Written in 1777, Richard Brinsley Sheridan's School for Scandal is considered one of the best comedies of the English Restoration Theatre. Indeed, some critics consider one of the finest comedies ever written. Despite being written less than two generations after Shakespeare's peak work, Sheridan's comedies are considerably more approachable in both langauge and content.

The English Restoration in theatre is remembered primarily for the creation of highbrow comedies. Indeed, this period finally saw comedy elevated to the same respect given to tragedy. Despite this, most of the work from this period is sentimental and trite. School for Scandal along with another of Sheridan's comedies, The Rivals and the works of William Wytcherly and William Congreve may be the only exceptions to this rule, and probably the only truly enjoyable works of the period.

Scandal, a comedy of manners, takes aim at London's new high-society and its preoccupation with gossip, defamation, foppishnes, and false morality. It contains some of the hallmarks of this period, witty reparte and riposte, stock character types (descendent from Commedia theatre) with names descriptive of character, a fifth act reversal and recognition and the screen scene. Sheridan's purpose in Scandal, also typical of this period, is both to delight and to instruct. The moral lesson in this drama is not obscured by the comic humour. Also, Sheridan adheres to the understanding of the neo-classical ideal predominant in this time. That is, unity of time is restricted to one 24-hour period, unity of place is limited to anywhere the characters can travel easily in a day, unity of action only in the fact that the multiple plots share a common hinge, and strict decorum in characterization.

School for Scandal has two main plots. Joseph Surface, whom all others regard as a moral person, seeks to marry Maria, the ward of Sir Teazel, an elderly bachelor and close friend to Surface's uncle, Sir Oliver. However, Maria is in love with Joseph's prodigal brother Charles, whom all regard as immoral and scandalous.

In order to make himself seem the better choice than his brother, Joseph contrives with the neighborhood rumormonger, Lady Sneerwell and her servant Snake, to leave forged letters indicating Charles of even greater immorality where Sir Teazel will find them, and thus forbid his ward to marry Charles. They are assisted by Lady Teazel, the young wife to Sir Teazel, who married only for money and a chance at high society life in London.

Without warning, Joseph and Charles' rich uncle, Sir Oliver returns from years abroad. He hopes to determine the true character of his nephews and thus determine how to dispose of his vast fortune. He first visits Charles in the guise of a money lender, Mr. Premium. He discovers that Charles' extravagant lifestyle has left him in such great debt that not only has he sold all of the family heirlooms, but is willing to take a loan at 200% interest. The only thing he has left to broker is the collection of old family potraits. Sir Oliver is mortified by this wanton disrespect for family, but Charles redeems himself by refusing to sell the potrait of Sir Oliver as a young man. Upon receiving money for the potraits, Charles further redeems himself when Oliver discovers that despite his debts he is sending a fifth of the amount to a distant relative who is in great need.

Sir Oliver then visits Joseph's house as that poor relative, Mr. Stanley, seeking help and money. Not only does he refuse to help Stanley, but he lies about his uncle Sir Oliver, claiming that he had recently died both poor and penniless. Oliver, as Stanley, takes none of this well. A short scene of recognition brings all to rights as Sneerwell and Joseph are exposed as hypocrites and villains, Maria and Charles reunited, and Lady Teazel, who had been entertaining an affair with Joseph pledges to be true to Sir Teazel.

But the best part of this play is the tavern song sung in the fourth act. Enjoy:
Here's to the maiden of bashful fifteen;
Here's to the widow of fifty;
Here's to the flaunting extravagant queen,
And here's to the housewife that's thrifty.

Chorus. Let the toast pass,—
Drink to the lass,
I'll warrant she'll prove an excuse for a glass.
Here's to the charmer whose dimples we prize;
Now to the maid who has none, sir;
Here's to the girl with a pair of blue eyes,
And here's to the nymph with but one, sir.

Chorus. Let the toast pass, &c.


Here's to the maid with a bosom of snow:
Now to her that's as brown as a berry:
Here's the wife with a face full of woe,
And now to the damsel that's merry.

Chorus. Let the toast pass, &c.

For let 'em be clumsy, or let 'em be slim,
Young or ancient, I care not a feather;
So fill a pint bumper quite up to the brim,
So fill up your glasses, nay, fill to the brim,
And let us e'en toast them together.

Chorus. Let the toast pass, &c.

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