Explain Sheridan's satiric humour in The Rivals.

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

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Sheridan in this play shows himself to be a master of satire as he comments critically on the customs and approaches of his age towards marriage and courtship and learning and education. Learning and education are brought particularly into focus through the character of Mrs. Malaprop, who led to the creation of the English word "malapropism," which is a tendency to confuse words with hilarious consequences. Note how Sheridan satirically presents her views on education as she talks about the correct level of education a young lady should aspire to:

I would have her instructed in geometry, that she might know something of the contagious countries; but above all, Sir Anthony, she should be mistress of orthodoxy, that she might not mispell, and mispronounce words so shamefully as girls usually do; and likewise she might reprehend the true meaning of what she is saying.

Note that Mrs. Malaprop's lamentable ability to do exactly what she says should characterise the education of young women satirically attacks the notion of education and what it means to be an "educated" young lady. Sheridan in this play therefore uses his satire to attack a whole series of assumptions and beliefs of his day with the utmost hilarity. The fact that this is one of the few plays from the 18th century still to be regularly performed is testament to how successeful his satire is.

 

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