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...
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