Comment on Sheridon’s art of characterisation in his the Rivals.

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Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

You can't comment on Sheridan's art of characterization without mentioning the aptly named characters.  (In fact, we even had a new word in the English language coined because of one of them!)  It is this naming technique that distinguishes Sheridan's characterization art above many others.

Let's take a look at some of the more interesting of Sheridan's names in this book:  Absolute, Languish, Malaprop, & O'Trigger.  First, whether it be Captain Jack or Sir Anthony, the characters with the name of "Absolute" are very strong-willed!  This fits their names well.  The father is strong-willed in NOT having his son woo Lydia.  The son is strong-willed enough to go against his father and WIN Lydia.  How about this for being strong-willed:

Had I a thousand daughters, by Heaven! I'd as soon have them taught the black art as their alphabet!

Lydia, of course, is Lydia Languish.  Perfect name for her in that she is forced to live in a less than ideal situation:  so involved in fantasy that everyone seems below her.  The characterization of Mrs. Malaprop actually helped us coin the term "malapropism" because of her ghastly use of the English language.  And finally, the quick-to-act O'Trigger who is a cocky and overbearing Irishman remains true to his name as well (even in suggesting a duel he isn't ready for).

As you can see, then, it is the names of the characters in Sheridan's Rivals that mark his art in characterization. 

teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In The Rivals, Sheridan reflects ideas about characterization common in eighteenth century satire. Characters are not fully rounded but are types. This means that the characters exist primarily to accentuate and poke fun at one personality trait, usually a human weakness. In this way, characterization points back to the Medieval morality plays, in which characters, for example, might represent different vices, such as anger, sloth, or envy.

A prime example of this use of type is Lydia Languish. Her last name, Languish, represents the way she languishes over novels. Through her, Sheridan parodies the romantic and unrealistic notions of love young women in those times were learning from novels. Novels were a relatively new form and one widely disparaged as not being healthy for their primarily young women readers.

Lydia has such exaggerated notions about true love's purity that she refuses to marry Captain Jack Absolute, the man she is love with, because he is heir to a fortune. He has to pose as a penniless ensign so that she can be sure her love is untainted by any practical ideas of money.

Sheridan's humor comes out of the way he takes one weakness in human nature prevalent in the society of his time and accentuates it until it is so over-the-top his audience can't help laughing.