Richard Brinsley Sheridan Biography

Richard Brinsley Sheridan Biography

Was Richard Brinsley Sheridan a truly “sentimental” author? Sheridan’s heyday as a playwright (1775–1779) came amid changing sensibilities in both English culture and theater. The bawdy, rambunctious entertainment of the Restoration gave way to far more conservative drama in the eighteenth century. As a result, plays became concerned with morality and earned the title “sentimental comedies” because of the excessive emotion used to achieve moral lessons. Sheridan’s work arrived late in the sentimental period, when plays were shifting toward social satire. Although the bad are punished and the good rewarded in his work, the characters also take sharp jabs at the society in which Sheridan wrote his witty plays.

Facts and Trivia

  • Sheridan was practically born into the theater. His father, Thomas, was an actor-manager at the Theatre Royal in Dublin.
  • Sheridan’s 1775 play The Rivals almost did not become the classic it is regarded as today. Its first performance was disastrous, but when one of the key roles was recast, the play was a success.
  • Like his father, Sheridan was also interested in the business aspect of theater (and the money that came with it). In addition to his playwriting, Sheridan was a shareholder in the Drury Lane Theatre.
  • Another of Sheridan’s famous plays, The Critic, was not entirely original. It is based on The Rehearsal, a Restoration-era piece.
  • Sheridan was highly active in politics. On the heels of his most famous plays, Sheridan served in Parliament for nearly three decades.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

In eighteenth century Great Britain, Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s lot was pretty much cast when he was born into a genteelly poor Irish theatrical family. All of these social disadvantages, however, worked to his advantage in the theater. Being Irish has given numerous British writers of comedy special insight into the vices and follies of their fellow Britons, as well as the rhetorical skills to air their observations. Being in a theatrical family was obviously an advantage for the aspiring playwright. Finally, being genteelly poor sparked his ambitions with both positive and negative charges. Combined, these factors made Sheridan acutely aware of the disparity between his personal worth and his actual place in society—always a great aid to developing a sense of comic incongruity.

Although lacking wealth and social position, Sheridan’s family was both well educated and talented. Both his father and mother were children of scholarly clergymen. On being graduated from Trinity College, Dublin, Sheridan’s father, Thomas, already a playwright, entered the theater as an actor and soon advanced to manager. Sheridan’s mother, the former Frances Chamberlaine, wrote novels and plays. After initial prosperity, the family of six (Richard was the third son) ran into hard times when a minor political indiscretion—reminiscent of an indiscreet sermon that ruined his own father—forced Thomas out of his position. He suppressed some antigovernment lines in a play, thus antagonizing the Irish public. After two years of acting in London, Thomas tried to reestablish himself in Dublin, but without success. Taking his family with him, he returned to England, where, moving from place to place, he pursued an impecunious existence as actor, author, editor, lecturer on elocution, and projector of ambitious undertakings.

After attending Sam Whyte’s Seminary for the Instruction of Youth in Dublin, Richard was entered into Harrow School, despite the family’s precarious financial situation. How precarious that situation was became evident when, to escape creditors, the rest of the family fled to France, where they lived for...

(The entire section is 874 words.)

Richard Brinsley Sheridan Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Between 1775 and 1779, Richard Brinsley Sheridan wrote five plays, two of which remain popular theater pieces. Indeed, among the many comic plays of the eighteenth and much of the nineteenth centuries, The Rivals and The School for Scandal are the only ones still being produced, except for Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer (1773). Having achieved such successes while still in his twenties, Sheridan forsook a promising career as playwright and turned to other pursuits: theater management and politics.

Sheridan’s paternal grandfather, Thomas Sheridan, had distinguished himself in the classics at Trinity College in Dublin, taken holy orders, and become an educational reformer as head of a school in Dublin. The future playwright’s father, also named Thomas Sheridan, took his M.A. at Trinity College. Though prepared for a clerical career, he preferred the stage, becoming manager of Dublin’s Smock-Alley Theatre and the country’s leading actor. Sheridan’s mother, Frances, not only was the author of three popular romantic novels but also wrote three comic plays, two of which were produced at London’s Drury Lane.

Frances Sheridan was her younger son’s tutor until 1757, when he was enrolled in Samuel Whyte’s grammar school; however, a year later the Sheridans moved to England. In 1762 Richard was sent to Harrow, where he remained until about 1768, gaining a reputation for pranks, indolence, and carelessness but at the same time enjoying the esteem of his schoolfellows and the admiring attention of his masters. He was, in fact, unhappy there and felt deserted by his parents, who had moved to France, where his mother died in 1766.

When he was seventeen, Sheridan left Harrow for London, where his father again was living. For a time he was tutored by a physician, the owner of a fencing and riding school, and his father. In 1770 Thomas Sheridan again moved his family, this time to Bath. Though his father’s entertainment and educational ventures were unsuccessful, the move was propitious for young Sheridan, for in Bath he met seventeen-year-old Elizabeth Ann Linley, a celebrated soprano known for her beauty. So she could escape an unwanted admirer, a family friend named Thomas Matthews, she and Sheridan eloped to France in March, 1772. There they went through a marriage ceremony but lived apart until they returned to England two months later, when Sheridan faced Matthews in two duels. Seriously wounded in the second encounter, Sheridan had a long recuperation, following which, on April 6, 1773, he entered the Middle Temple, London. A week later, against their...

(The entire section is 1077 words.)

Richard Brinsley Sheridan Biography

(Drama for Students)

Richard Brinsley Sheridan was born in Dublin, Ireland, on January 25, 1751. His father was an actor and teacher of elocution, while his...

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Richard Brinsley Sheridan Biography

(Drama for Students)

Richard Brinsley Sheridan was born on October 30, 1751, in Dublin to a family known for its artistic members. His grandfather, the Reverend...

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Richard Brinsley Sheridan Biography

(Drama for Students)
Richard Brinsley Sheridan Published by Gale Cengage

Richard Brinsley Sheridan was born in Dublin, Ireland, and was christened on November 4, 1751. His father was an actor and author, a path...

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