Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
Lady Sneerwell’s dressing room
Lady Sneerwell’s dressing room. Despite the fact that the stage direction indicates that the first scene of the play takes place at Lady Sneerwell’s dressing table, the room in which the scene takes place is a large room used by fashionable ladies for waiting on their most confidential guests. Thus Lady Sneerwell uses her dressing room to converse with Snake in much the same way the men of the house would use the library.
Drawing room. Other scenes in Lady Sneerwell’s house are set in the typical drawing room of a fashionable house. For example, in act 2, scene 2, Sheridan presents the famous school for scandal in attendance in the drawing room. Drawing rooms were used purely for public purposes. It was here that a hostess would receive guests or where guests would gather before and after dinner. Usually they were among the larger rooms of the house and certainly the room in Lady Sneerwell’s house is big enough to handle her rather large group of scandalmongers.
Library. Joseph Surface’s library, in which the play’s most famous scene is set. Like women’s dressing rooms, libraries were places where men met their friends for personal visits. Usually, however, it was where they met their male friends, so the scene in which Joseph meets intimately with Lady Teazle has a special significance in its being set in the library.
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Sheridan's England was a very different one than that of earlier British playwrights. The mid-seventeenth century had brought the German House of Hanover to the English throne. The first two King Georges spoke little English and had no interest in patronizing the arts. Royal patronage, which had supported so many writers in the past, ended. By the tune George III became king in 1760, England was more concerned with colonization and reform than with supporting the arts.
While the British were cementing their control over Canada and India the American colonists were proving themselves restless with Britain's rule. England had always seen itself as a military power; when the discontent in the colonies developed into the American Revolutionary War, which the British ultimately lost, George III took the news badly. But George III, who had always been popular with his subjects, was ill and at the mercy of his son who constantly plotted to seize the throne.
At the same time, the industrialization of England had resulted in an even sharper division between classes. Industrialization brought a great deal of wealth to England, but little of it found its way to the working class or the poor. What the poor had, instead, was even less than before. With the Enclosure Act, the lower class were shifted from the country, losing a simple existence that permitted them to grow some of their food and trade for their needs.
With no where else to go,...
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A major division in a drama. In Greek plays, the sections of the drama signified by the appearance of the chorus were usually divided into five acts. This is the formula for most serious drama from the Greeks to the Romans and to Elizabethan playwrights like William Shakespeare. The five acts denote the structure of dramatic action. They are exposition, complication, climax, falling action, and catastrophe. The five-act structure was followed until the nineteenth century when Henrik Ibsen (A Doll's House) revolutionized dramatic structure by combining elements into fewer acts.
School for Scandal is a five-act play. The exposition occurs in the first act when the audience learns of Lady Sneerwell and Joseph's plan to break up the romance between Charles and Maria; the audience also meets the gossips. By the end of Act II, the complication, the audience has met Sir Oliver and knows that he plans to test his nephews' morality. The climax occurs in the third act when Charles meets his uncle disguised as a moneylender and agrees to sell him the family portraits.
The conflict between Maria and her guardian, Sir Peter, is revealed when she refuses his request to allow Joseph to court her. There are several near misses as a series of visits, Lady Teazle and her husband, Charles, and Lady Sneerwell all arrive at...
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Compare and Contrast
1777: The Continental Congress votes to accept the services of the Marquis de Lafayette, who will command a division during the American Revolutionary War. Lafayette will assist the American Colonies, although he has been forbidden to do so by the king of France Louis XVI. The French have secretly been supporting the American war effort for nearly two years.
Today: The United States regards England as one of its closest allies and strongest supporters. The two countries frequently support one another in economic, military, and cultural efforts.
1777: The victory at Saratoga is a turning point for the Revolutionary War. For the first tune, the English realize that they can not beat the Americans. Parliament asks George III to back down and end the war. He refuses to consider the option.
Today: The monarchy of England has little political power and could neither declare war nor sustain one in opposition to parliament.
1777: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is composing music and his Concert No. 9 for Pianoforte and Orchestra in E flat major debuts in Salzburg. Europe remains a center for great music, with London better known for its theatre than its musical composers.
Today: England has been an important force in...
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Topics for Further Study
- Sheridan is a male writer who writes about marriage and women in School for Scandal. Research the role of women in London society. Do you think that Sheridan accurately portrays women? Is the marriage depicted in this play an accurate reflection of marriage in the late eighteenth century?
