Study Guide

The Rivals

by Richard Brinsley Sheridan

The Rivals Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

To beautiful and wealthy young Lydia Languish, who has been brought up on romantic novels, the only lover worth considering is one whose position in life is in complete contrast to her own. To this end she has fallen in love with a penniless young ensign named Beverley. To this same Beverley, her aunt, Mrs. Malaprop, raises serious objections. Her antipathy to young Mr. Beverley is partly aroused by letters that the ensign has written to Lydia, letters in which he has made uncomplimentary references to her aunt’s age and appearance. Mrs. Malaprop has had some moments of extreme discomfiture as she has wondered whether she does resemble the she-dragon to which Beverley has compared her.

Mrs. Malaprop herself has fallen hopelessly in love with a quixotic Irishman named Sir Lucius O’Trigger, who presumably returns her affection. Sir Lucius, who has never seen Mrs. Malaprop, has been hoodwinked by a maidservant into believing that the romantic creature with whom he has been exchanging love letters is Lydia.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that Beverley is in reality young Captain Jack Absolute, the son of Sir Anthony Absolute, and as wealthy and aristocratic as Lydia herself. Jack very early sensed that he would get nowhere if he wooed the romantic Lydia in his own person, and so he assumed a character more nearly resembling the heroes of the novels that Lydia enjoys.

Jack’s friend Faulkland has not fared any better than Jack in his own romantic pursuit of Lydia’s cousin, Julia Melville. In fact, it might be thought that he has fared worse, for, unlike Jack, he is forever placing imaginary obstacles between himself and his beloved. Whenever they are separated, Faulkland imagines all kinds of horrible catastrophes that might have befallen her, and when he finds that she is alive and well he torments himself with the thought that she cannot be in love and remain so happy. At last Jack loses patience with his friend’s ridiculous behavior, and even Julia becomes a little tired of her lover’s unfounded jealousy.

Jack’s curious love tangle reaches a crisis when Sir Anthony Absolute informs his son that he has selected the woman for him to marry, threatening that if Jack refuses, he will cut the young man off without a penny. Not having the faintest idea as to the identity of the woman his father has picked out for him, and conjuring up pictures of some homely heir his father intends to force on him against his will, Jack rebels. He declares that, whatever the consequences, he will have nothing to do with the woman his father has...

(The entire section is 1063 words.)

The Rivals Summary

Act I Summary

The Rivals opens with two old friends happening upon each other in Bath. Fag, servant to Captain Jack Absolute (who is masquerading as...

(The entire section is 268 words.)

Act II Summary

In parallel to Lydia and Julia, now Jack Absolute and Faulkland discuss their love affairs. Jack accuses Faulkland of being a ‘‘teasing,...

(The entire section is 236 words.)

Act III Summary

Now that Jack knows he is being forced to marry the girl he loves, he plays repentance and wins his father’s shocked approval. Faulkland...

(The entire section is 212 words.)

Act IV Summary

Bob’s servant David tries to deflate his master’s enthusiasm for the fight with a healthy dose of reality, but Acres remains steadfast....

(The entire section is 397 words.)

Act V Summary and Epilogue

Act V
In the first scene of the final act, Julia is confronted by Faulkland claiming the necessity to leave the country for his...

(The entire section is 422 words.)