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|Mrs Inchbald's verdict
Written by JulieW
(3/10/2007 6:04 a.m.)
I thought you might be interested to read her comments on the play, from her 25 volume masterpiece, The British Theatre, a Collection of Plays which are acted at the Theatres Royal Drury Lane, Covent Garden and Haymarket, printed under the authority of the Managers from the Prompt Books with biographical and critical remarks.
MRS INCHBALD’S REMARKS.
The prologue to this comedy, delivered by the representative of a sergeant at law, addressing the audience, says-
" Your judgment given-your sentence must remain; " No writ of error lies-to Drury Lane."
The event contradicted this declaration; for, on the first night of performance, this excellent comedy was hissed from the stage, and had to appeal again and again before the tribunal of the town, ere justice was administered in its cause, and it became a public favourite.
As if to atone for those glaring wrongs, which" The Rivals," on its first appearance, suffered, certain critics of the present day have pronounced the work equal, if not superior, in merit, to " The School for Scandal." This is repairing one injury by the commission of another-by defamation against the character of the best dramatic composition since Shak-. speare wrote.
" The Rivals" is an elegant, an interesting, a humorous, and most entertaining comedy; but in neither fable, character, nor incident, is it, like " The School for Scandal,"-inimitable.
If Mrs. Malaprop, Acres, Sir Lucius, and some other personages, in this drama, were not upon the stage before " The Rivals" was acted, they have all appeared there, in various dramas, many a time since. But where can Sir Peter and Lady Teazle, where can the Surface family be found, either in original or copy, except in " The School for Scandal ?" Where can be traced the plot or events of that extraordinary play, or where even the shadows of them?
The perpetual flow of wit in" The School for Scandal" may familiarise it so much with some auditors, that they cannot be made sensible of its perfect enjoyment. Whereas, the sprinkling of wit and repartee with which " The Rivals" is occasionally enlivened, is easily distinguished, and more eagerly received, in consequence of its inferior pages.
Sir Anthony Absolute is generally counted the most prominent, though Faulkland is, no doubt, the most original, character in the comedy. One particular circumstance adds extreme interest to this part. It is supposed, by the author's most intimate friends, that, in delineating Faulkland, he took a discerning view of his own disposition, in all the anxious tenderness of a youthful lover; and has here accurately described every sentiment, every feeling, which, at that trying period of his life, agitated his troubled heart. The very town of Bath, just before the writing of this play, had been the identical scene of all his restless hopes and fears.
The impressive language, the refined notions, the enthusiastic, yet natural, passion of Faulkland for Julia, with all the captivating charms of mind and expression which has been here given to this object of are positive vouchers that some very exalted idea of the force of love, if not its immediate power, over himself, had at that time possession of the poet's fancy.
With all his gifts of eloquence in writing the dialogue of these lovers, Mr. Sheridan was, however, at a loss for circumstances to incite them to speak; and, in that most interesting scene in the fourth act, he has borrowed his incident from the tale of Prior's “Nut-brown Maid."
The character of Lydia Languish is so justly drawn, that its only fault is, the want of stronger features: circumstances are deficient, in making her an example of proper importance to romantic ladies. Accidents might have been invented, that would have rendered her a much more pointed mark for ridicule.
Against the illiterate Mrs. Malaprop, common occurrence, and common sense, protest. That any Englishwoman, for these five hundred years past, in the habit of keeping good company, or any company, could have made use of the words-extirpate for exculpate, exhort for escort, and malevolence for benevolence, seems too far removed from probability, to make a reasonable auditor smile.
When future generations shall naturally suppose, that an author of Mr. Sheridan's reputation drew men and women exactly as he found them; this sketch of a woman of family and fortune, at the end of the eighteenth century, will assure the said generations-, that the advance of female knowledge in Great Britain, was far more tardy, than in any other European nation
Not exactly fulsome praise is it?
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