Hypocrisy in School for Scandal – Sheridan

School for Scandal is a play written by Richard Brinsley Sheridan in 1777. This play can be considered as a Comedy of Manners. I will comment upon the hypocritical side of the Comedy of Manners. Indeed, one of the characteristics of the Comedy of Manners is the hypocrisy of the characters. To illustrate this, I will focus on Act IV, Scene iii; and so on the characters of Joseph Surface and Lady Teazle. During this scene, Joseph meets Lady Teazle and flirts with her. But they are interrupted by Lady Teazle’s husband, Sir Peter.

Before he enters the room, Lady Teazle hides behind the screen, to listen to them without being seen by her husband. Sir Peter enters and tells Joseph his suspicions concerning an affair between his wife and Charles (because of some rumours spread by Joseph and Lady Sneerwell). 143 Throughout the scene, Joseph is playing. We can focus first on his name, Joseph Surface. As his name suggests, he is someone who is based on appearances. He hides what he thinks and what he really is behind a pleasing social face. In fact, he pretends to be an honourable gentleman but is, in reality, a liar who cannot be trust and deceive everybody. 5 That is why this scene is a good example of hypocrisy.

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First because he pretends not to love Maria but Lady Teazle. He plays with her and then with her husband when he finally arrives. This time, he pretends not to have a relation with Lady Teazle and he even accuses his brother, Charles, of being the one who has a relation with her. 64 Joseph has therefore two personalities. As spectators, we can see his two personalities because when he pretends to be good, honourable, trustful, he speaks to Charles or Lady Teazle. But when his evil side predominates, he speaks aside.

So that only the assistance is aware of it. This hypocrisy becomes ironical because the situation is comic for us. The characters are deceived by this two-faced young man and none of them realize it. Joseph deceives them, and take pleasure in it. He really hides what he thinks but only to the character whose he speaks because the assistance knows what he really thinks. The best example to illustrate this is “(aside) Indeed I do not. [Aloud] Oh certainly I do”. And that is what he does throughout the scene and even throughout the play.

To conclude, we can say that School for Scandal is one of the best examples of what a Comedy of Manners is; mostly because of the hypocritical characters in the play. Joseph Surface is only one example but most of the characters are just like him; for example Mrs Candour. 186 The characters are hypocrite, they spend their time gossiping about everyone. This play is a critic of the society, especially of the upper classes’ manners. It is also a play in which there is minimal physical action. That is way we can say that School for Scandal can be considered as a Comedy of Manners. 55

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