What are the most important events in The Rivals?
It is easy to forget the somewhat serious themes that lie behind the hilarious satire and comedy in this play. Sheridan presents us with an image of a world where young people are not able to make their own choice as to who they will marry, and where love and genuine regard has very little to do with the choice of life partner. Therefore, it could be argued that the most important sections of this play are those that help expound this message and explore the many barriers facing Lydia's romance with the supposed Ensign Beverley and how she is prepared to marry Captain Absolute by Mrs. Malaprop. Note what Mrs. Malaprop says to Lydia in Act I scene 2 about her affections for a man who is beneath her in rank and has no money:
...the point we would request of you is, that you will promise to forget this fellow--to illiterate him, I say, quite from your memory.
Putting Mrs. Malaprop's hilarious confusion of vocabulary to one side for a moment, it is clear that such scenes were the reality for young people in the eighteenth century: they were not free to choose who they wanted to marry, and marriage became a tool by which families could gain wealth and/or social status. Young women of the age to be married were therefore considered more as an investment than anything else, and it is important for the audience not to forget the serious message behind the comedy in this play.