Sheriden wrote to amuse through the use of wit and satire. Discuss with reference to The Rivals.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This play is considered to be a masterpiece of satire, as Sheridan clearly exposes the hypocrisy and pretensions of eighteenth century English society and how issues such as courtship, sentiment and education were thought of. Perhaps key to this is the way in which Lydia is shown to love the so-called Ensign Beverley only because he is poor and of low rank, and this fits in with her idea of sentimental, romantic love, that she has gained from reading too many novels. Note how the central comedy of the play is explained by Fag to Thomas, the Coachman, in Act I scene 1 when he describes how he has managed to suddenly serve the Ensign Beverley and has "left" the service of Captain Absolute:

Harkee, Thomas, my master is in love with a lady of a very singular taste: a lady who likes him better as a half-pay Ensign than if she knew he was sone and heir to Sir Anthony Absolute, a baronet with three thousand a year!

Sheridan therefore mocks romantic sensibilities and sentimental notions of love and romance, which are perfectly captured in the character of Lydia, and uses Captain Absolute's disguise to also expose pretensions about marriage and how courtship was treated in his day and age. Ironically, Ensign Beverley faces many barriers in courting a woman of such high-class and wealth as Lydia, whereas Captain Absolute would face no such opposition at all. In this world, marriageable women of money are treated less as human beings and more as assets who must be married with great wisdom in order to gain something.

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