English Literature
Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Richard Brinsley Sheridan

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The Life and Legacy of Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Richard Brinsley Sheridan was a renowned Irish playwright, orator, and politician whose wit, charm, and moody disposition left a lasting impact in the world of theatre. He is best known for his comedies of manners, which were highly influential until the rise of Oscar Wilde and Bernard Shaw. But who was the man behind these famous works?

Early Years and Love for Theatre

Sheridan was born in Dublin in 1751 to Thomas Sheridan, a gentleman actor, and Frances Chamberlaine, a novelist. Growing up in a theatrical family, he developed a love for the stage, but it was his exceptional oratory skills that ultimately led him from the intricacies of theatre to the intrigues of politics.

During his early years, Sheridan attended Harrow and later moved to Bath, where he met Elizabeth Linley, a gifted singer. Despite his intended career in law, Sheridan gave it up to marry Linley in 1773. The following year, his play, The Rivals, premiered at the Covent Garden Theatre, marking the beginning of his successful career in theatre.

Over the next few years, Sheridan and Linley became partners in a share of the Drury Lane Theatre, with more of his plays, such as The School for Scandal and The Critic, being performed at the theatre. However, tragedy struck in 1809 when the Drury Lane Theatre burned down. Despite this setback, Sheridan's legacy lived on through his work, until his death in 1816. He was buried in Westminster Abbey, a testament to his influence in the literary world.

Sheridan's Family and Fun Facts

Aside from his successful career, Sheridan's family had interesting ties and fun facts. His sister, Alicia, became the grandmother of Sheridan Le Fanu, and their family originally migrated from Spain and settled in Ireland in the 5th-6th century. Furthermore, Sheridan's grandfather, Dr. Sheridan, was a close friend of the renowned writer Jonathan Swift.

A Theatrical Upbringing

Sheridan's father, Thomas, had a profound influence on his early life. A former teacher turned actor, Thomas was a reformer who advocated for better pay and proper rehearsals for actors. He even proposed the abolishment of half-price tickets after the third act, to combat the drunken brawling and rioting often seen in the audience.

Despite his father's efforts, most plays were still five acts long, and half-price tickets were available after the third act, resulting in unruly behavior from the audience. Thomas also played a significant role in the development of the Dublin theatre scene, but eventually, the family was forced to move to London due to fire and debt. While Thomas occasionally performed in London, his focus was primarily on British Education, a system he devised that emphasized English language and literature.

Sheridan's Upbringing in London

Initially, Sheridan and his sister remained in Ireland with relatives while their parents moved to London. He later joined them at the age of eight, but he never returned to Ireland, always maintaining a deep love for his home country.

In London, the Sheridan family was part of influential circles, including figures like Dr. Johnson and Samuel Richardson. Despite their parents' respect in literary society, Johnson was not fond of Thomas, stating that he was "dull, naturally dull" and had to work hard to become the man he was. However, Sheridan's mother was an accomplished writer, and her play, The Discovery, was performed in 1763. Despite their success, the family often struggled financially due to Thomas' debts.

Sheridan's childhood was not without hardships, as his mother passed away suddenly, and the family had to flee to Blois in France to avoid creditors. However, he found solace in his studies and formed friendships, often spending holidays with a wealthy acquaintance named Mr. Aikenhead.

In conclusion, Richard Brinsley Sheridan was a multifaceted and talented individual whose legacy continues to entertain and inspire audiences through his brilliant works in the world of theatre.

The Love Story of Richard Sheridan and Elizabeth Linley

In the 1770s, Richard Sheridan often spent his days at the home of Mr. Sumner, a close friend of his father. Under the care of Mrs. Purdon, a kind and nurturing housekeeper, Richard was treated like a beloved son.

When Richard's father, Thomas Sheridan, returned to England in 1770, the family settled in Bath with the intention of opening an academy where Richard and his brother Charles would teach. However, the plan fell through. Undeterred, Thomas went on to start 'Attic Entertainments' - a series of musical and poetic performances.

