Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 246
Mr. Dangle, a wealthy Londoner who is stagestruck and brings into his house a constant parade of musicians, actors, critics, and other theatrical types. He is one of the witnesses to the rehearsal of Mr. Puff’s new play.
Mrs. Dangle, Mr. Dangle’s wife, who objects to the stream of theatrical callers who clutter up her house. She discusses the theater and drama with Mr. Sneer, who comes to call, and also rescues her husband from some musicians who cannot speak English but want him to get jobs for them.
Mr. Puff, a playwright as well as a press agent who praises things for a price. He has several categories of “puffs” that he writes in praise of anyone or anything when he is well paid. His play is the one being rehearsed, and he quarrels with the actors and the under-prompter because they have cut his lines and scenes and because the scenery has not been made. Mr. Puff is very proud of his playwriting ability.
Mr. Sneer, Mr. Dangle’s friend, with whom he discusses the theater. He is one of the group who watch the rehearsal of Mr. Puff’s play.
Sir Fretful Plagiary
Sir Fretful Plagiary, a dramatist who cannot stand any kind of criticism of his work. He brushes aside any critical remarks about his new play and holds forth at great length against those who say anything unflattering about his playwriting.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2037
Lord Burleigh, the Lord Treasurer and chief minister under Queen Elizabeth I, appears in Puff’s The Spanish Armada as a completely silent man. His simple shaking of the head communicates the need for the English to show a greater spirit if they are to defeat their Spanish enemies.
Mr. Dangle is the critic of the play’s title. Dangle’s great love is the stage; the opening scene of the play shows him disregarding newspaper articles about important current events in favor of one that tells him about the theatre. ‘‘I hate all politics but theatrical politics,’’ he explains to his wife as he hurriedly reads of a new play in production. Dangle finds great satisfaction in his position as ‘‘the head of a band of criticks,’’ as his judgment of a play is so widely sought and revered. All members of the theatrical world seek his patronage because his word is enough to spark their careers; as he explains, there are ‘‘applications from all quarters’’ for his ‘‘interest.’’ In act 1, scene ii, for example, Dangle receives some Italian singers in his drawing room and behaves like a king at court, despite the fact that he can barely understand them (or their translator). As his name suggests, there is something silly about a man who ‘‘dangles’’ around theaters and greenrooms, mingling with those who often hold a less-than-respectable position in London society. His self-importance makes him, therefore, an object of gentle ridicule: a man completely caught up in the work of others and determined to tell the public what it should think about its own tastes. Even his wife finds his devotion to theatrical matters laughable and unworthy of the effort with which he peruses them.
Nothing in the play suggests that Dangle is a harsh or brutal judge, as the term ‘‘critic’’ sometimes connotes. Indeed, each complaint he voices against Sir Fretful is followed by ‘‘tho’ he’s my friend’’ to suggest that Dangle takes no joy in trouncing someone’s creative labors. When Sir Fretful arrives at Dangle’s home, Dangle takes pains to spare his feelings when pointing out what he thinks of his latest tragedy: he prefaces his criticism by telling Sir Fretful that his first four acts are the best he ‘‘ever read or saw’’ before stating, ‘‘If I might venture to suggest any thing, it is that the interest rather falls off in the fifth.’’ He furthermore calls the newspapers’ attacks on Sir Fretful’s work ‘‘illnatured to be sure,’’ despite the fact that Sir Fretful’s work seems to warrant such censure.
Dangle’s desire to criticize without offending is even more apparent when he watches the rehearsal of Puff’s The Spanish Armada and asks polite questions about its flaws instead of jeering at them outright (as both Sneer and the audience do). Unlike many critics who make names for themselves by tearing down those of their contemporaries’, Dangle enjoys his happy life as a man who reads plays in advance of their production and obtains the finest seats at the theatre.
Unlike her husband, Mrs. Dangle finds his devotion to the theatre childish and confounding. One of her first lines is, ‘‘Now that the plays are begun I shall have no peace’’; it is this ‘‘lack of peace’’ caused by the constant influx of actors, managers, and playwrights into her home that Mrs. Dangle finds irritating. She scolds Dangle for taking no interest in contemporary politics and bemoans the fact that Dangle could, if he showed ‘‘the least spirit,’’ have ‘‘been at the head of one of the Westminster associations.’’ While amusing to the audience, Dangle’s complete lack of interest in anything but the theater irritates his wife: ‘‘I believe,’’ she tells him, ‘‘if the French were landed tomorrow, your first inquiry would be, whether they had brought a theatrical troop with them.’’ Although Dangle tries to involve his wife in his theatrical pursuits, her attitude toward him is unchanging.
