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About this book

Each generation needs to be introduced to the culture and great works of the past and to reinterpret them in its own ways. This series re-examines the important English dramatists of earlier centuries in the light of new information, ew interests and new attitudes. The books will be relevant to those interested in literatire, theatre and cultural history, and to threatre-goers and general readers who want an up-to-date view of these dramatists and their plays, with the emphasis on performance and relevant culture history.

This book explores the reasons for the deep and lasting appeal of Sheridan's and Goldsmith's comedies, showing how they operate at the profound imaginative level and draw on their author's experience as Irish wits in an English scene. Their subtle dramatic techniques are examined in relation to physical features of the eighteenth-century stage. A chapter on sentimental comedy relates to plays such as Hugh Kelly's False Delicacy to the balance of irony and sentiment in Goldsmith's The Good Natur'd Man and Sheridan's A Trip to Scarborough. The continuing freshness of the comedy of mistakes, masks and Harlequin-like role playing which the two playwrights draw from the operatic and theatrical conventions of their day is illustrated from modern productions. These have helped to illuminate the psychological truth and social awareness underlying the sparkling surfaces of Sheridan's and Goldsmith's classic comedies.

Table of Contents

1. Sheridan and Goldsmith: Heavenly Twins

Abstract
Sheridan and Goldsmith — it sounds a duo, almost a pairing of interchangeables like Tom Stoppard’s Ros and Guil in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. It is not really so, needless to say. Sheridan and Goldsmith are utterly distinct and distinctive as playwrights, let alone as men. Yet they do have a great deal in common, more than enough to justify their being discussed at least partly in tandem. Both were Irishmen, born in Ireland of Irish parents, yet making their careers and fame in England. Sheridan was brought to England by his family as a child of eight (and given an English upbringing, including schooling at Harrow). Goldsmith came to London on his own initiative, settling there as a young man in his twenties, after studying at Trinity College, Dublin (and Edinburgh), and spending some colourful ‘wander’ years in various parts of Europe.
Katharine Worth

2. The Lives and the Plays

Abstract
To begin with Goldsmith. Like much in his life, the records of his date and place of birth are somewhat hazy. He was probably born in 1730, in Pallas, a village in County Westmeath, Ireland. His father was a country clergyman, prototype for the idealised Dr Primrose in The Vicar of Wakefield. Goldsmith had in high degree what Lady Gregory was later to call the ‘incorrigible’ Irish genius for myth-making. So, the village of Lissoy, where the family moved soon after his birth, became ‘Sweet Auburn, loveliest village of the plain’ of The Deserted Village, while the splendid joke at the centre of She Stoops to Conquer may have grown (at least in part) from an adventure said to have befallen Goldsmith as a youth. Walking in the country, where he had been noticed taking an interest in fine houses (‘Gentlemen’s’ seats), he enquired at Ardagh for ‘the best house in town’ and was directed to the best ‘gentleman’s’ house which he took for the inn he had really wanted. After behaving in a very free and easy way, calling for wine and the next morning, his bill, he learned that his host was no inn-keeper but an old acquaintance of his father’s. The fact that there was a theatrical source for She Stoops to Conquer in Isaac Bickerstaffe’s musical play, Love in a Village, does not exclude the possibility that an early embarrassment of the kind described provided some of the psychic drive that can be sensed behind the bizarre yet theatrically convincing situation in the play.
Katharine Worth

3. The Plays in the Eighteenth-Century Theatre

Abstract
The comedies of Goldsmith and Sheridan were partly shaped, like all actable plays, by the form and conventions of the stage for which they were written. Certain features of both writers’ technique are clearly related to staging methods and acting conventions at Covent Garden and Drury Lane in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. Equally clearly the two placed their personal stamp on the theatrical conventions they took over.
Katharine Worth

4. Questions of Taste: Sentimental Comedy. ‘The Good Natur’d Man’ and ‘A Trip to Scarborough’

Abstract
Goldsmith’s campaign against sentimental comedy was not an expression of hostility to sentiment in comedy. He was a man of sentiment himself, as we need look no further than his sympathetic portrayal of sentimental Mr Hardcastle to perceive. The attack was aimed quite specifically at a certain type of comedy which achieved its height of popularity in his day and can fairly be represented by such a play as Hugh Kelly’s False Delicacy (1768). Sheridan followed Goldsmith in denigrating the ‘goddess of the woeful countenance’ — though with rather less fire and fury, the fate of his own plays being less affected by the sentimental vogue.
Katharine Worth

5. ‘She Stoops to Conquer’

Abstract
She Stoops to Conquer is both perfectly theatrical and perfectly natural. This is the effect which charmed its first audience and has helped the play to hold the stage ever since. It proclaims itself as a piece of theatre at the start when the prologue plunges into a specialised battle, Goldsmith’s vendetta against ‘the mawkish drab of spurious breed,/ Who deals in sentimentals’. Modern audiences seldom hear this in-joke, productions nowadays tending to cut the prologue. But there are plenty of sly allusions inside the play to theatre matters, either explicit or to be deduced: jokes about the audience’s horror of the ‘low’ and Kate’s enquiry to her maid whether she looks ‘something like Cherry in The Beaux’ Stratagem?’ The characters’ thoughts run naturally to play-acting. It is enough for her maid to tell her that Marlow mistook her mistress for a barmaid to inspire Kate with an instant resolve to play the part. The audience attending Goldsmith’s play is called on to have the same alertness as Kate to acting possibilities. From one angle, the play is to be seen as a gigantic histrionic joke, one mistake growing out of another and feeding new roles, as in that most theatrical of forms, the commedia dell’arte.
Katharine Worth

6. Sheridan’s Comedy of Masks: Harlequins and Thespians

Abstract
The commedia dell’arte and its offspring, English pantomime, stretch a long finger into Sheridan’s comedy. Disguisings, cheatings and ingenious improvisations are the order of the day in all his plays from The Rivals to The Duenna, while in The Critic the theatre scene simply swallows up a private world already obsessed with histrionics and turns everything to burlesque. St Patrick’s Day and The Duenna are thick with disguises. Lieutenant O’Connor dresses up twice to deceive Lauretta’s father, first as a ‘country looking fellow’, then as a doctor, while in The Duenna half the characters are in disguise half the time. The duenna disguises herself as her mistress, Louisa, who disguises herself as a nun, drawing from her lover, who fails to recognise her, the splendid line, ‘Be quiet, good nun, don’t tease me’. This is in the vein of a Marriage of Figaro or a Cosi Fan Tutte. Some characters maintain false identities without benefit of disguise, supremely Jack Absolute, who anticipates Wilde’s Jack Worthing (‘Jack in town and Ernest in the country’) in his adroit juggling with his invented other self. He responds with the amused sangfroid of a Wildean dandy to Bob Acres’ plea to deliver his challenge to the elusive Beverley. ‘Well, give it to me and trust me he gets it’, he says, and ‘No trouble in the world, I assure you’.
Katharine Worth

7. ‘The School for Scandal’

Abstract
‘Surface’, the key name in the play, is the key to its interpretation. It is a comedy about the difficulty of getting at the truth of things, the ease with which people can be deluded by false surfaces. The whole of Act I and part of Act II are set among the scandalmongers, who are seemingly engaged full-time in the business of falsification, blackening character and blowing up rumours and wisps of gossip into full-bodied, “circumstantial’ accounts. The theme of ‘false impressions’, staple of sentimental comedy, is given a new twist which relates it to Sheridan’s personal experience and to his psychological penetration, not least into himself.
Katharine Worth
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