What is the difference between artificial comedy and anti- sentimental comedy in The Rivals?
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Artificial comedy is just another term for comedy of manners, where a playwright decides to satirise the behaviour of a particular social group, which is normally upper class in some way. The term antisentimental comedy is not necessary opposite to comedy of manners, and indeed, in this particularly fine example of a comedy of manners by Sheridan, the two work hand in hand to satirise not only the upper classes, but in particular women who are taken up by the cult of sentimentality, which prioritised feeling over anything else. This was particularly evident in the rise of the novel at the time, which critics viewed as being dangerous to women, because of the romance that such early stories contained. The impact is shown through the character of Lydia Languish, who refuses to marry a respectable Captain Absolute, and prefers the Ensign Beverley instead. This is why some of their dialogue seems to emerge more from a cheap romantic novel that prizes sentimentality rather than anything else. Note, for example, what Absolute, disguised as Beverley, says to Lydia when she tells him that if they marry she will lose all wealth:
Love shall be our idol and support! We will worship him with a monastic strictness; abjuring all worldly toys, to centre every thought and action there. Proud of calamity, we will enjoy the wreck of wealth...
This has such an impact on Lydia that she says she could "fly wiht him to the Anitpodes." Sheridan is clearly satirising sentimentality through such dialogue. This play therefore combines both artificial comedy in the way that Sheridan is making fun of the upper class, but he is achieving this through creating an antisentimental comedy, which attacks sentimentality and exposes it to ridicule.
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