The plot of The Rivals is based on confusion over identities and multiple suitors: a combination that leads to plenty of scope for truly funny situations. Elaborate with reference to the text.


The Rivals

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In many ways, this excellent satirical comedy is one that includes all the key ingredients that many of comedies include: mistaken identities and courtship. This is most clearly shown in Act I scene 1, when Coachman and Fag discuss Fag's "new" employer, who is now disguising himself as Ensign Beverley, a position of much lower social status and wealth, because of the "singular" character of the woman he is trying to court. Note how Fag describes this situation:

Harkee, Thomas, my master is in love with a lady of a very singular taste: a lady who likes him better as a half-pay Ensign than if she knew he was son and heir to Sir Anthony Absolute, a baronet with three thousand a year!

In short, this situation of Captain Absolute having to pretend he is much poorer and lower in social status than his real self leads to tremendous confusion and likewise allows Sheridan to comment satirically on the realities of courtship in his day and age but also the power of sentiment and how impressionable young women found it more romantic to be wooed by somebody socially unsuitable than somebody of there own station. The confusion over identity lies at the very heart of this play, and directly leads to its humour.


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