What is the significance of the names Richard Brinsley Sheridan uses in his play School for Scandal?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Richard Brinsley Sheridan's play School for Scandal is what is known as a "comedy of manners" or "drawing room comedy." It is an iconic exemplar of this genre, which gains its comic effect from making fun of the wealthy, typically through witty repartee and entertaining plot twists. Despite its frothy entertaining character, the play also, like the satires of Juvenal, unmasks vice and hypocrisy. The names of the major characters add to the humor of the play by revealing much of their true nature and providing opportunities for puns and other forms of word play and verbal irony. Some examples of this are:

  • Lady Teazle: teases people in a nasty manner verbally and teases potential paramours in the sense of being sexually suggestive without actually committing adultery, but regains her moral sense by the end of the play.
  • Sir Benjamin Backbite: is a backstabber who spreads malicious gossip.
  • Mrs. Candour: is candid and open, but this means that she spreads gossip.
  • Snake: is snake-like and venomous.
  • Joseph Surface: his superficial amiability masks a deeper hypocrisy
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