Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
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...
(The entire section is 1063 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of The Rivals Summary. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
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 Ensign Beverley for the sake of a love affair) catches up with David, coachman to Sir Anthony Absolute, Jack’s father, thus introducing some of the characters to come. In the next scene, Lucy returns from a trip to the local circulating libraries laden with romantic novels for her mistress, Lydia Languish. It is because Lydia wants a love affair like those in her romance stories that Jack Absolute has adopted a reduced title and new name.
Lydia reveals to her friend Julia Melville that her aunt, Mrs. Malaprop, has confined her to her rooms after discovering Lydia’s secret passion for Beverley. Julia is in love with Faulkland, whom Lydia calls jealous, for his possessiveness of Julia. Mrs. Malaprop and Sir Anthony Absolute enter and chide Lydia to forget Beverley. When she refuses, Mrs. Malaprop sends her to her room, whereupon the pair agree that severity is the best method of childrearing. Sir Anthony wants his son to marry Lydia, and he suggests locking Lydia in her room and withholding her dinner for a few days to obtain her compliance. Mrs. Malaprop, her speeches thick with misused, pretentious words, agrees to an initial visit, for she would like to be freed of her niece so she can pursue her own affair with Sir Lucius O’Trigger. Act I ends with Lucy, Julia’s maid, tallying up the many trifles she has...
(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, captious, incorrigible lover’’ for constantly doubting Julia’s loyalty and love. Bob Acres, spurned suitor to Lydia, enters and pitches Faulkland into yet another fit of jealous despair by relating how Julia has entertained the Bath social circle with her singing of ‘‘My heart’s my own, my will is free’’ and with her carefree country dancing. Acres, a provincial country bumpkin, brags to Jack and Faulkland that he shall win Lydia back from Ensign Beverley with his improved dress and hairstyle. He also takes pride in a ‘‘genteel’’ style of ‘‘sentimental swearing’’ that marks him as an oaf. Servant Fag announces the arrival of Jack’s preemptory father, Sir Anthony, who informs Jack that he intends to confer a sizeable estate upon him, conditional to accepting an arranged marriage. Jack demurs politely, saying that his ‘‘heart is engaged to an angel.’’ Sir Anthony leaves fuming. In a brief scene, Lucy delivers a love letter to Sir Lucius O’Trigger. She does not inform him that its real author is Mrs. Malaprop, not her niece Lydia. Before going, Sir Lucius makes a pass at Lucy. Moments later, she tells Fag of Sir Anthony’s choice of a wife for Jack: Lydia Languish. Fag goes off gleefully to inform his master of the good news.
(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 confronts Julia with his paranoid fears and after several attempts at reassurance, she exits in tears. Too late, Faulkland recognizes his folly. Captain Absolute presents himself to Mrs. Malaprop, who does not guess his dual identity with Ensign Beverley. In a comic scene, she shows him his own letter to Lydia, and he feigns disgust at Beverley’s rude remarks about the vigilant aunt. When she then spies on his supposed first meeting with Lydia, she fails to recognize Lydia’s delight at seeing her lover in the ‘‘disguise’’ of his true identity. Lydia infuriates her aunt by continuing to profess her love for Beverley, in plain hearing of Jack Absolute, who calmly pretends not to be jealous of his other self.
In another scene, Sir Lucius interrupts Acres capering about in new clothes, practicing his dance lessons. Sir Lucius manages to convince Acres to challenge Absolute to a duel, to defend his honor and vaguely, to ‘‘prevent any misunderstanding.’’ Sir Lucius has to help Acres write the challenge, but Richard Brinsley Sheridan claims to have another duel to fight and so cannot attend Acres’s battle.
(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. Absolute offers his support but pleads out of acting as Bob’s second, which, of course, would be impossible since he is also Bob’s opponent, Beverley. Jack promises to warn Beverley that ‘‘Fighting Bob’’ is in a ‘‘devouring rage.’’ In another short scene, Lydia assures Mrs. Malaprop that she will give no encouragement to Captain Absolute, hoping to prolong the charade of Beverley’s ‘‘true’’ identity. Now the recognition scene takes place, as suddenly, Sir Anthony arrives with Jack Absolute in tow. His arrival is a volatile situation since Lydia still does not know that Absolute is Beverley. Jack approaches Lydia, who luckily sits with her face averted in an attempt to rebuff him. At first he cannot speak, then he modifies his voice to an awkward croak, which infuriates his father. Finally, he reveals himself to a shocked Lydia. At first, Mrs. Malaprop and Sir Anthony consider Lydia mad for insisting that this is Beverley, then in a hilarious moment, Sir Anthony accuses Jack of not being his son. Lydia sulks in realization that the two are one man, and that means—no elopement; her romantic bubble has burst. Jack’s bubble has burst as well, since Mrs. Malaprop realizes that it was Jack who called her an ‘‘old weather-beaten she dragon’’ and Sir Anthony marvels at his son’s roguish...
(The entire section is 397 words.)
Act V Summary and Epilogue
In the first scene of the final act, Julia is confronted by Faulkland claiming the necessity to leave the country for his life. True to her nature, Julia commits to accompany him, not even knowing the nature of the threat. Overwhelmed by her response, Faulkland forgets to depart, admits the ruse, and enrages Julia for trifling with her sincerity. She now sees that he will never be capable of confidence in love, so she leaves him, professing never to love again. Now, Faulkland truly understands the error of his constant doubts, and he sinks in remorse. In the meantime, Lydia’s heart has softened, and when Julia tells her sad story, Lydia seems ready to accept the new, less romantic, terms of her love affair with Absolute. Suddenly, Mrs. Malaprop and the two servants David and Fag arrive, hoping to interrupt the duel in time, although Mrs. Malaprop’s circuitous style of speaking delays their message being understood by the two young ladies. Eventually, all is clear, and they exit to find the field of battle.
In the meantime, Jack bumps into Sir Anthony, the last person he wants to see when he is on his way to a duel. His nervousness nearly gives him away, but when his sword falls from under his coat, Jack manages to convince his father that he intends to scare Lydia with a romantic threat of suicide if she will not accept him. Jack escapes, just as the others arrive and tell his father his real objective with the sword. Everyone is...
(The entire section is 422 words.)