What is the play School for Scandal about?

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Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This play is a very famous comedy written as a parody about the English aristocracy in the eighteenth century.  The play has two main plot threads both of which come together in a hilarious ending.

Both plot threads involve Sir Oliver Surface's two nephews in some way. The first thread is about Sir Oliver Surface trying to determine which nephew most deserves recognition. The second main thread involves Lady Sneerwell's plan to trap both nephews as well as Lady Teazle.

The two separate stories of the play come together in a grand way during the final act. Both Sir Oliver and Sir Peter find out about Joseph's true character while Charles receives both Maria's inheritance as well as his uncle's inheritance all because of a promise to do better. Snake is paid double in order to expose the truth about Lady Sneerwell (whose tricks are found out as a result), and at the same time, Lady Teazle returns her diploma back into the School.  Ironically, Lady Sneerwell continues on as the president of the aptly named "School for Scandal." 

In conclusion, it's important to note the significance of names in this play. One can't get far without realizing the comic nature of last names based on the words surface, sneer, snake, and tease. Everything humorous and comic lends itself to the play's hilarious conclusion.

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

School for Scandal, a comedy of manners, is a play about the dangers of gossiping. In the course of the play, Sir Oliver, disguised as a moneylender, spies on his nephews, Charles and Joseph, to determine which of them is worthy of inheriting his estate. Charles has been slandered by Lady Sneerwell, who wants to force Charles and Maria to break up so she can have Charles to herself. However, Charles proves himself a worthy man, though he is a gambler, and Joseph, his brother, turns out to be a dishonorable character who wants to defame his brother to gain a wealthy wife. In the end, Charles is honorable, but gossips such as Lady Sneerwell and Snake prove dishonorable, as they are willing to spread rumors without any kernel of truth.

The play also satirizes the morals of the idle rich, who have nothing better to do than to engage in scandal and immorality. For example, Lady Teazle feels at first that she must have an affair because it is the fashionable thing to do among the wealthy, though in the end, she decides to remain faithful to her husband. In this play, Sheridan satirizes the immorality of the leisure class of his time.