Meanwhile, another talented musical family, the Linleys, resided in Bath. Thomas Linley, the father, was a renowned musician and conductor, while his children, Thomas and Elizabeth, were virtuosos in their own right. Elizabeth had already impressed Richard's father in London with her singing. It was at one of Thomas Linley's concerts that Richard first saw Elizabeth, and he was immediately smitten.

Unfortunately, Elizabeth was being pursued by an unsavory man, Captain Matthews, who she even considered running away from by joining a convent in France. Richard stepped in and offered to escort her there. During their journey, the two fell deeply in love and made plans to marry upon their return to Bath.

However, their happiness was short-lived as Captain Matthews, seeking revenge, challenged Richard to a duel. Injured and bleeding, Richard was carried back to his family home by his sisters. Despite Elizabeth's pleas to see him, their parents kept them apart. Once recovered, Richard's father sent him to study law and cut off communication between them. But Richard chose to abandon his legal studies and marry Elizabeth with the blessing of her father.

The Theatrical Works of Richard Brinsley Sheridan

In 1775, Richard's most famous play, 'The Rivals,' debuted. It received mixed reviews initially due to a controversial character, Sir Lucius O'Trigger, and poor casting choices. Richard had to revise parts of the play before it could continue its run.

The story takes place in Bath and revolves around the love triangle between Lydia Languish, Captain Jack Absolute, and Lydia's wealthy aunt, Mrs. Malaprop. Lydia, a hopeless romantic, is pursued by Jack, who pretends to be a lowly ensign to win her affections. However, their plans are complicated by Mrs. Malaprop, who is determined to marry Lydia off to a wealthy suitor. After several comic misunderstandings, Lydia agrees to marry Jack.

One of the most notable elements of 'The Rivals' is the character of Mrs. Malaprop, known for her misuse of words that result in hilarious malapropisms. In one scene, she tells Jack's father, Sir Anthony, that women should have "a superficial knowledge in accounts" and be well-versed in geometry to understand "the contiguous countries." She stresses the importance of being "a mistress of orthography" to avoid mispronunciations and misunderstandings.

Mrs. Malaprop's Mischief and Mayhem in "The Rivals"

In his popular play, "The Rivals," playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan introduces us to the comedic character of Mrs. Malaprop, who constantly mixes up words and phrases to great comedic effect. In one instance, she mistakenly uses "illegible" instead of "eligible" when discussing a potential suitor for her niece. This is just one of many instances where Mrs. Malaprop's verbal blunders bring laughter to the audience.

However, not all of Mrs. Malaprop's mistakes are just for comedic purposes. In some cases, her mix-ups hit the mark. For example, when she mentions that her niece Lydia may be "hard to read," she may unknowingly be describing Lydia's true feelings towards her suitors.

Some scholars speculate that Mrs. Malaprop may have been Sheridan's way of poking fun at his own father. In his book "A Traitor's Kiss: The Life of Richard Brinsley Sheridan," Fintan O'Toole suggests that by creating this larger-than-life character, Sheridan was both acknowledging and diffusing his father's influence on his writing.

Richard Brinsley Sheridan's Clever Satire in "The Rivals"

As a playwright, Richard Brinsley Sheridan was not only a master of comedic writing but also a skilled satirist. Taking inspiration from esteemed writers such as Shakespeare, Congreve, and Jonson, Sheridan crafted a witty and entertaining play that also cleverly poked fun at the popular comedies of the time. The result was "The Rivals", a play that not only entertained audiences but also solidified Sheridan's place as one of the great intellectuals of his time. Its success led to a 75-day run at the Covent Garden theatre, much to the delight of audiences.

Sheridan's talent was also recognized by famed literary figure, Dr. Johnson, who recommended him for membership in the esteemed Literary Club. This was considered a great honor at the time and further cemented Sheridan's rising success.

Sheridan's Rise to Fame and Success

It was actor-manager David Garrick who first saw Sheridan's potential and offered him a share in the patent of Drury Lane theatre. Despite having to borrow money, Sheridan, along with his father-in-law and another investor, purchased Garrick's share. This investment would prove to be a wise one as it led to Sheridan's debut play, "The School for Scandal", in 1777.

