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’.
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