- Sheridan's biography indicates that he made a lot of money from writing plays. Investigate play-writing and other theatre work as money-making ventures. How successful financially was acting? Or the writing of plays? Or owning a theatre?
- School for Scandal focuses on gossip and slander as a social disease. How serious a problem was slander in London society? In your research, did you find that Sheridan was using slander as a symptom of a more serious social issue?
- The eighteenth century was a period during which the line between poverty and wealth became even more pronounced in England. Because of enclosure laws, more people, who had formerly made an adequate living in the country, were forced to move to London to look for employment. At the same time, gin bars proliferated, and public drunkenness became a serious problem. High unemployment and public drunkenness combined to created some serious issues in London. Research the effects of these two events. What new issues were created?
- Sheridan was one of the last play wnghts to write a "comedy of manners." This genre of comedy became very popular after...
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School for Scandal was videotaped in 1965. The 100 minute-long black and white film, taped during a stage performance of the play, stars Joan Plowright and Felix Aylmer. The Hal Burton production is available from Video Yesteryear.
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What Do I Read Next?
- Sheridan's first play, The Rivals, written in 1775, is also a comedy that uses disguise and romance to probe social issues. A clever use of language is notable in this play, which, like School for Scandal, offers generational discord as a motif.
- Sheridan was often compared with William Congreve whose Way of the World is considered to be one of his finest comedies. This comedy makes use of witty dialogue to demonstrate how foolish human nature can be.
- The French playwright John Baptiste Poquelin Moliere is often cited as an influence on Sheridan. School for Wives was first presented in 1662. The play is a satire and makes use of mistaken identity and misunderstandings to help further its plot.
- Oliver Goldsmith's play She Stoops to Conquer, presented in 1773, was also an attack against the sentimental comedy of the Restoration Age. Goldsmith is sometimes described as the only other successful playwright, besides Sheridan, to emerge in the latter part of the eighteenth century.
- England in the Age of Hogarth, written by Derek Jarrett and published in 1986, provides a glimpse of the social history of English in the years just before Sheridan began writing his plays....
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Morrow, Laura. "Television, Text, and Teleology in a School for Scandal," in Shakespeare on Film Newsletter, Vol. 11, no. 2, 1987, p. 3.
Morwood, James, and David Crane. "On Producing Sheridan: A Conversation with Peter Wood," in Sheridan Studies, edited by Morwood and Crane. Cambridge University Press, 1995, pp. 178-88.
Rump, Eric. "Sheridan, Congreve and School for Scandal," in Sheridan Studies, edited by James Morwood and David Crane. Cambridge University Press, 1995, pp. 58-70.
Snider, Rose. "Richard B. Sheridan," in Satire in the Comedies of Congreve, Sheridan, Wilde, and Coward, 1937, reprint by Phaeton Press, 1972, pp. 41-73.
Taylor, Richard. '"Future Retrospection': Rereading Sheridan's Reviewers," in Sheridan Studies, edited by James Morwood and David Crane. Cambridge University Press, 1995, pp. 47-57.
Wiesenthal, Christine. "Representation and Experimentation in the Major Comedies of Richard Brinsley Sheridan," in Eighteenth-Century Studies, Vol. 25, no. 3, 1992, pp. 309-30.
Auburn, Mark S. "Richard Brinsley Sheridan," in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 89. Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Dramatists, edited by Paula R. Backscheider. Gale, 1989, pp....
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
Auburn, Mark. Sheridan’s Comedies: Their Contexts and Achievements. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1977. Perhaps the best of the very few full-length studies of Sheridan and his work. First-rate discussion of The School for Scandal.
Danziger, Marlies K. Oliver Goldsmith and Richard Brinsley Sheridan. New York: Frederick Unger, 1978. A good place to begin study of Sheridan and his work. Contains an excellent discussion of The School for Scandal and a useful bibliography.
Loftis, John. Sheridan and the Drama of Georgian England. Oxford, England: Basil Blackwell, 1976. Carefully researched and rewarding study by a leading scholar in the field. Places Sheridan’s work firmly in the context of late eighteenth century theater and dispels many of the myths surrounding The School for Scandal. Highly recommended.
Schiller, Andrew. “The School for Scandal: The Restoration Unrestored.” Publications of the Modern Language Association 71 (September, 1956): 694-704. In this classic article, Schiller attacks the idea that The School for Scandal recaptures the spirit and substance of Restoration comedy. Schiller considers The School for Scandal “a kind of bourgeois morality play.”
Worth, Katharine. Sheridan and...
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