“The Rivals” is an amusing satire on the fashionable upper-class of
The Faulkland-Julia love-affair is undoubtedly a parody of the sentimental comedy of the eighteenth century. Julia is portrayed as an excessively sentimental girl, while Faulkland is portrayed as the most whimsical and eccentric lover. Faulkland greatly amuses us by his account of the anxieties that fill his mind regarding Julia. Every hour he is alarmed on Julia’s account. If it rains, if the wind is sharp, he feels afraid. All this is very funny. Similarly, Faulkland’s feeling upset on hearing about the gay life that Julia has been leading also amuses us. Julia’s over-sentimentality in idealizing her lover and repeatedly forgiving his faults and silly suspicions is also funny.
The portrayal of
The most amusing scenes in the play are those in which Captain Absolute comes face to face with his father, Sir Anthony. Sir Anthony is portrayed as a self-willed, dictatorial kind of father who demands implicit obedience from his son. He threatens to disinherit his son, to disown his son in case his son does not carry out his wishes. Sir Anthony in his own prime of life was a gay fellow.
“Can a man commit a more heinous offence against another than to fall in love with the same woman?”
The portrayal of
One of the most striking features of “The Rivals” is witty dialogue. The manner in which Sir Anthony snubs and scolds his son for disobeying his wishes, the manner in which Captain Absolute deals with Mrs. Malaprop when he meets her first, Sir Lucius manner of dealing with Acres when he instructs Acres in the rules of dueling is also witty.
Humorous and farcical situations are also generally found in a comedy of manner. Captain Absolute’s disguising himself as Ensign Beverley and then unmasking himself when finally he has to face Lydia in his true character are such situations. Then there are two more farcical situations. One is that in which Captain Absolute tricks his father into believing that his is going to make up his quarrel with Lydia when his is actually going to fight a duel. The second is when David shouts to Sir Anthony to stop Absolute because there is going to be fight, murder, bloodshed and so on.
Instead of moral sentiments, Sheridan gives quick and witty dialogues, fast moving actions with its highly comic situations and above all the absence of any serious complication or conflict. Right from the beginning to the end, the play sends the audience into peals of laughter. The criticism that elements of sentimentality have penetrated into the play is based on misunderstanding.