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Ernest Vane, a country gentleman of Shropshire, going to London on business, becomes fascinated with the beauty and wit of "Peg" (Margaret) Woffington, the brilliant Covent Garden actress of the middle eighteenth century. He tarries long in London, gains her acquaintance, makes his addresses with timid ardor and sincerity, and wins her love. This brilliant woman has a past which she has not endeavored to conceal. Her morals are those of the time and the stage; but she is not depraved; her nature is essentially noble, and she yearns for the sincere love of a kindred nature. She believes in Ernest Vane, and is filled with tender anticipations of a happy future.

But Ernest Vane, though sincere, has deceived her; he cannot bestow the honest love which she covets, but only the guilty love which she seeks to escape, for he is already a married man! He has left behind him in the country a charming young wife whose existence he has concealed from the actress.

Nor does Mrs. Vane know aught of her husband's infatuation for Mistress Woffington. Distressed at her husband's long absence, Mrs. Vane follows him to London, and finds him entertaining a gay party of guests at dinner, among whom is Mistress Woffington. It dawns but slowly on the stricken wife that her husband's love has strayed from her; to the actress, the keen woman of the world, the instant sense of the bitter deception of which she has been the victim brings a whirlwind of rage, jealousy and despair at the downfall of her vision of a true and happy life.

For a moment the demon of revenge prompts her; she will seemingly yield to Vane's urgings, tempt him to the utmost extreme of passion, fly with him, and then discard him with the bitterest scorn and contempt.

But Mistress Woffington has a heart. She cannot punish the weak lover without crushing the innocent and heartbroken wife. The gentleness and anguish of the simple country lady awakens her sympathy; and she abandons revenge, hides her own bruised heart, and teaches her innocent rival the way to a renewed hold upon the affections of her repentant husband.


The author of "The Rivals" was born and reared in the atmosphere of the theater. His father was an actor and manager, his mother a writer of successful plays, his wife a singer of high rank on the concert stage.

Both of Sheridan's parents were witty, intellectually brilliant and highly educated. The son inherited their qualities, and his fine natural endowment was likewise fully developed by excellent schooling. It was natural, therefore, that his literary powers should find expression in dramatic writing; and he brought to that work the very uncommon equipment of thorough knowledge of stagecraft combined with literary creativeness.

It was because of this combination that Sheridan's earliest plays were brilliant and instant stage successes and have continued to hold a high place in popular esteem. Stage effects—situations that would "take" with audiences-were his primary aims, and the literary quality is not regarded except as an accessory to dramatic expression by action and situation.

“The Rivals” was Sheridan's first play, written when he was twenty-three years of age, and first played at Covent Garden, Jan. 17, 1775. Its extraordinary popularity was due not alone to intrinsic merit, but to the circumstance that it marked the beginning of a healthy reaction against the false sentiment then current in literature and drama. The tiresome inanities of the day, compounded of trivial thought dressed in pompous and stilted CRITICAL SYNOPSIS OF SELECTIONS

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phrases, were brilliantly ridiculed by “The Rivals,"
whose immortal Mrs. Malaprop delightfully trav-
esties their inflated language and affectation of feel-
ing. Her majestic sentences and unconscious sub-
stitution of sound for sense, is a witty satire upon
the bombast and Johnsonian ponderosity then

The mawkish sentimentality which novelists and
playwrights deemed indispensable in the portrayal
of lovers is also ridiculed in the characters of
Faulkland, Julia and Lydia. To these inane types
of the preposterous artificiality which then ruled
the comedy stage, Sheridan opposed three strikingly
genuine personalities, creations of flesh and blood,
bubbling with humor, full of humanity, abounding in
natural feeling, and the very antithesis of false
sentiment. Bob Acres, Mrs. Malaprop and Sir
Lucius O'Trigger are delightfully human, and the
interest of the play centers about them as admirable
delineations of character and true types of the
modern comedy of manners.

The rivals are Bob Acres and an imaginary Ensign Beverly, Captain Absolute and Sir Lucius O’Trigger, all of whom seek the hand of Lydia Languish. Acres, being discarded in favor of Beverly (who is known only to Lydia, but is in reality Captain Absolute), is persuaded by Sir Lucius O'Trigger to challenge Beverly; and Sir Lucius himself challenges Captain Absolute. Bob Acres is an awkward young country squire of the type depicted by Fielding. There is no more laughable situation in the whole range of comedy than the challenge and duel. The witty Irish fire-eater inflames the gawky Acres to a sense of injury, instructs him in the niceties of dueling, and finally reduces him to a state of abject misery by the assurance that "in case of an accident” he can depend upon being pickled and sent home in a barrel. As there is no Beverly, Acres is relieved from fighting, to his intense relief and the enormous disappointment of Sir Lucius. The latter is likewise deprived of the expected pleasure of shooting Captain Absolute by the discovery that Sir Lucius had unwittingly paid his addresses to Mrs. Malaprop, the aunt, instead of to Lydia, the niece,

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and thus none of the rivals remained to dispute the
Captain's claim.

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This delightful comedy was played for the first time in 1772, at Covent Garden-but one year before Goldsmith's death. It was the precursor of the modern comedy of manners, and was quickly followed by Sheridan's brilliant comedies.

In that day, stage parents were seemingly stern autocrats who selected mates for their children without consulting the latter's inclination. The young folks likewise admitted the duty of obedience, but in comedies usually found out some way of following their own inclinations and thereafter reconciling their exasperated elders to the inevitable. Not infrequently, indeed-in stage-land, at leastthe young people thus betrothed by their parents were personally unknown to each other; and the various mistakes of identity and misadventures which resulted were an unfailing resource of comedy.

Such errors supply the motive of "She Stoops to Conquer." Charles Marlow is to marry Kate Hardcastle, the daughter of his father's old friend. The match has been arranged by the parents solely on the strength of their long-standing friendship; and the young man is a stranger to both Kate and her father. Mrs. Hardcastle is guardian to her niece, Constance Neville, whom she intends shall marry Tony Lumpkin, her son by a former marriage; but Constance is secretly betrothed to George Hastings, a friend of Marlow's, and likewise not known to the Hardcastles. The two friends are traveling down to the country-Marlow to present himself to his prospective bride and her family, and Hastings to plan an elopement with Constance.

Having lost their way at night, they make inquiries at "The Three Pigeons" ale-house, where they encounter Tony Lumpkin, a boisterous, noisy, mischievous young lout, who delights in roaring carouses and practical jokes. He learns the identity of the strangers, and plans a joke on them. Tony informs them that they are far astray, and

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