"The School for Scandal" was a huge hit, earning £15,000 and surpassing the popular "Beggar's Opera" in popularity. The play, partly based on Sheridan's own scandalous experiences in Bath, cleverly satirized topics such as inheritance, identity, and the power of gossip. Its witty plot and clever dialogue solidified Sheridan's place as one of the great intellectuals of the time.

A Touch of Tragedy in "The Critic"

In 1779, Sheridan brought his favorite play, "The Critic", to the stage. This satirical comedy, inspired by George Villiers's "The Rehearsal", introduced audiences to the memorable character of Mr. Puff, a man with grand literary aspirations and a knack for writing absurd historical melodramas.

As with "The School for Scandal", Sheridan famously delayed completing the play until just two days before its premiere. In a last-minute effort to finish the script, the lead actor locked Sheridan in the green room with a table full of food, wine, and writing materials. Under this pressure, Sheridan's creativity flourished, and "The Critic" was met with great success, earning him £5,000 more than his initial investment.

A Life of Satire and Wit: The Legacy of Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Richard Brinsley Sheridan's uncanny ability to blend satire and humor in plays such as "The Rivals", "The School for Scandal", and "The Critic" secured his place as one of the greatest playwrights of his time. His unique writing style continues to entertain audiences today, and Mrs. Malaprop's comical mix-ups are just one example of his enduring legacy in the world of literature and theater.

Richard Brinsley Sheridan: A Multifaceted Career

Besides his success as a playwright, Sheridan also had a successful career in politics and theater management. He was a member of Parliament for 30 years and formed a close relationship with fellow member Charles James Fox. Together, they were part of the Westminster Committee, a group dedicated to electoral reform. Sheridan also served as an advisor to Prince George during the Regency period.

The Writing Style of Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Sheridan's writing style was characterized by his optimism and belief in the goodness of humanity. He used his wit and charm to gently satirize the establishment, in contrast to the more controversial Restoration playwrights. His plays, such as "The Rivals" and "The School for Scandal", continue to be relevant and enjoyed by audiences worldwide.

The Later Years of Richard Brinsley Sheridan

In 1792, Sheridan's wife, Elizabeth, passed away after a long battle with tuberculosis. Despite her illness, she had traveled in search of a cure but ultimately succumbed in Bristol. Grief-stricken, Sheridan focused on his work in theater and politics. However, financial struggles and losing his seat in Parliament proved to be a difficult time for him.

The Life and Legacy of Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Richard Brinsley Sheridan was born in 1751 in Dublin to a family of actors and writers. His parents, Thomas Sheridan and Frances Chamberlaine, instilled a love for the arts in their son. This upbringing would greatly influence Sheridan's future as one of the most celebrated playwrights in history.

Sheridan's fame and success were not without struggle. He faced financial difficulties and even the tragic loss of his beloved Drury Lane Theatre in 1809. Despite these challenges, his impact on the world of comedy and literature continues to be felt today.

The legacy of Sheridan lives on through his witty and socially observant plays. His writing style bridged the gap between the works of William Congreve and Oscar Wilde, two renowned playwrights known for their sharp humor and commentary on society. Sheridan's own comedic masterpieces, including The Rivals, School for Scandal, and The Critic, are still used in actor auditions today.

Important Facts About Richard Brinsley Sheridan

  • Born in Dublin, Ireland in 1751 to a family of actors and writers
  • His most famous plays include The Rivals, School for Scandal, and The Critic
  • Infamous for his scandalous affair with Elizabeth Linley, which resulted in duels being fought
  • His greatest comedy, School for Scandal, was first performed at Drury Lane Theatre in 1777
  • In 1809, the beloved Drury Lane Theatre burned down, leaving Sheridan in deep debt
  • Passed away in 1816 and was laid to rest in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey

Richard Brinsley Sheridan: A Life, written by Linda Kelly and published in 1997, offers a fascinating glimpse into the life of this brilliant playwright and politician. Despite his untimely death and financial struggles, Sheridan's enduring works continue to be performed and admired across the globe.

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