Monday, February 18, 2013

Review: THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL by Richard Brinsley Sheridan

book cover Original Publication Date: 1777

Genre: play

Topics: comedy, aristocracy, gossip, love

Review by heidenkind:

Lord Peter Teazle suspects his wife is having an affair with Charles Surface, a charming ne'er-do-well who's in dire financial straights. She's not; Charles is actually pursuing Lord Peter's ward, Maria, and so is his brother, Joseph (who is also a ne'er-do-well, but seen as respectable because he has money). Hurt by her husband's accusations, Lady Teazle decides to behave in accordance to his suspicions and considers an affair with Joseph. All of this drama is brought to you by the scheming Lady Sneerwell and her friend, Snake. Will Lord Peter realize his wife really does love him, and will Charles pull himself out of debt so he can marry Maria?

The School for Scandal is a fun play. It kind of reminded me of Dangerous Liaisons, if Dangerous Liaisons was meant to be a comedy and was about English aristocrats instead of French ones (read: there's a lot less sex). In both you have two aristocratic characters, a man and woman, who make a pact to manipulate people they know for their own amusement. The major difference between The School for Scandal and Dangerous Liaisons, and what makes the former a comedy, is that Lady Sneerwell and Joseph aren't the central characters--that honor goes to the much more likable Lord Peter, Lady Teazle, and Charles Surface.

A teaser from a 1959 BBC production of The School for Scandal

The central story about Lord Peter and Lady Teazle is actually kind of sweet, because Lord Peter really does love and adore his wife. For some reason he just can't believe she would have married him for anything other than his money. Charles Surface also turns out to be a good guy, if a roguish one, with genuine respect for Maria and affection for his uncle. I would have liked a stronger emotional conclusion to Lord Peter and Lady Teasle's story, but these two storylines definitely qualifies The School for Scandal as a proto-romcom in my mind. The play also has some great lines in it. My favorite was, "They murder characters to kill time," but Lady Teazle also gets some good comebacks in when she's arguing with Lord Peter.

The School for Scandal is definitely worth reading, especially if you're a fan of the 18th century and/or romantic comedies where misunderstanding is piled upon calculation and the clever lines come quick and fast (something along the lines of Down With Love). Listening to it performed by a cast in the Librivox version was especially fun.

Download The School for Scandal by Richard Brinsley Sheridan at Project Gutenberg|Librivox