Lord Burleigh, the Lord Treasurer and chief minister under Queen Elizabeth I, appears in Puff’s The Spanish Armada as a completely silent man. His simple shaking of the head communicates the need for the English to show a greater spirit if they are to defeat their Spanish enemies.
Mr. Dangle is the critic of the play’s title. Dangle’s great love is the stage; the opening scene of the play shows him disregarding newspaper articles about important current events in favor of one that tells him about the theatre. ‘‘I hate all politics but theatrical politics,’’ he explains to his wife as he hurriedly reads of a new play in production. Dangle finds great satisfaction in his position as ‘‘the head of a band of criticks,’’ as his judgment of a play is so widely sought and revered. All members of the theatrical world seek his patronage because his word is enough to spark their careers; as he explains, there are ‘‘applications from all quarters’’ for his ‘‘interest.’’ In act 1, scene ii, for example, Dangle receives some Italian singers in his drawing room and behaves like a king at court, despite the fact that he can barely understand them (or their translator). As his name suggests, there is something silly about a man who ‘‘dangles’’ around theaters and greenrooms, mingling with those who often hold a less-than-respectable position in London society. His self-importance makes him, therefore, an object of gentle ridicule: a man completely caught up in the work of others and determined to tell the public what it should think about its own tastes. Even his wife finds his devotion to theatrical matters laughable and unworthy of the effort with which he peruses them.
Nothing in the play suggests that Dangle is a harsh or brutal judge, as the term ‘‘critic’’ sometimes connotes. Indeed, each complaint he voices against Sir Fretful is followed by ‘‘tho’ he’s my friend’’ to suggest that Dangle takes no joy in trouncing someone’s creative labors. When Sir Fretful arrives at Dangle’s home, Dangle takes pains to spare his feelings when pointing out what he thinks of his latest tragedy: he prefaces his criticism by telling Sir Fretful that his first four acts are the best he ‘‘ever read or saw’’ before stating, ‘‘If I might venture to suggest any thing, it is that the interest rather falls off in the fifth.’’ He furthermore calls the newspapers’ attacks on Sir Fretful’s work ‘‘illnatured to be sure,’’ despite the fact that Sir Fretful’s work seems to warrant such censure.
Dangle’s desire to criticize without offending is even more apparent when he watches the rehearsal of Puff’s The Spanish Armada and asks polite questions about its flaws instead of jeering at them outright (as both Sneer and the audience do). Unlike many critics who make names for themselves by tearing down those of their contemporaries’, Dangle enjoys his happy life as a man who reads plays in advance of their production and obtains the finest seats at the theatre.
Unlike her husband, Mrs. Dangle finds his devotion to the theatre childish and confounding. One of her first lines is, ‘‘Now that the plays are begun I shall have no peace’’; it is this ‘‘lack of peace’’ caused by the constant influx of actors, managers, and playwrights into her home that Mrs. Dangle finds irritating. She scolds Dangle for taking no interest in contemporary politics and bemoans the fact that Dangle could, if he showed ‘‘the least spirit,’’ have ‘‘been at the head of one of the Westminster associations.’’ While amusing to the audience, Dangle’s complete lack of interest in anything but the theater irritates his wife: ‘‘I believe,’’ she tells him, ‘‘if the French were landed tomorrow, your first inquiry would be, whether they had brought a theatrical troop with them.’’ Although Dangle tries to involve his wife in his theatrical pursuits, her attitude toward him is unchanging.
Early in the play, Mrs. Dangle complains that her house has become ‘‘the motley rendezvous of all the lackeys of literature’’ and ‘‘an absolute register-office for candidate actors, and poets without character.’’ While Dangle enjoys having his patronage solicited by these ‘‘lackeys,’’ Mrs. Dangle finds their presence unnerving. In act 1, scene ii, Sheridan offers the viewer an example of how Mrs. Dangle deals with these intrusions: after trying to understand both the Italian singer and his interpreter, she tells Dangle, ‘‘Here are two very civil gentlemen trying to make themselves understood, and I don’t know which is the interpreter.’’ Her frustration, however, does not deter Dangle from mingling with performers or abandoning his critical duties.
The Earl of Leicester
A favorite of Queen Elizabeth I, he appears in Puff’s The...