Things get serious soon enough though.
The story might not be rather original, or very important in a comedy of manners for that matter, but it is rather engaging. It took me about 2 hours to read the entire text; I’d wager that watching the play would be a much shorter and more entertaining affair. The language wasn’t very archaic either.
Now for the most important aspect of all comedies of manner- the wit. This play certainly has a lot of it. Sharp comment fly at characters with every plot point and keep the play humorous. The plays’ main concerns are integrity, libel, and of course scandal. The story and wit revolve around these matter and the nice people have happy ending and the bad ones have bad endings. It might sound simple but the wit is plentiful and the values delivered. This was unusual for that time; most comedies of manner had the ill-doers get away.
Themes, Motifs, Plot
The message about scandal, libel, and rumor are still relevant in a world where Rupert Murdoch still publishes about a million tabloids a day.
Sheridan might have been writing a comedy whose humor may not translate too well with modern audiences with society being a lot more progressive and diverse. But if you know a little history about the rigid, wealth and decadent upper class of the 1800’s you’ll find the play very entertaining. If humor doesn’t seem to reveal itself, remember this is a satire and look for the wit and parody among the prudes on stage. There isn’t any central character to drive the play, because the upper class and their scandalous ways and disregard of propriety is the main focus. This is something that’ll either make the play a chore or refreshing.
There is a lot of antisemitism in the play. Although Moses is shown to be a kind man, that seems to be played as a aberration. This is something audiences should expect from plays of that era and from R.B Sheridan who has a reputation for making choice comments about women authors and the Irish. Audiences may also be surprised by the amount of affairs and sexual escapades that are hinted at in the play.
Why should you care?
R.B Sheridan is a man worth know about. Any man who went from class dunce to dueler to play write is worth reading about.
If that doesn’t interest you the fact that Sheridan makes a scathing critic of the hypocrisy and prudishness of the upper class at a time when it was solidifying, and managed to be funny about it makes the play worth a watch or read.