Like Marlowe's Dido, this is also my very first play by Sheridan. I first heard it mentioned (and played) in The Duchess film. Later on I found the book in my university library (which has so many beautiful books with nobody touching them) but felt reluctant to read it. For this month's LRP, however, I feel like reading it very much. So I brought it home last Thursday and started reading it this morning.
It's everything but serious.
School for Scandal portrays the life of England upper class where people talk about everything about everyone. It's all gossips and scandals (therefore the title). What also interesting is how the play shows gossip on the make.
CRABTREE: Why, one evening, at Mrs. Ponto’s assembly, the conversation happened to turn on the breeding Nova Scotia sheep in this country. Says a young lady in company, “I have known instances of it; for Miss Letitia Piper, a first cousin of mine, had a Nova Scotia sheep that produced her twins.” “What!” cries the Lady Dowager Dundizzy (who you know is as deaf as a post), “has Miss Piper had twins?” This mistake, as you may imagine, threw the whole company into a fit of laughter. However, ’twas the next morning everywhere reported, and in a few days believed by the whole town, that Miss Letitia Piper had actually been brought to bed of a fine boy and a girl: and in less than a week there were some people who could name the father, and the farm-house where the babies were put to nurse.
Isn't it crazy how such baseless slander should come out of nothing but mistake? The play is actually an amazing instrument to show hoe ridiculous but dangerous gossips are. Sir Peter, one of the few characters in this play who hate gossip and scandal, expresses himself beautifully.
SIR PETER: Ah! many a wretch has rid on a hurdle who has done less mischief than these utterers of forged tales, coiners of scandal, and clippers of reputation.
Ruining people's reputation is as bad as killing them. There's a proverb in my country that says 'slander is even worse than murder'. Sir Peter even would love to pass a law that forbid gossiping, so that “no person should be permitted to kill characters and run down reputations, but qualified old maids and disappointed widows,” who have too much envy and too little work to do.
And I haven't told you even a jot of the main plot. Haha. Like most comedy, School for Scandal's plot is hard to explain but easy to understand when you read (or watch) it.