Richard Brinsley Sheridan: Playwright, Poet, opera, THE DUENNA. This piece was accorded such a warm reception that it played for 75 performances. In 1776, Sheridan, his father-in-law,

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  • Dramatist, politician, entrepreneur andrevolutionary (or traitor), Richard Brinsley Sheridan was a man of manycontradictions: an English-educatedProtestant actor who cared about thecivil rights of the Irish Catholic peas-antry; a playwright who was best knownas a politician; a true believer in sincerityyet a role-playing chameleon; a radicalmember of Parliament who associatedwith armed insurrectionists against theCrown.Sheridan was born in 1751 in Dublin, Ireland. His mother, Frances, was aplaywright and novelist. Two of her playswere produced in London in the early1760s, though she is best known for hernovel THE MEMOIRS OF SIDNEY BIDDULPH (1761). His father, Thomas,was an actor-manager at the SmockAlley Theatre, but when the familymoved to England in 1758, he gave upacting and wrote a number of booksabout education and the standardizationof the English language. At the age of 11 Richard was sent toHarrow School, gaining "the esteem andeven admiration of all his schoolfellowsand acquiring more learning than he isusually given credit for, according to hisschool master. He left Harrow at the ageof 17 and was placed under the care of atutor. He was also trained by his father indaily elocution, put through a course ofEnglish reading and took fencing andriding lessons.In the seven years between his leavingHarrow and the appearance of THE RIVALS, he produced plays, poems, political letters and pamphlets. The family moved to Bath in 1770 where hemet the daughters of composer ThomasLinley. The eldest daughter, ElizabethAnn, a girl of 16, was exceedingly beau-tiful and had many suitors, includingSheridan. Sheridan fought two duels to defend herhonor, which created a considerablesensation at the time. Both were againstCaptain Thomas Mathews, who had writ-ten a newspaper article defaming Eliza-beths character. The first duel was shortand bloodless. According to Sheridan,Matthews was forced to beg for his lifeand sign a retraction of the article. Theapology was made public and Mathews,

    infuriated by the publicity, refused to accept his defeat and challenged Sheri-dan to another duel. This time both menwere wounded, Sheridan seriously. Fortunately his remarkable constitutionpulled him through, and eight days afterthis bloody affair he was pronounced outof danger. Sheridan was just 21 years-old when hemarried Elizabeth in 1773.They set uphouse in London on a lavish scale withlittle money and no immediate prospectsother than his wife's dowry. The youngcouple entered the fashionable world ofthe time and apparently held up theirend in entertaining.Once they settled in London, Sheridanbegan writing for the stage. Less thantwo years later, in 1775, his first play,THE RIVALS, was produced at London'sCovent Garden Theatre. It was a failureon its first night. Sheridan cast a morecapable actor in the role of the comicIrishman for the second performance,and it was a smash, immediately estab-lishing the young playwright's reputationand earning him the favor of high societyLondon.THE RIVALS has gone on to become a standard of English literature.Shortly after the success of THE RIVALS,Sheridan and his father-in-law ThomasLinley, a successful composer, produced

    Audience Guide

    AUDIENCE GUIDEResearch/Writing by Justine Leonard

    for ENLIGHTEN,Skylight Opera Theatres Education ProgramEdited by Ray Jivoff414-299-4965

    Music & Libretto by

    Kirke MechemBased on the play

    by Richard Brinsley Sheridan

    THE RIVALS is made possible, in part,through generous support from Mary Ann & Lloyd Gerlach


    Enlighten is funded in part by the Potawatomi BingoCasino Miracle on Canal Street Program.

    Richard Brinsley Sheridan: Playwright, Poet, Politician

    Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816)

  • the opera, THE DUENNA. This piece wasaccorded such a warm reception that itplayed for 75 performances.In 1776, Sheridan, his father-in-law, andanother partner, bought half interest inthe Drury Lane Theatre and two yearslater, bought out the other half. Sheridanwas the manager of the theater for manyyears and later became sole owner.His most famous play, THE SCHOOLFOR SCANDAL (1777) is considered oneof the greatest English comedies ofmanners. It was followed by THE CRITIC(1779), which was produced this seasonby the American Players Theatre inSpring Green, Wisconsin.As owner of the Drury Lane, his laterplays were all produced there. In 1778Sheridan wrote THE CAMP, which com-mented on the ongoing threat of aFrench invasion of Britain. On February24, 1809 (despite the much vaunted firesafety precautions of 1794) the theatreburned down. Found drinking a glass ofwine in the street while watching the fire,Sheridan was famously reported to havesaid, "A man may surely be allowed totake a glass of wine by his own fireside."In 1776 Sheridan abandoned his writingin favor of a political career when he metCharles Fox, the leader of the RadicalWhigs in the House of Commons. As amember of Parliament, he was a frequent speaker in the House of Commons and soon earned a reputationas one of the best orators in Britain. Sheridan strongly supported the Ameri-can colonists. Congress was so grateful for Sheridan's support that he was offered a reward of 20,000. Under attack for disloyalty to his country, Sheridan decided not to accept the gift. In 1794 Sheridan defended the French

