‘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.
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