I’ve been working my way through Sheridan’s complete works: I’ve read The Duenna, The Rivals, St Patrick’s Day and A Trip to Scarborough – and now I’ve read The School for Scandal. It is the finest of them so far, I think; one of the finest plays in the English language.
But it wasn’t the humour or the perfect plot construction that most interested me. No, it was the remarkable rendition of speech in it. Dialogue written not as a written language, but as an oral language, putting odd and interesting pauses into the actor’s mouths.
Consider, for instance, the following section:
Lady Teazle: Well – well I’m inclined to believe you – But isn’t it provoking to have the most ill natured Things said to one? and there’s my friend Lady Sneerwell has circulated I don’t know how many Scandalous Tales of me and all without Foundation too – that’s what vexes me. –
Surface: Aye Madam to be sure that is the Provoking circumstance – without Foundation. – yes yes – there’s the mortification indeed – for when a slanderous Story is believed against one – there certainly is no comfort – like the consciousness of having deserv’d it –
Lady Teazle: No to be sure – then I’d forgive their Malice – but to attack me who am really so innocent – and who never say an ill natured thing of anybody – that is of any Friend -! and then sir Peter too – to have him so peevish and so suspicious – when I know the integrity of my own Heart – indeed ’tis monstrous.
Surface: But my dear Lady Teazle ’tis your own fault if you suffer it – when a Husband entertains a groundless suspicion of his Wife, and withdraws his confidence from her – the original compact is broke and she owes it to the Honor of her sex to endeavour to outwit him.
Lady Teazle: Indeed – so that if He suspects me without cause, it follows that the best way of curing his Jealousy is to give him reason for’t.
Surface: Undoubtably – for your Husband should never be deceived – in you – and in that case it becomes you to be frail in compliment to her discernment.
Nothing pleases Obooki quite like odd grammar. – One wonders after a Sternian influence; and an influence that cascaded down to another odd user of grammar (and Sheridan devotee) Jane Austen. [Please note: Jane Austen’s grammar has, for some reason and unlike Sterne, been modernised in all the editions I’ve ever come across. Manuscripts here. Or maybe she changed herself, and actually started using paragraphs at some point]. – I might pursue how much of an influence Sheridan was on Austen; it’s not just the style (though no doubt it’s been noted before).