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Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816)RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN seems to have had two good plays, one good opera, and one good oration in his system. His life, aside from that, boils down to twenty years of fashionable life in London as a dabbler in politics, the companion of dissolute princes and a wastrel. At the age of 21, following a romantic elopement, he married and set up housekeeping in London on a grand scale with no money and no prospects except his wife's dowry. The young couple, nevertheless, entered the fashionable world and apparently held up their end in entertaining.

Sheridan's lucky star was in the ascendant, however, for on January 17, 1775, at the Covent Garden Theater, The Rivals was produced. The first performance was not a success. It was too long and the part of Sir Lucius O'Trigger was poorly played. On January 28, a second performance proved a complete success, establishing both play and playwright in the favor of fashionable London.

The following year Sheridan, his father-in-law (the composer, Thomas Finley) and Dr. Ford bought a half interest in the Drury Lane theater and in 1778 became sole owners. Shortly after the success of The Rivals Sheridan with the help of his father-in-law produced the opera, The Duenna. This piece was accorded such a warm reception that it played for seventy-five performances.

On May 8, 1777, Sheridan directed his masterpiece, A School for Scandal, in the Drury Lane theater of which he was now manager, with Mrs. Abington in the rôle of Lady Teazle. The play lacks the unity which marks The Rivals, and it does not have the same wealth of broadly humorous incident. Of the many "screen" scenes of dramatic history, however, the one in School for Scandal is by far the cleverest, while the "auction" scene is a success on any stage.

In 1780 Sheridan entered Parliament as the ally of Charles James Fox on the side of the American Colonials. He is said to have paid the burgesses of Stafford five guineas apiece for the honor of representing them. As a consequence, his first speech in Parliament had to be a defense against the charge of bribery.

During the bitter political controversies of the period Sheridan was practically the only man in Parliament who was never challenged to a duel . . . this, in spite of the sharp and effective weapon of ridicule he constantly wielded. When finally he failed of reelection to Parliament his creditors closed in on him and his last years were harassed by debt and disappointment. In the course of events the American Congress offered Sheridan 20,000 pounds in recognition of his efforts to prevent the Revolutionary War. To his eternal credit is recorded the refusal of this gift.

†This article was originally published in Minute History of the Drama Alice B. Fort & Herbert S. Kates. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1935. p. 64.

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Sheridan's Plays


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Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Sheridan: Poems

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