Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Sheridan's The School For Scandal

"His [Sheridan's] comic muse does not go about prying into obscure corners, or collecting idle curiosities, but shows her laughing face and points to her rich treasure--the follies of mankind...The 'School for Scandal' is, if not the most original, perhaps the most finished and faultless comedy which we have."
-William Hazlitt, The English Comic Writers

Rowlandson's print based on The School for Scandal

In Richard Brinsley Sheridan's The School For Scandal (1777) we first see Lady Sneerwell and her hangers-on retailing and even manufacturing gossip for public consumption. Their report: Miss Prim was about to run off with her dancing master, Miss Nicely was married to her own footman, and Miss Piper had twins. But most importantly, Charles Surface, a spendthrift young man, has gone beyond being broke and deep into debt; and Charles has also seduced Lady Teazle, the unhappy much younger wife of Sir Peter Teazle. It's none of it true.

Well, mostly none of it. Charles is spendthrift, Lady Teazle is unhappy, and one of the Surface brothers is trying to seduce Lady Teazle; only it's the hypocritical Joseph who's trying, and he hasn't yet succeeded.

This will all need to be made right, of course: fortunately Charles and Joseph have a rich, wise, and tolerant uncle in the background, just now returning from the Orient; Charles has a beloved in the foreground, Maria; and Sir Peter and Lady Teazle are still really in love. It's helped along by the clever servant, Rowley, straight out of Plautus.

I found the opening acts a little broad in their comedy, though I imagine it would work on stage, particularly Mrs. Candour, who kept saying that sure it was terrible about all that gossip, though somebody (who knows who?) would be repeating it, so she might as well. But then when it got to the fourth act, first with Charles selling off the family portraits unknowingly to his rich uncle, and then in Joseph's drawing room, with multiple people hidden in various corners, I was laughing out loud even reading it on the page, and I have to imagine it would be a great hoot on stage. I've seen productions of Sheridan's The Rivals (perhaps better known as The One With Mrs. Malaprop) twice on stage, and now I'm going to hope for a production of this one.

In the meantime I made do with this silent version, with Basil Rathbone (!) as the hypocritical Joseph. It's only ten minutes, and by no means all the play, nor it seems all the movie either, though maybe all that survives. I'm not quite sure it would work if you hadn't just read the play, but I enjoyed it:

This is my entry for the Classics Club Spin #20.


  1. I almost got him mixed up with Sheridan Le Fanu. *** snicker *** Oops! This play sounds fascinating, especially because of the time period. It does sound vaguely familiar as well. Thanks for the review ... I'll have to see if I can get my hands on a copy.

  2. I'll bet this is wonderful when well staged and performed. I need to read a play for the Back to the Classics challenge. I was going to read one from Oscar Wilde but maybe I'll give Sheridan a whirl?

    1. I've definitely really enjoyed the two Sheridan's I have experience of. OTOH, I'd hate to take you away from Oscar either...

      I didn't even get to count this one for my classic play, because I'd already read Pygmalion. Not that I exactly suffered in doing that either.