With the exception of Julia, each of the characters in The Rivals practices artifice, or lying, to get what he or she wants from the other characters. Beginning with David’s wig, his vain attempt to pass as a member of a higher society that has already dropped the wig from fashionable dress, and ending with Faulkland’s last attempt to trick Julia into admitting base motives for loving him, no one willingly presents things as they really are. In fact, many of the characters lie outright. Fag lies to Sir Anthony for Jack about the son’s reasons for being in Bath, and Lucy lies to Sir Lucius about who is writing love letters to him. Other characters simply misrepresent themselves. Jack masquerades as Ensign Beverley in order to win Lydia’s love, while Mrs. Malaprop tries to appear more sophisticated by peppering her speech with fancy vocabulary that she neither understands nor can pronounce.
Of all the characters, Lucy stands to profit the most from her artifice, and that is because she serves as a go-between for the intrigues of the others. She tells the audience in a soliloquy, ‘‘commend me to a mask of silliness and a pair of sharp eyes for my own interest under it.’’ Her comment amounts to a definition of artifice: appearing innocent enough to fool others, while actively seeking one’s own selfish interests through their trust.
The Rivals puts the two common...
(The entire section is 859 words.)
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