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As with all of Sheridan's dramatic works, this excellent play acts as the metaphorical equivalent of Sheridan holding up a mirror to his contemporary audience and asking them to take a long hard look at themselves. Clearly, one of the central themes is the danger of gossip and slander, and how love of it can destroy people's lives. The characters depicted in this play love gossip and engaging in it so much that they do not have a thought for the damage it can cause and the way that people's lives are completely destroyed as a result. Although this play is described as a comedy, at the same time its didactic element is completely clear, as it definitely teaches a lesson to is audience about the dangers of gossip and how it impacts people.
The values of the world of this play clearly point towards an unprincipled society where gossip and rumour is prized above all else, and the danger of such activities are ignored by those characters who, like Lady Sneerwell and Mrs. Candour, are more in love with fabrication and insinuation than actual reality.
Sheridan emphasizes the virtues of leading a life of simplicity and honesty.
Scandal: Sheridan attacks the pernicious vice of scandal mongering through the characters of Sir Peter and Sir Oliver: "A character dead at every word" and "murdering character to kill time." ActII sc.2 and 3.
Fashion: Sheridan criticizes the practice of slavishly following the fashion of the day. Lady Teazle: "Would you have me be out of the fashion." ActII sc1. Lady Teazle symbolizes how good old country values of frugality, simplicity and honesty are corrupted by the vices of London life: She takes on Joseph as her lover for fashion's sake.
Hypocrisy: Joseph Surface is the personification of hypocrisy. Even as He pretends to be a very virtuous person and is always uttering noble sentiments,he covets his guardian's wife. Sheridan means to tell us not judge a person on the 'surface' merely by his words.
Friendship: Sheridan underscores the value of true friendship through the character of Sir Oliver Surface. It is Sir Oliver who judges the character of Charles and Joseph and opens the eyes of Sir Peter Teazle to the virtuous qualities of Charles and the villainy of Joseph.
Forgiveness and Reconciliation: Sheridan emphasizes the virtues of forgiveness and reconciliation. Lady Teazle finally realizes her mistake and asks her husband's forgiveness and is pardoned by him and reconciled to him. Sir Peter is also finally reconciled to Charles.
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