What is the significance of the auction scene in Sheridan's play School for Scandal, Act IV, Scene V?

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The auction scene is significant because through it Sir Oliver comes to a better understanding of his nephew Charles' true character. All along the good-natured Charles has been in severe financial trouble, and he has sold all the objects he inherited, except for the family portrait collection. This makes him look like a self-indulgent spendthrift, and spiteful gossip heightens the sense that he is a bad character.

Disguised as the moneylender Mr. Premium, Sir Oliver purchases the family portraits Charles is selling at auction and is touched when Charles refuses to sell Sir Oliver's—at any price. This demonstration of character helps convince Sir Oliver that the gossip about Charles as money hungry is malicious, a feeling that is confirmed when Charles immediately gives a hundred of the 800 pounds he has received for the portraits to a poor relation. 

The scene helps clarify that, although he spouts the best "sentimental" (emotional, caring) talk, Joseph is a hypocrite and that Charles, though he looks worse on the outside to a gossiping public, has an inner character of true worth. Sir Oliver is shown to have the good sense to probe more deeply into his nephews' respective characters through their actions, rather to make the mistake of relying on what people say. 

kc4u | Student

The auction scene marks a certain kind of climactic movement as far as the farcical comedy of R. B. Sheridan's play The School for Scandal is concerned. It is important both thematically and structurally.

1. The scene makes elaborate use of the masking and unmasking pattern underlining the theme of an appearance -reality dichotomy. The intermittent use of aside in the scene is the verbal structure holding on to the central dichotomy. Sir Oliver Surface is disguised as Mr. Premium, the purchaser.

2. The very situation of the scene which is an auctioning of all the portraits of the Surface family, involves a seriously satirical comment on the devaluation and lack of respect for the lineage in the younger generation. The precursors of the family are materialistically sold off in a pathetically utilitarian fashion by Charles, which speaks volumes of his extravagance and dissipation.

3. Situationallspeakingy , the scene parodies the tradition of the courtroom drama especially with Charles and his auctioning hammer, 'knocking down' the ancestors.

4. The moral test that Oliver seems to take of Charles has a double point of ironic critique in it. It is not just Charles who is criticized but Oliver's verdict too, which sways like anything and turns on its head when he sees that Charles might sell off all the ancestors, but he is unwilling to part with Oliver's portrait. Oliver appreciates Charles only because the latter seems to spare the former's portrait from the humiliation of auction. His verdict is thus, egotistically biased.


mercylisa | Student

the auction scene helps us to know charle's character and also realise that he loves and respects sir oliver because he refuses to sell his potrait because he is grateful for what he has done for him

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School for Scandal

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