The Rivals "Caparisons Don't Become A Young Woman"

Richard Brinsley Sheridan

"Caparisons Don't Become A Young Woman"

Context: At Bath, Captain Absolute is courting Lydia Languish, a wealthy heiress. To promote his suit, he appears as Ensign Beverley because, as his valet explains in Act I, she is "a lady of very singular taste: a lady who likes him better as a half-pay Ensign than if she knew he was son and heir to Sir Anthony Absolute, a baronet of three thousand a year." Though Beverley prospers with Lydia, he is unwelcome to Lydia's aunt, Mrs. Malaprop, guardian of the girl's fortune. When Sir Anthony himself arrives in Bath to arrange a match between his son and Lydia, Mrs. Malaprop, unaware that Beverley is Absolute, warmly espouses the match. The quoted line is part of a dialogue between Lydia and her aunt, in which Mrs. Malaprop praises Captain Absolute, while Lydia, now aware of the deception, pretends to scorn him. Mrs. Malaprop (from malapropos, "out of place, inappropriate") is so well-known for her misapplication of words throughout this play that her name, plus ism, has became a standard English word to designate such errors. The word caparisons (ornamental coverings for horses) is intended, of course, to be comparisons. The quoted line occurs in the following dialogue:

Why, thou perverse one! tell me what you can object to him? Isn't he a handsome man? tell me that. A genteel man? a pretty figure of a man?
[aside]: She little thinks whom she is praising–[aloud] So is Beverley, Ma'am.
No caparisons, Miss, if you please! Caparisons don't become a young woman. . . .