Richard Brinsley Sheridan and Britain's School for Scandal

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Examines the life and work of Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816) and his significant and unique place in the theatrical and political life of Great Britain. A man of middling background, he was simultaneously a leading Whig politician and, because of the success of his two plays, The Rivals (1775) and The School for Scandal (1777), the most dominant figure in the British theatre during the last quarter of the eighteenth century. Theatre historians have tended to view these works as manners comedies which are long on style but appropriately short on substance. Therefore, previous criticism of the plays has concerned itself mainly with questions of genre classification, leading to an under appreciation of Sheridan’s historical context. This book argues that, given the fact that the British theatre was central to the discussion and formation of the nation’s evolving ideology, Sheridan’s dramaturgy, far from being empty of content, offers snapshots of the state of negotiations between the classes over the nature of British identity centering on issues of money, gender, class, morality, and language.


“To be sure, the eighteenth century is not the only period of English history during which tensions between aristocratic and middling ideologies are evident: one can find signs of similar struggles in Tudor morality plays and today’s London Times. This is precisely why Dr. Browne’s work is so important. By revealing a familiar pattern of cultural transformation, it places Sheridan’s life and work in a much broader context than most previous critics and biographers have done. That Dr. Browne writes clear, jargon-free prose and exhibits such passion for his subject only adds to the bargain. This is a cultural reading of eighteenth-century theatre that will introduce readers not only to Richard Brinsley Sheridan, British Gentleman, but also to cultural reading as a critical practice.” – (from the Preface) Professor Oliver Gerland III, University of Colorado

“This book is an excellent accounting of one of the greatest and most influential playwrights in the English language, Richard Brinsley Sheridan. While his output is lamentably spare, two of his play, The Rivals and The School for Scandal, have entered the canon, both academically and theatrically, as peaks of eighteenth-century comedy . . . Dr. Browne’s work, written without resorting to the impenetrable jargon of all too many scholars, is, both for the beginner and the advanced student, an invaluable and important contribution to our studies of this period in the theatre.” – Professor Steven Dedalus Burch, University of Alabama

“Dr. Kevin Browne has produced a nuanced and intriguing study of Sheridan’s plays. Taking as his cue Sheridan’s lifelong aspirations to become an English gentleman, he confidently argues that his early years, theatrical career and political activities were part of a larger discourse in British identity. Dr. Browne does what many academics fail to do: he resists simplistic class readings of the plays in favor of embracing their complexities . . . This book is a must for readers willing to turn a critical eye toward eighteenth-century comedy; Dr. Browne’s book brings us closer than ever to one of the most fascinating figures of the age.” – Professor Charles Mitchell, Loyola College in Maryland

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Preface by Oliver Gerland III
1. Contexts of Eighteenth-Century Theatre
2. Bourgeois Gentlemen
3. Track of a Comet: The Rivals
4. Determined to Succeed: The School for Scandal
5. Puffing and Patriotism: The Critic
6. The Whig Politician and Pizarro

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