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Sir Peter Teazle's declaration (School for Scandal, Act II, Scene II) that he “would have law merchant,” for those who report what they hear, so that, “in all cases of slander currency, whenever the drawer of the lie was not to be found, the injured parties should have a right to come on any of the indorsers.”
“ Enter FaulkLAND."
“ Acres : My hair has been in training some time.”
“Acres : Damns have had their day.”
“Sir ANTHONY: What's that to you, sir?”
Anthony in this scene and in the contrasting scene in the next act is exquisite comedy. In these two scenes is to be found the finest writing in the play. The present scene may be compared with one somewhat similar between Mrs. Linnet and Miss Linnet in the first act of Foote's Maid of Bath.
“Sir ANTHONY: Like the bull in Cox's Museum." Cox's Museum was a popular and fashionable exhibition of natural and mechanical curiosities. There are many allusions to it in contemporary literature. In Evelina for instance, published in 1778, three years after the Rivals was written, Miss Burney takes her heroine to Cox's Museum and describes some of the many marvels it must have contained.
Scene II “Fag: We will — we will. [Exeunt severally.]” The traditional business here is for Fag to parody the exit of Sir Lucius just before, calling Lucy, kissing her, saying, “I'll quiet your conscience,” and then making his exit, humming the tune he has just caught from Sir Lucius.
Scene III “Mrs. MALAPROP: Oh, it gives me the hydrostatics to such a degree.--I thought she had persisted from corresponding with him;
. but, behold, this very day, I have interceded another letter from the fellow; I believe I have it in my pocket.” As Mrs. Malaprop, Mrs. John Drew used first to take from her pocket the letter of Sir Lucius and then, discovering her mistake, to produce with much difficulty and in great confusion the letter which Captain Absolute recognizes at once. (See The Autobiography of Joseph Jefferson, pp. 400, 401.) “Lydia: O heavens! Beverley!” Lydia Languish has been called a second edition of Colman's Polly Honeycombe; but the charge has only the slightest foundation. It would have been more difficult to evolve Lydia from Polly than to have made her out of nothing. If a prototype must be found for Lydia, it had better be sought in the Niece in Steele's Tender Husband.
Steele's play, the relations of the Aunt and the Niece are not unlike those of Mrs. Malaprop and Lydia; and we are told that the Niece “has spent all her solitude in reading romances, her head is full of shepherds, knights, flowery meads, groves, and streams” (Act I, Scene I). And she anticipates Lydia in thinking that “it looks so ordinary, to go out at a door to be married. Indeed I ought to be taken out of a window, and run away with” (Act IV, Scene I). It may be noted, also, that the lover of Steele's airy heroine visits her in disguise and makes love to her before the face of the Aunt.
SCENE IV “Acres (practising a dancing step]: These outlandish heathen allemandes and cotillons are quite beyond me! — I shall never prosper at 'em, that's sure- mine are true-born English legsthey don't understand their curst French lingo." In his History of the English Stage, Geneste recalls a parallel passage in the Wasps of Aristophanes, where the old man, on being desired to put on a pair of Lacedemonian boots, endeavours to excuse himself by saying that one of his toes is a sworn enemy to the Lacedemonians. “Acres : That's too civil by half.” In the writing of the challenge most actors of Acres indulge in "gags" beyond the bounds of all decency, and until comedy sinks into clowning. Mr. Joseph Jefferson refused to make the judicious grieve by saying, “to prevent the confusion that might arise from our both undressing the same lady,” and other vulgarities of that sort, retaining, however, the subtler jest of Acres's pause and hesitation when he comes to the word “company," of his significant whisper in the ear of Sir Lucius, and of Sir Lucius's prompt solution of the orthographical problem, —“With a c, of course!”
Scene II “Mrs. MALAPROP : Caparisons don't become a young woman.” Here Mrs. Malaprop comes very near to Dogberry's “comparisons are odorous” (Much Ado About Nothing, A£t III, Scene V). Perhaps the earliest use of the phrase is in The Posies of George Gascoigne (1575), where we find, “Since all comparisons are odious.”
Scene I “Faulkland: Julia, I have proved you to the quick!” Moore considers that this scene was suggested by Prior's ballad of the Nut-brown Maid, and so indeed it may have been, although Prior's situation is very different from Sheridan's. In the Nut-brown Maid, the high-born lover conceals his rank, approaches his mistress in various disguises, and at last tests her love by a tale of murder, like Faulkland's. She stands the test like Julia. Then the lover confesses the trick and reveals his rank, whereat the maid is joyful. The point of Sheridan's more dramatic situation is in the recoil of Faulkland's distrustful ingenuity on his own head, and the rejection of his suit by Julia, so soon as he declares his fraud.
"LYDIA: How often have I stole forth, in the coldest night in January, and found him in the garden, stuck like a dripping statue.” In his notes to his own translation of Horace, Sir Theodore Martin drew attention to the likeness of this speech of Lydia's to the lines in the Tenth Ode of the Third Book, in which Horace adjures a certain Lyce to take pity on him. “You would pity, sweet Lyce, the poor soul that shivers
Out here at your door in the merciless blast. “Only hark how the doorway goes straining and creaking, And the piercing wind pipes through the trees that sur
round The court of your villa, while black frost is streaking
With ice the crisp snow that lies thick on the ground! “Yet be not as cruel — forgive my upbraiding.
As snakes, nor as hard as the toughest of oak; Think, to stand out here, drenched to the skin, serenading
All night may in time prove too much of a joke.”
Scene II * ABSOLUTE : Really, sir, you have the advantage of me.” Captain Absolute is the son of a long line of light and lively heroes of comedy, and the father of a line almost as long. Foremost among his ancestors is the inventive protagonist of Foote's Liar, and foremost among
is the even more slippery young man in Boucicault's London Assurance, who ventures to deny his father in much the same fashion as Captain Absolute.
Scene III “Acres: By my
valour! By a hundred devious ways, Bob Acres traces his descent from that other humorous coward, Sir Andrew Aguecheek; and the duels into which both gentlemen enter valiantly are not without a certain highly comic resemblance. “Sir Lucius: I'm told there is very snug lying in the Abbey." This reference is, of course, to the Abbey church, at Bath, in which Sarah Fielding, the sister of the novelist, is buried.