When Richard Brinsley Sheridan wrote the play "The School for Scandal" in 1777, it was a satire of popular fashionable life. He managed to criticize society in a humorous way, by confronting the audience with a mirror image of themselves. Donatus defines comedy as `a copy of life, a mirror of custom, a reflection of truth' (cited in: Abrams, 1953, 32). The topic of scandal could be seen as such a mirror image, because scandal was rife in towns like London; moreover it was a kind of leisure activity for the higher classes.
The play consists of two main plots. The first one is about the relationship between Sir Peter Teazle and his wife. He is much older than Lady Teazle and not pleased about her changing behaviour. Lady Teazle was a simple country girl before she became Sir Peter's wife and now tries hard to become a member of the fashionable society she is confronted with through her marriage. This plot highlights the contrast between rural and urban life.
In order to reach her aim, Lady Teazle joins a group of malicious and slanderous people, headed by Lady Sneerwell, who is very interested in Charles Surface and wants to separate him from his relation to Maria, by spreading slander about him.
Charles and his brother Josef Surface are the topic of the second plot. Their rich uncle Sir Oliver arrives unexpectedly from Australia and hears such conflicting reports of his nephews and prospective heirs that he decides to look them over personally. He approaches Charles in the shape of Mr. Premium, a money lender and Joseph in the shape of Mr. Stanley, a poor relation begging help. These visitations reveal the real characters of both brothers, which in the end differ greatly from the expected ones. As Katherine Worth describ...
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...otypes and clichés rather than test character for themselves, as Sir Oliver does' (Worth, 1992, 156). Again, the metaphor of the mirror can be used to support this statement. Many people could see a reflection of themselves in the character of Joseph Surface. By confronting his audience with its own failings, Sheridan may have succeeded in making people laugh about themselves, but also made them reflect on their own behaviour.
Abrams, M. H.  1977. The Mirror and the Lamp. Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Moorwood, J. and Crane, D., eds., 1995. Sheridan Studies, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Sheridan, .  1979. The School for Scandal, ed. by F. W. Bateson, London: New Mermaids, A. & C. Black.
Worth, K. 1992. Sheridan and Goldsmith, London: Macmillan.
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