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Sheridan is known as one of the masters of satire in the English language, and this play is certainly no exception as he turns his satirical gaze upon the importance placed on sentimentality. This is of course most clearly seen in the character of Lydia Languish, who refuses Captain Jack Absolute because he is too conventional, and thus forces him to take on the persona of Ensign Beverley, who is a much more exciting prospect because of his poverty and low status. Lydia's ideas of love and romance are shown to be formed completely from the romantic novels she reads, and she insists on being courted in a way that corresponds with the "true" love she reads about in her novels. Note, for example, what Absolute says to her whilst pretending to be Beverley about the poverty they will enjoy together in their love, directly parodying some of the trashier romantic fictions of the period:
Proud of calamity, we will enjoy the wreck of wealth; while the surrounding gloom of adversity shall make the flame of our pure love show doubly bright. By heavens! I would fling all goods of fortune from me with a prodigal hand to enjoy the scene where I might clasp my Lydia to my bosom, and say, the world affords no smile to me--but here--(Embracing her).
Lydia is of course enraptured with such hackneyed speech, and responds by saying, "How charming will poverty be with him!" Of course, Sheridan is satirising sentimentality and also raising profound questions concerning the impact of the novel, which was opposed when it was introduced precisely because of the impact it could have upon young impressionable women like Lydia. Such issues and themes make this an excellent comedy of manners, in which Sheridan successfully amuses his audience whilst using his drama to hold a mirror up to them, so that what they are laughing at are the excesses of their own behaviour and practices.
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