THERE are few prominent plays in the literature of the world which contain so many traces of the condition and of the adventures of their author as does The Rivals. Without being directly autobiographical, it is colored from prologue to epilogue by the personal history of the brilliant young fellow who wrote it, and without reminding ourselves what were the events through which he had lately passed, we fail to appreciate half the touches in it. He had lately been a part of the sham chivalry and the sham romance ...
THERE are few prominent plays in the literature of the world which contain so many traces of the condition and of the adventures of their author as does The Rivals. Without being directly autobiographical, it is colored from prologue to epilogue by the personal history of the brilliant young fellow who wrote it, and without reminding ourselves what were the events through which he had lately passed, we fail to appreciate half the touches in it. He had lately been a part of the sham chivalry and the sham romance of which he made such immortal fun, and the impressions of the absurdities of life were fresh upon his memory when he wrote The Rivals. He had been twenty years of age when he eloped with Elizabeth Linley, exactly as Lydia Languish hoped to fly with her Beverley. He had been twenty-one when he fought two ridiculous duels, which were evidently in his mind when he invented the inimitable scenes in the fifth act of the play. He had suffered "inexpressible torments," and had indulged in "sheets of unintelligible rhapsody." At the house of Mrs. Miller in Bath he had met with pretension and incongruity and fashionable flutter enough to rig out a dozen Mrs. Malaprops. He had poured verses into the celebrated vase, dressed with pink ribbons and myrtles, which crowned the fair of Parnassus at Bath Easton.
Throughout his tumultuous, absurd, romantic youth, Sheridan had seemed to be rather acting than observing, but his keen eyes were open to the world of folly, and he was still but twenty-three when he sat down to write this immortal picture of it all.
The Rivals, a play by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, is a comedy of manners in five acts. It was first performed on 17 January 1775.
The Rivals was Sheridan's first play. At the time, he was a young newlywed living in Bath. At Sheridan’s insistence, upon marriage his wife Eliza (born Elizabeth Linley) had given up her career as a singer. This was proper for the wife of a “gentleman,” but it was difficult because Eliza had earned a substantial income as a performer. Instead, the Sheridans lived beyond their means as they entertained the gentry and nobility with Eliza’s singing (in private parties) and Richard’s wit. Finally, in need of funds, Richard turned to the only craft that could gain him the remuneration he desired in a short time: he began writing a play. He had over the years written and published essays and poems, and among his papers were numerous unfinished plays, essays and political tracts, but never had he undertaken such an ambitious project as this. In a short time, however, he completed The Rivals. He was 23 years old.
The Rivals was first performed at Covent Garden, London, on 17 January 1775. It was roundly vilified by both the public and the critics for its length, for its bawdiness and for the character of Sir Lucius O’Trigger being a meanly written role played very badly. The actor, Lee, after being hit with an apple during the performance, stopped and addressed the audience, asking “By the pow'rs, is it personal? — is it me, or the matter?” Apparently, it was both. Sheridan immediately withdrew the play and in the next 11 days, rewrote the original (the Larpent manuscript) extensively, including a new preface in which he allowed:For my own part, I see no reason why the author of a play should not regard a first night’s audience as a candid and judicious friend attending, in behalf of the public, at his last rehearsal. If he can dispense with flattery, he is sure at least of sincerity, and even though the annotation be rude, he may rely upon the justness of the comment.
Sheridan also apologized for any impression that O’Trigger was intended as an insult to Ireland. Rewritten and with a new actor, Clinch, in the role of O’Trigger, the play reopened on 28 January to significant acclaim. Indeed, it became a favorite of the royal family, receiving five command performances in ten years, and also in the Colonies (it was George Washington’s favorite play).
Richard Brinsley Butler Sheridan (30 October 1751 – 7 July 1816) was an Irish-born playwright and poet and long-term owner of the London Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. For thirty-two years he was also a Whig Member of the British House of Commons for Stafford (1780–1806), Westminster (1806–1807) and Ilchester (1807–1812). Such was the esteem he was held in by his contemporaries when he died that he was buried at Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey. He is known for his plays such as The Rivals, The School for Scandal and A Trip to Scarborough.
R. B. Sheridan was born in 1751 in Dublin, Ireland, where his family had a house on then-fashionable Dorset Street. While in Dublin Sheridan attended the English Grammar School in Grafton Street. The family moved permanently to England in 1758 when he was age seven.
In 1772 Richard Sheridan fought a famous duel against Captain Thomas Mathews. Mathews had written a newspaper article defaming the character of Elizabeth Linley, the woman Sheridan intended to marry, and honour dictated that a duel must be fought. A first duel was fought in London where they agreed to fight in Hyde Park, but finding it too crowded they went to the Castle Tavern in Henrietta Street, Covent Garden. Far from its romantic image, the duel was short and bloodless. Mathews lost his sword and, according to Sheridan, was forced to 'beg for his life' and sign a retraction of the article. The apology was made public and Mathews, infuriated by the publicity the duel had received, refused to accept his defeat as final and challenged Sheridan to another duel. Sheridan was not obliged to accept this challenge, but would have become a social pariah if he had not. The second duel, fought in August 1772 at Kingsdown near Bath, was a much more ferocious affair. This time both men broke their swords but carried on fighting in a 'desperate struggle for life and honour'. Both were wounded, Sheridan dangerously, being 'borne from the field with a portion of his antagonist's weapon sticking through an ear, his breast-bone touched, his whole body covered with wounds and blood, and his face nearly beaten to jelly with the hilt of Mathews' sword'. Fortunately his remarkable constitution pulled him through, and eight days after this bloody affair the Bath Chronicle was able to announce that he was out of danger. Mathews escaped in a post chaise.
in 1775, his first play, The Rivals, was produced in London.