Context: This play and The School for Scandal are the two masterpieces of Sheridan's brief but brilliant career as a dramatist; in them he attempted to rescue comedy from the bathos of sentimentality into which it had fallen. In this play Miss Lydia Languish is a sentimental heiress who romantically wishes to marry a poor man. Captain Absolute, son of wealthy Sir Anthony Absolute, has come to town disguised as the impoverished Ensign Beverley in order to attract Lydia. Mrs. Malaprop, the aunt with whom Lydia resides, has been trying to promote Lydia's interest in Captain Absolute and is distressed when she realizes her plans may be foiled by Lydia's interest in Beverley. Neither of them realizes that Absolute and Beverley are the same. When her aunt charges her with her interest in Beverley, Lydia protests she has none, but her aunt persists:
MRS. MALAPROPNow don't attempt to extirpate yourself from the matter; you know I have proof controvertible of it.–But tell me, will you promise to do as you're bid?–Will you take a husband of your friend's choosing?LYDIAMadam, I must tell you plainly, that had I no preference for any one else, the choice you have made would be my aversion.MRS. MALAPROPWhat business have you, Miss, with preference and aversion? They don't become a young woman; and you ought to know, that as both always wear off, 'tis safest in matrimony to begin with a little aversion. I am sure I hated your poor dear uncle before marriage as if he'd been a black-a-moor–and yet, Miss, you are sensible what a wife I made!–and when it pleas'd heaven to release me from him, 'tis unknown what tears I shed! . . .