The Rivals "A Nice Derangement Of Epitaphs"

Richard Brinsley Sheridan

"A Nice Derangement Of Epitaphs"

Context: Mrs. Malaprop, who is the guardian of Lydia Languish, a beautiful young heiress with romantic notions, intercepts a letter to the girl written by "Ensign Beverley," who is really handsome young Captain Absolute. The captain is using the fictitious identity to woo Lydia because she refuses to marry except for pure love; the penniless "ensign" is far more attractive to her than the captain who is wealthy Sir Anthony Absolute's heir! Forced by his father to pay court to Lydia in his own identity, Captain Absolute appears at Mrs. Malaporp's lodgings at Bath, where she tells him about the letter from the "ensign" which she has in her possession, little dreaming that the real author of the letter is the captain who stands before her. Outraged at the comments about her in the letter, Mrs. Malaprop hands it to the captain to read, so that he can know what a scoundrel he has for a rival. As the captain reads the letter aloud, Mrs. Malaprop interrupts occasionally with her comments, illustrating her famous misuse of the language:


MRS. MALAPROP
But go on, sir. You'll see presently.
CAPT. ABSOLUTE
[Reads.] As for the old weather-beaten she-dragon who guards you.–Who can he mean by that?
MRS. MALAPROP
Me, sir!–me!–he means me!–There–what do you think now?–but go on a little further.
CAPT. ABSOLUTE
Impudent scoundrel!–[Reads.] it shall go hard but I shall elude her vigilance, as I am told that the same ridiculous vanity, which makes her dress up her coarse features, and deck her dull chat with hard words which she don't understand–
MRS. MALAPROP
There, sir, an attack upon my language! what do you think of that?–an aspersion upon my parts of speech! was ever such a brute! Sure, if I reprehend any thing in this world it is the use of my oracular tongue, and a nice derangement of epitaphs!