What consideration of marriage does The Rivals offer?
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In one sense, this play is about the theme of marriage and so much of the comedy in this comedy of manners extends from the way in which women were treated in Sheridan's day as more of an investment than as real human beings. A fortuitous marriage was one way in which families could raise their social status and also gain wealth, whereas the converse was also true. This often led to conflict between parents and their wishes for their children and the children themselves and their own idea about who they would like to marry. One aspect of the comedy of this play comes through Captain Jack Absolute, who is pretending to be of a lower class than he actually is to engage the interest of Lydia, who finds the idea of marrying an Ensign hopelessly romantic. Mistaken identities and hilarious slapstick comedy result through this disguise. However, if there is one quote that suggests the meaning of the theme of marriage in this play, it is probably Julia's closing words at the end of the play:
When hearts deserving happiness would unite their fortunes, virtue would crown them with an unfading garland of modest, hurtless flowers; but ill-judging passion will force the gaudier rose into the wreath, whose thorn offends them, when its leaves are dropped!
Note how the metaphor of flowers is used to comment on the impact of "ill-judging passion" on the question of marriage. If passion alone is the basis for this decision, the couple involved will only end up hurting themselves in the long run when the "leaves" of the initial happiness of marriage are "dropped." Marriage therefore should not be a state that is entered into lightly without due consideration and serious thought. Passion alone should not be the motive for marriage.
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