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One of the most prominent themes of The Rivals by Richard Brinsley Sheridan is that of artifice, defined as the practice of appearing genuine, sincere and innocent while all the while looking out for your own selfish interests at others' expense, subterfuge. Artifice is practiced throughout the play and by every character.
Lucy lies about the author of the love letters to Sir Lucius. David acts a pretense to make himself appear more socially acceptable than he is. Jack impersonates Ensign Beverley. Fag lies to Sir Anthony. Mrs. Malaprop slaughters language in an action of pretense to appear more worldly wise than she is. Jack asks Fag to lie. Faulkland tries to trick Julia. And Julia is the only who does not practice artifice.
Another prominent theme is that of the 18th century opposition between courtship's means and objective: falling in love and marriage. Falling in love was not necessarily valued by the marriage makers, the parents. But marriage without love was spurned by those who would wed, the children, who were often forced into marriages without love to gain financial or social advantage, which was particularly painful is the individuals being wedded were--one or both--in love with someone else.
A third theme is the importance of education and language, which give one social importance or rob one of social importance. This is a relevant issue in today's world as well and one that garners hot debate within the ranks of sociolinguists and educators. The higher your education, the higher your language attainments; the higher your language attainments, the higher your social standing; the higher your social standing, the higher your potential for financial success.
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