Friday, 20 May 2011

Issue of hypocrisy between the younger and older generation in The Rivals

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Issue of Hypocrisy between the older and younger generations

in The Rivals

Whilst the issue of hypocrisy is rife in the Sheridan’s comedy and invariable evokes laughter even amongst the most serious of literary critics, one cannot help but feel that the inconsistency between the words and actions of both the older and younger generations of Sheridan’s characters, are more a tool of satire, rather than mere instruments to purely create humour and therefore, to generate laughter.

In his obviously satirical play on the social conventions of Georgian England, Sheridan derides the hypocrisy, as well as highlights the futility of authoritarian parental control and domination. He also decries the farcical display of insincere submission of members of the younger generation in their foolish attempts at manipulation of their elders as a tool of deception for personal gain.

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Most evidently, Sheridan exposes the hypocrisy of the older generatin in the light of their expectation of their young to conform to social norms, norms that they themselves are unwilling to conform to.

With regards to marriage, Sir Anthony Absolute tells his son Captain Jack Absolute that love is not a necessity and gives him a mere 6 and a half hours to consider and agree to marrying a woman of Sir Anthony’s choice; or suffer disownment and disinheritance,

“What the devil good can passion do! Passion is of no service, you impudent, insolent, overbearing reprobate!…I give you six hours and a half to consider of this if you then agree, without any condition, to do everything on earth that I choose… I may in time forgive you � If not… I’ll disown you, I’ll disinherit you…”

to which Jack says to himself ,

“I wonder what old wealthy hag it is that he wants to bestow on me! � yet he himself married for love…”

Similarly, in the area of courtship, the older generation also demand that the younger ones comply to the kind of restraint laid down by their elders. Yet, the elders are themselves unable to exercise the same kind of restraint that they impose on their young. Lydia’s aunt Mra Malaprop for instrance, hypocritically confines her niece in order to prevent her seeing Ensign Beverley. In this regard, Lydia Languish tells her cousin Julia Melville,

“…my whole connection with Beverley.. my aunt has discovered our intercourse.. and has confined me ever since! � Yet would you believe it? She has fallen absolutely in love with a tall Irish baronet.. She really carries on a kind of correspondence with him, under a feigned name…a Delia or a Celia.. Since she has discovered her own frailty, she is become more suspicious of mine.”

In the light of hypocrisy of the younger generation, Sheridan exposes their use of deception for personal gain. Jack manipulates his father to deceive the latter as to his real purpose for coming to Bath � to court Lydia, not the reason that Jack gives his father which is as a part of his military duty. Before Sir Anthony arrives, Jack says to himself,

“I hope he has heard nothing of the business that has brought me here. I wish the gout had held him fast in Devonshire, with all my soul.”

Yet, when Sir Anthony meets him, Jack hypocritically says,

“Sir, I am delighted to see you here, and looking so well!”

He also deceptively manipulates his father after hearing that Sir Anthony has chosen for him the very same girl he has been courting. Jack carries out this deception via hypocrisy in order to achieve personal ends of lengthening the courtship process so as to give Lydia the elopement she desires.

“Why then, Sir, the result of my reflection is a resolution to sacrifice every inclination of my own to your satisfaction…if I please you in this affair, ‘tis all I desire.”

Jack also deceives Mrs Malaprop by manipulating her via hypocritical flattery in order to achieve the personal gain of seeing Lyida.

“Permit me to say, Madam, that as I never yet have had the pleasure of seeing Miss Languish, my principal inducement in this affair at present, is the honour of being allied to Mrs Malaprop; of whose intellectual accomplishment, elegant manners, and unaffected learning, no tongue is silent.”

The older generation’s use of hypocrisy is also to exert control and domination over the younger generation. This is seen in both Mrs Malaprop and Sir Lucius O’Trigger’s dealing with the younger generational characters like Lydia, Lucy and Bob Acres.

Mrs Malaprop attempts to exert control and dominate Lydia’s reading material. She then justifies her actions to Sir Anthony by hypocritically explaining that a young woman

“…above all…should be mistress of orthodoxy (pronounciation), that she might not misspell, and mispronounce words so shamefully as girls usually do; and likewise that she might reprehend (comprehend) the true meaning of what she is saying.”

This humorously reeks of hypocrisy as Mrs Malaprop herself constantly mispronounces her words and does not appear to know how to use the right words for the right situation.

Sir Lucius attempts to control and dominate Lucy even when he is courting Mrs Malaprop disguised as Celia. He tries to steal kisses from her by telling Lucy to tell her mistress that she has been kissed fifty times by Lucius. When Lucy protests that this was a lie, Lucius shamelessly tries to make it a reality by attempting to kiss Lucy as many times.

“Ah then, you baggage! I’ll make it a truth presently.”

Hypocrisy is displayed in Lucius’ character through this shameless attempt to romance Celia (whom he perceives to be Lydia) and unfaithfully kiss her servant at the same time.

Sir Lucius also attempts (and very nearly succeeds) to manipulate Bob Acres into fighting a duel with Ensign Beverley by hypocritically reminding Acres to “consider (his) honour”. Yet, in his shameless attempt to steals kisses from the servant girl Lucy, honour is something that Lucius most certainly lacks.

Mrs Malaprop displays hypocrisy in her initial unwillingness to intervent to prevent the duel between Jack Absolute and Bob Acres so as to preserve the life of Lydia’s lover.

“O fie - it would be very inelegant in us we should only participate (precipitate) things.”

Yet, when she learns that her own lover Sir Lucius is involved as well, she immediately swings into action because of the perceived personal gain to herself if her lover survives.

“Why, fly with the utmost felicity to be sure, to prevent mischief here, friend � you can show us the place?”

In conclusion , the issue of hypocrisy as highlighted by both generations of Sheridan’s characters, display the typical dramatic tension that arises as each attempts to manipulate the other in order to benefit themselves. Sheridan cleverly brings this to the audience’s attention in his attempt to satirise the social conventions of his epoch.

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