In The Rivals, why does Sheridan include an epilogue at the end of his play?
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The epilogue was, in part, a convention common to the eighteenth century. Sheridan wrote this epilogue in rhyming couplets, and the fact that he wrote it to be delivered by a female character indicates that he wants to close the play with a particularly female perspective. Analysing the content, it is clear that the message of the epilogue focuses on the importance of women in matters of love and the emotions:
Man's social happiness all rests on us--
Through all the drama--whether damned or not--
Love gilds the scene, and women guide the plot.
Therefore, the epilogue insists that men, for all their knowledge and reason, need to light their "lamp of knowledge at the torch of love." The epilogue is therefore an ironic reflection on the way that love controls men and that women are in control of love, making them the most important characters of this play and in society in general when it comes to matters of the heart. Even the strongest soldier who likes to think of himself as being so independent is vanquished by love. The epilogue therefore picks up on certain themes expressed in the play and draws them together, presenting a final ironic reflection about man's supposed strength and independence and his actual weakness when it comes to love, and women's dominance over them in this arena.
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