Critical Overview

(Drama for Students)

Early twentieth-century production of the play Published by Gale Cengage

School for Scandal opened in May 1777 to enthusiastic audiences. Since it appeared at the end of the London theatre season, it played only twenty performances before the season closed, but Sheridan's play reappeared the following season for an additional forty-five performances. Since few plays enjoyed runs of more than fifteen performances, School for Scandal was, by prevailing standards, a success.

In the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Mark S. Auburn noted that "the play engendered wildly enthusiastic support. Passing by the outer walls of Drury Lane just as the famous screen fell and the audience exploded in laughter and applause, a journalist of that day claimed to have run for his life in fear that the building was collapsing."

The reason for the play's success, stated Auburn, is "the witty repartee of fashionable society, the Cain-and-Abel motif, and the delightful recitation of the May-and-December theme." Richard C. Taylor, writing in Sheridan Studies, noted a different reason for the play's success. Taylor stated that critics overlooked the play' s faults because they "recognized the topicality of Sheridan's moral concern and that Sheridan was targeting hypocrisy." Still, both Auburn and Taylor felt that School for Scandal was very popular with audiences and with reviewers. The audience appreciated the plot, especially since gossip had become an important feature in newspapers of the time (a foreshadowing of the gossip-frenzy that dominates many forms of multimedia information in the twentieth century).

But besides plot, Sheridan himself had ensured the play's success by opening it after a popular revival of William Congreve's comedies at Drury Lane. Sheridan eliminated some of the more offensive sexuality, and Congreve's work, which had been unpopular in recent years, received generally good...

(The entire section is 770 words.)