Early in the play, Mrs. Dangle complains that her house has become ‘‘the motley rendezvous of all the lackeys of literature’’ and ‘‘an absolute register-office for candidate actors, and poets without character.’’ While Dangle enjoys having his patronage solicited by these ‘‘lackeys,’’ Mrs. Dangle finds their presence unnerving. In act 1, scene ii, Sheridan offers the viewer an example of how Mrs. Dangle deals with these intrusions: after trying to understand both the Italian singer and his interpreter, she tells Dangle, ‘‘Here are two very civil gentlemen trying to make themselves understood, and I don’t know which is the interpreter.’’ Her frustration, however, does not deter Dangle from mingling with performers or abandoning his critical duties.
The Earl of Leicester
A favorite of Queen Elizabeth I, he appears in Puff’s The Spanish Armada as the Commander-in- Chief of the military. In one of the tragedy’s many unintentionally comic scenes, he leads the other characters in a prayer to Mars.
The Governor of Tilbury Fort
In Puff’s The Spanish Armada, the Governor is the officer in command of Tilbury Fort, where the British troops are being mustered. His daughter, Tilburnia, falls in love with Don Ferolo Whiskerandos, who is being held prisoner at Tilbury Fort. When asked by his daughter to accept a ‘‘noble price’’ to free her lover, the Governor refuses.
Sir Christopher Hatton
Lord Chancellor at the time of the actual Spanish Armada crisis, he appears in Puff’s tragedy based on the same. His niece eventually falls in love with Don Ferolo Whiskerandos.
Sir Fretful Plagiary
Sir Fretful is Dangle’s friend and a playwright whose work is universally dismissed by all who read it as uninspired and whose personality is marked by tremendous insecurity. Many of the names in The Critic are comically indicative of the characters, and Sir Fretful Plagiary’s fits him on two counts: he is immensely ‘‘fretful’’ when faced with criticism and often plagiarizes others’ works (making his work a collection of ‘‘stray jokes’’ and ‘‘pilfered witticisms’’). Before he arrives at Dangle’s home, Dangle and Sneer discuss Sir Fretful’s faults: he ‘‘allows no merit to any author but himself,’’ he is ‘‘as envious as an old maid verging on the desperation of six-and-thirty,’’ and he ‘‘is so covetous of popularity’’ that he would ‘‘rather be abused’’ in the press ‘‘than not mentioned at all.’’ Of course, Sir Fretful finds none of these faults in himself, convinced as he is of his own genius. (He is so convinced, in fact, that he does not send his latest work to the Drury Lane Theatre for fear that Sheridan himself will steal his work!)
Sir Fretful’s greatest fault, however, is his tendency to solicit others to give ‘‘free’’ and honest opinions of his work, only to reject any negative criticism with ‘‘petulant arrogance.’’ Sir Fretful’s conversation with Dangle and Sneer demonstrates this habit. When Sneer, for example, tells him that his play ‘‘wants incident,’’ Sir Fretful remarks that ‘‘the incidents are too crowded’’; when Dangle says that the ‘‘interest rather falls off’’ in the fifth act, Sir Fretful counters with, ‘‘Rises; I believe you mean, Sir.’’ Sir Fretful further shows his inability to take any criticism when he asks Dangle and Sneer to recall what a newspaper said of him; despite Sir Fretful’s laughter, he is obviously upset at having his work compared to ‘‘a bad tavern’s worst wine.’’
