Discuss Sheridan's balance of wit and sentementality in The Rivals.

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Arguably, there is no balance between wit and sentimentality in this text. Rather, wit is clearly dominant, with sentimentality becoming the victim of that aforementioned wit. In many ways, Sheridan wrote this play to parody the cult of sentimentality, or the dominance of feeling, that was such a part of the 18th century, thanks in part to the rise of the novel. It was feared that the novel, which was largely read by women, was a rather dangerous literary form, as it encouraged the imagination of young, impressionable women, and such a woman can be seen in the character of Lydia Languish, whose carefully chosen last name clearly indicates the dangers of over sentimentality. Lydia is completely dominated by a fixation on marrying without the approbation of her family and in order to impoverish herself. She becomes so entranced by this idea that when Beverley reveals he is actually Absolute, she is most annoyed that they will not have to elope and become poor after all. Note what she says to Julia in Act I scene 2 about her determination to impoverish herself for love:

But you know I lose most of my fortune, if I marry without my aunt's consent, till of age; and that is what I have determined to do, ever since I knew the penalty. Nor could I love the man, who would wish to wait a day for the alternative.

Lydia tries to be a character from one of her novels that she loves so much, and thus is an example of how Sheridan satirises sentimentality. There is no place for reason or caution in Lydia's world: emotions are everything. There is therefore very little balance provided between wit and sentimentality. Sheridan uses wit to parody sentimentality and to expose its ridiculous nature to the audience.

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