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Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751–1816). The School for Scandal.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Introductory Note

RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN, statesman and dramatist, was born in Dublin on Oct. 30, 1751. He belonged to a highly talented family, his grandfather, Thomas Sheridan, being a prominent Jacobite and a historian, and his father, also Thomas Sheridan, a distinguished actor, theatrical manager, and author.

Sheridan was educated for the bar, but the success of his comedy, “The Rivals,” led him into close relations with the theatre. “The Rivals” was followed by “St. Patrick’s Day,” a farce; “The Duenna,” a comic opera; “A Trip to Scarborough,” an adaptation from Vanbrugh; “The School for Scandal” (1777); and a patriotic melodrama. “Pizarro.” He was manager of Drury Lane Theatre, which he twice had a chief part in rebuilding; and though he had periods of marked prosperity in his management, and exercised a powerful influence on the stage history of his time, his theatrical activities frequently involved him in grave financial difficulties.

In 1780 Sheridan entered Parliament, and for over thirty years he took a highly distinguished part in politics. He held cabinet office a number of times, and was regarded as the most brilliant and effective orator of his day. His most famous speeches dealt with the prosecution of Warren Hastings; the French Revolution, in connection with which he urged the policy of letting the French manage their own government, but of resisting their attempts to spread their principles by conquest; the war with the American colonies, by his opposition to which he earned the gratitude of Congress; and the liberty of the press, of which he was an uncompromising champion. Throughout his career he was an honest and intrepid advocate of liberal ideas.

In “The School for Scandal” Sheridan carried the comedy of manners to the highest point it has reached in England. In the permanence of its hold on the public it is surpassed only by the plays of Shakespeare; and in characters like Joseph Surface, Sir Peter, and Lady Teazle, and in the scandal scene and the auction scene the author added to the lasting glories of the English stage.

Sheridan died in 1816, and was buried with great pomp in Westminster Abbey.