Today in Theatre History: Sheridan’s THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL

Robert Baddeley as Moses in Sheridan's The Sch...

Robert Baddeley as Moses in Sheridan’s The School for Scandal by Johann Zoffany c.1781.

Richard Brinsley Sheridan, by sir Joshua Reynolds

Richard Brinsley Sheridan, by sir Joshua Reynolds

Today in theater history marks the 236th anniversary of the premiere of one the world’s greatest comedies—Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The School for Scandal.  The play opened on the 8th of May in 1777 at London’s finest playhouse, the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and became an instant hit.  At the time, Sheridan was in the process of acquiring David Garrick’s ownership of the theatre and would obtain complete control over the next few years.  It was an astounding rise.  Just three years earlier, unknown and out of work, Sheridan produced his first play, The Rivals (1775), at the ripe old age of 24 and had quickly become the toast of London theatre.  He turned out three more hits before presenting The School for Scandal, now recognized as his masterpiece.  William Hazlett called the play “the most finished and faultless comedy which we have. When it is acted, you hear people all around you exclaiming, ‘Surely it is impossible for anything to be cleverer.’”  The work remains today as one of the best examples of eighteenth-century comedy of wit and a magnificent demonstration that, despite the severe restrictions the infamous Licensing Act of 1737 placed on British playwrights, there were still a few who managed to overcome and prevail during an age when the theatre had become largely celebrated for its acting rather than its writing.

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