    Revolution against its critics in theHouse of Commons. He believed thatthe French people had the right to deter-mine their own form of government with-out outside interference. Sheridan wasalso a strong supporter of an uncen-sored press and argued strenuouslyagainst attempts to use the libel laws toprevent criticism of the government. During the next few years he was in andout of office and had serious financialproblems. In 1813 he was arrested for debt, but was released when a wealthyfriend bailed him out. Sheridan died impoverished on July 7,1816. He was held in great esteem byhis contemporaries and was buried inthe Poets Corner in Westminster Abbey.

    Sources: A Traitors Kiss, The Life of RichardBrinsley Sheridan by Fintan OToole

    The Rivals

    The Works of Sheridan THE RIVALS (1775) ST. PATRICK'S DAY (1775) THE DUENNA (1775) A TRIP TO SCARBOROUGH (1777) THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL (1777) THE CAMP (1778) THE CRITIC (1779) THE GLORIOUS FIRST OF JUNE (1794) PIZARRO (1799)He also wrote poetry and political speechesfor his time in Parliament.

    Mrs. Malaprops Way with WordsMrs. Malaprop, Sheridans delightfulcharacter in THE RIVALS, had a waywith words, the wrong way. Her nameis derived from the French malpropos,meaning inappropriate. A malapropismis a sentence in which one word hasbeen used incorrectly in place of an-other. These slips can be divided intotwo types: classical malapropisms, inwhich the mistakes are due to igno-rance (as in the case of Mrs. Mala-prop), and temporary slips of thetongue, in which the intended word isknown by the speaker, but has been in-advertently replaced by another. Mrs.Malaprop often substitutes a similar-sounding word for the word that sheactually intends, with hilarious results.Real or written malapropisms can beheard everywhere. An example is YogiBerra's statement: "Texas has a lot ofelectrical votes." (electoral). ArchieBunker from the TV sitcom ALL IN THEFAMILY was known for malapropismsof words and names: The hookeriesand massageries...the whole world isturning into a regular Sodom andGlocca Morra." (Gomorrah). Politicians are famous for their verbalgaffes: Former President George W.Bush: "Anyone engaging in illegal financial transactions will be caughtand persecuted." Vice President DanQuale: "Republicans understand theimportance of bondage between amother and child."Here are a few of Mrs. Malaprops classic lines: " must illiterate this man fromyour memory." [obliterate]Oh, Captain, flatulence will get younowhere. (flattery) ...I apologize for any incontinence.(incompetence)The girl is as headstrong as an allegory on the banks on the banks ofthe Nile. (alligator) I dont know all the perpendiculars.(particulars) "Bavarians at the gates! (barbarians) We wont spoil your fun. Listen andyoull enjoy more of Mrs. Malapropsbon mots in Kirke Mechems THE RIVALS.

    Mrs. Malaprop

  • Kirke Mechem is one of Americas mostprolific composers. Although he is oftencalled the Dean of Choral Composition,his musical portfolio includes more than250 works in almost every genre. In2002, ASCAP registered performancesof his music in 42 countries. His firstopera, TARTUFFE, with nearly 400 performances in six countries, has become one of the most popular operaswritten by an American. TARTUFFE wasone of the highlights of Skylights 2006-2007 season.Mechem was born in Kansas in 1925.His father was director of the KansasState Historical Society and wrote novels, plays and poetry. His mother wasa German-trained concert pianist. "As achild I often went to sleep listening to mymother practice the piano. She played atleast one recital every year and we understood that these were importantevents. She was a devout Presbyterian,my father an atheist, and they respectedeach other's beliefs unreservedly. Thecommon spiritual force in our family wasmusic, he recalled. Mechem began studying piano with hismother at an early age but was more interested in sports. He played popularmusic by ear and at age 17 began writ-ing what he describes as "stacks ofwretched songs." During World War II,he served two and half years in thearmy, then enrolled at Stanford Univer-sity as an English major, intending to follow in his father's footsteps as a writer.Out of curiosity he took a harmony

    course and at the end of his junior yearhe changed his major to music. Heearned a masters degree at Harvard in1953, and was winner of the Boott Prizefor vocal composition. He conductedand taught at Stanford, and served ascomposer-in