It can be said that Richard Sheridan was a man who was far ahead of his time, not only in ideals but in humor as well. The way that Sheridan chose to expose his insight on the world that lay before him was through the literary medium, The Rivals. In it, Sheridan uses various allegorical characters to display faults that he observes in human nature as a product of 18th century society. Some of the traits that Sheridan is attempting to illustrate to his readers are ignorance in women, neuroticism and captious attitudes in couples, and pride. Sheridan creates a satirical masterpiece in his play and clearly displays some of the many absurd characteristics that were prevalent among the individuals that made up his own culture.
The character that Sheridan used to satirize the trait of ignorance of education in women was Mrs. Malaprop. Mrs. Malaprop was easily one of the most humorous characters in the play because of her subtle errors in the usage of the English language. At various times throughout her dialect, words would blatantly be misused due to their approximation in sound to the correct word that was appropriate to the context of her dialogue. For example, when Mrs. Malaprop spoke of the uselessness in pursuing Lydia she claimed “there’s nothing to be hoped for her; she’s as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile” (50). Clearly the word Mrs. Malaprop should have used was “alligator”, but the word “allegory” sounds so similar most people are able to spot the mistake with ease. This misuse of words due to similarity in sound is
known as a malapropism, which actually gained its name after the play had become quite popular. Another example is when Mrs. Malaprop tells Lydia “No caparisons, miss, if you please. Caparisons don’t become a young woman” (61). Obviously she should have used the word comparisons instead. This obvious misuse of wording allows readers to laugh at the characters absurdity while perhaps also considering problems with ignorance of education and grammar in women in reality as well. At a time when the education of women was not considered a priority in English society, Sheridan attempts to point out a need for it through the ignorance and malapropisms of Mrs. Malaprop.
The character that Sheridan used to illustrate the trait of captiousness is Faulkland, or Julia’s fiancée in the play. Faulkland is constantly on edge about whether Julia’s affection towards him will remain permanent and he is always testing her affection through various methods. He is incapable of letting the very smallest fault or trivial matter slip by his detection without a massive investigation filled with fear and doubt. It is this neurotic, captious attitude found in many individuals engaged in a relationship that drives their significant other mad and drives them away due to frustration. Sheridan tries to illustrate how petty and useless it is to hold onto such attitudes by illustrating these flaws in Faulkland. For example, when...