Today people are getting bore about television, journals, social media and other medias that are the major sources of celebrity scandals. 18th century the scandal was not what we are watching today? Time, social scandals were popular than modern brain-garbaging! It was called sentimental comedy!
Sentimental comedy was a reaction to the comedy of manners of the restoration period, very popular among the 18th century puritan-middle-class audience. The comedies were impressive and erotic in both subject-matter and technique. There are sobbing heroines, pathetic situations, sentimental morality and unpredictable lover. Comic purpose is defeated.
Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer and Sheridan’s The School for Scandal reacted and revived the true spirit of comedy. The School for Scandal is a great example of comedy of manners. Sheridan draws a witty picture of the urban society of the day. He represents a company of gossip and scandal-mongers and their repartees were introduced for laughter.
The characters are named of Backbite, Crabtree, Sneerwell and Candour. It is evident he was ridiculing the participants of the monstrous academy The School for Scandal. The very names of each character is suggesting their nature. Their label names are like those of Benjamin (Ben Jonson’s comedy.) Satire is Sheridan’s intelligent weapon and wits, he used to teach lessons to the members of artificial society very similar to many modern clubs (golf club, romance club, poker club, snooker club, bowling club, lover’s club and so on…).
In the prologue, the audience become aware that they are watching a piece about scandal mongers. Sheridan presents an imitation of Lady Wormwood (Wormwood is a bitter herb, so she is exactly named), drinking tea and reading the papers. Her conversation is an intentional grimace of that of Lady Sneerwell and her companions. We can see parallel of this in Backbite’s display of rhyming epigrams. The young author (at the time Sheridan was twenty-six) able to fight successfully a vice as prolific as the “many-headed hydra”, one head is chopped off, grows another?
There are love themes. Lady Sneerwell shows her passionate love towards Charles. Charles and Maria are deeply in love but Sheridan avoids romantic or sentimental scenes. There is hardly any passionate expression by Charles about his love for Maria. In Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer, love-making acted under disguise (like Shakespeare’s As You Like It). Indirect love-making was a source of laughter. But sentiment had no direct place in Sheridan’s play!
A typical sentimental comedy included mawkish, tearful and moralizing sentimental scenes. Joseph Surface who is a “sentimental knave” (a man of sentiment). Sir Peter is be fooled by sentimental villains. All the characters assembled in Lady Sneerwell’s drawing room to discuss the cause of Charles’s distress. Joseph says “I’ll keep that sentiment till I see Sir Peter”.
Sheridan attacks sentimentality through Joseph. He cut the last-minute conversion (another feature of sentimental comedy). Sir Peter and Lady Teazle changed but they went through the horrible experience and they realized their errors. However sentimental attitude of Sir Oliver to Charles. Charles didn’t want to sell Sir Oliver’s portrait as a memorial of his uncle. Charles’s benevolence in sending one hundred pounds to poor Stanly is appreciated by Sir Oliver. Benevolence is firmly related with sentiment. In the screen scene Sir Peter expressed his genuine love for Lady Teazle. Lady Teazle’s comment is sentimental. She would try to maintain a better relationship with her husband. There is an element of morality at the end. Lady Sneerwell, the chief of gossip mongers and Joseph, the hypocritical-man are unmasked.
* For more information about “The School for Scandal” performance at El Centro Theatre please visit: www.elcentrotheatre.com.