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Summarizing Act II, scene ii would be a tedious and dull business if it weren't for the relief given by Sir Peter and Maria. This scene is staged at Lady Sneerwell's. The symbolism of the names Sheridan bestows on his characters is of the obvious sort, so you can tell instantly what sort of person Lady Sneerwell is: she sneers at other people and does it very well.
The conversation in her drawing room is of the sneering kind in which everyone they can think of is insulted and mocked. The formulation of their remarks is usually to say something in the defense of a person followed by the "witty" insult. Here is a fair example where Miss Swallow is defended then lampooned in the same sentence.
LADY SNEERWELL. Positively you shall not be so very severe. Miss Sallow is a Relation of mine by marriage, and, as for her Person great allowance is to be made—for, let me tell you a woman labours under many disadvantages who tries to pass for a girl at six-and-thirty.
The first half of the scene is this kind of witty attack against other members of the speaker's social group. Sir Peter comes in eventually to join Lady Teazle, his wife, and reprimands them mildly pointing out that ruining a reputation is at least as serious an offence as poaching game from manorial lands.
SIR PETER. 'Fore heaven! Madam, if they were to consider the Sporting with Reputation of as much importance as poaching on manors— and pass an Act for the Preservation of Fame—there are many would thank them for the Bill.
This scene is designed to reveal the inner qualities of some of the principal characters, including Surface and Maria. To that end, we learn that Maria doesn't take enjoyment in slandering others and doesn't have any romantic interest in Surface. We see he has gotten into a difficulty by trying to make himself agreeable to Lady Teazle so she will support his marriage offer to Maria, who is love with his brother Charles.
SURFACE. A curious Dilemma truly ... I wanted at first only to ingratiate myself with Lady Teazle that she might not be my enemy with Maria—and [have] become her serious Lover, so that I stand a chance of Committing a Crime I never meditated—and probably of losing Maria by the Pursuit!
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