A playwright and composer of advertisements, Puff is a friend of Dangle. His historical tragedy, The Spanish Armada, is rehearsed in acts 2 and 3. Puff calls himself a ‘‘Practitioner in Pangeyric’’ or ‘‘a Professor of the Art of Puffing’’: a man whose ability to ‘‘puff up’’ ordinary language earns him a living. Puff composes false reviews for plays in order to boost ticket sales, teaches auctioneers how to use inflated language to make their wares more alluring to bidders, and even pretends to be a widow (or other charity case) in the newspaper to solicit assistance from kind (yet gullible) readers. (‘‘I supported myself two years entirely by my misfor tunes,’’ he explains.) Puff has various methods of ‘‘puffing,’’ such as ‘‘The Puff Direct’’ (in which he invents a positive review for a play the day before its premiere) or ‘‘The Puff Collusive’’ (in which he writes a piece denouncing a book or poem as too licentious or scandal mongering, thereby inciting the public to buy it immediately). At present, Puff has turned to the theatre, where he can indulge his ‘‘talent for fiction and embellishment.’’
During the rehearsal of his play, Puff exhibits all the nervous intensity one would expect from a director. Part of the humor of the rehearsal scenes lies in the way that Puff (like Sir Fretful in act 1, scene i) defends himself against every possible negative criticism of his play made by Dangle and Sneer. For example, after Sneer recognizes a line of Shakespeare’s Othello in Puff’s play, Puff explains, ‘‘That’s of no consequnce—all that can be said is, that two people happened to hit on the same thought. His shameless brand of self-defense is demonstrated throughout the play.
Sir Walter Raleigh
A soldier, explorer, poet and sometime favorite of Queen Elizabeth I, he appears in Puff’s tragedy as a companion of Sir Christopher Hatton. Like Hatton’s niece, Raleigh’s niece also falls in love with Don Ferolo Whiskerandos.
Signor Pasticcio Ritornello
Signor Ritornello possesses one of the many ‘‘outlandish throats’’ found in the opera. He visits Dangle’s home with his two nieces in order to secure Dangle’s patronage. Unfortunately, he only speaks Italian and brings a French translator with him; when he tries to converse with Mr. and Mrs. Dangle, the result is comic cross-communication.
One of Dangle’s friends and fellow-critics, Sneer (as his name blatantly suggests) is a man always finding fault in those around him. His first conversation with Dangle reveals Sneer’s assumptions about the theatre: feeling that the stage could be a ‘‘school of morality,’’ Sneer complains that ‘‘people seem to go there principally for their entertainment!’’ When Dangle complains of how comedies have been purged of all ‘‘double entendre’’ and ‘‘smart innuendo,’’ Sneer responds with a metaphor that reflects his judgmental mind and style of speech:
Our prudery in this respect is just on a par with the artificial bashfulness of a courtezan, who encreases the blush upon her cheek in an exact proportion to the diminution of her modesty.
Throughout the play, Sneer makes a number of similar remarks, taking swipes at authors, actors, and newspapers. While Dangle is genial and indulgent, Sneer is bitter and unforgiving.
Sneer’s chief role in The Critic is to offer a running commentary on Puff’s The Spanish Armada when it is rehearsed in acts 2 and 3. His sarcastic heckling adds to the humor of Puff’s unintentionally hilarious play and invites the audience to laugh at Puff’s awful tragedy. For example, after Dangle praises Tilburnia’s awful-sounding verse with, ‘‘O!— ’tis too much,’’ Sneer remarks, ‘‘Oh!—it is indeed’’; similarly, when Puff explains that his characters must be allowed ‘‘to hear and see a number of things’’ not presented on stage, Sneer mockingly pretends to agree with him and states, ‘‘Yes—a kind of poetical second-sight!’’ Sneer makes comments like these throughout Puff’s rehearsal; as Puff is wholly ‘‘inflated’’ with the false ideas of his own talents, Sneer serves as a means by which Sheridan mocks all writers of Puff’s ilk, who find their own work beyond reproach.
In Puff’s The Spanish Armada, the daughter of the Governor of Tilbury Fort, who falls in love with Don Ferolo Whiskerandos. Never without Nora, her confidant, Tilburnia is a parody of the tragic heroine, torn between love and duty. She eventually goes mad after Don Whiskerandos’s death and throws herself into the sea.
Don Ferolo Whiskerandos
In Puff’s The Spanish Armada, the son of the Spanish admiral who is being held prisoner at Tilbury Fort. He is killed in a duel over Tilburnia. He is meant by Sheridan to be viewed as a parody of the exotic, alluring, and dashing foreign lover.