"The Rivals" is an 18th century comedy written by Richard Sheridan. It is widely considered a comedy of manners, which is a social satire that focuses on commenting on the state of the social classes of the day, particularly in high society. The play features a cast of 12 major characters, each of which plays a pivotal role in the play’s composition.
The play is set in Bath, Somerset, England, in the mid-18th century and revolves around two rich young lovers, Lydia and Jack. However, Jack pretends to be a young, poor soldier in the hopes of sweeping Lydia off her feet with the romantic idea of running off and eloping with a poor officer. Both characters are readers of romantic novellas of the day, lending to their overly dramatic romance encounters throughout the story. Understanding each of the characters in "The Rivals" by Richard Sheridan will help any reader or watcher better understand the context of the story and the state of mind of the characters.
Overview of Main Characters
Though there are 12 unique characters, the primary characters, defined as the characters who are absolutely essential to the story, are the two lovers and their respective guardians: Sir Anthony, his son Jack, Mrs. Malaprop and her ward Lydia. The other major characters, though important, are not essential to the storyline’s basic message.
Sir Anthony Absolute: The Wealthy Baronet
Considered one of the most flirtatious men in all of Bath, Sir Anthony is a dualistic character who is difficult to figure out. This is because his mannerisms change based on the company he keeps. If he keeps company with a group of young women, he is a charming and facetious man, while if he keeps company with a group of older men, he is a staunch, unyielding authoritarian. This dualistic nature of Sir Anthony ironically conflicts with his name: Absolute. However, in spite of his altering personality, Sir Anthony is a generally loving father to his son, Jack, and seems to want only the best for him.
Captain Jack Absolute: Sir Anthony’s Young, Romantic Son
Captain Jack Absolute is a ranking officer in the King’s Royal Army and is generally considered a gentleman by all the other characters in the play. However, in spite of his well-to-do nature, Captain Jack seems to have a penchant for mischief throughout the play, taking the role of a soldier named “Ensign Beverly" in order to romantically win the affections of Lydia. Captain Jack shares his father’s dualistic nature, again conflicting with his name. At one moment, he could be the consummate gentleman, while at another moment, he will be a romantic flirt and absolute fool. It is important to note that, whenever Jack is with Lydia, he tends to be the latter.
Lydia: A Wealthy Heiress and Lover of Jack
A frivolous young woman infatuated with romance novellas and high society fashion, Lydia is one of the original so-called Valley Girls. She is highly sentimental, often lamenting over the sadness of life and the romantic thrills that she gets from her young courters. In fact, she makes an effort to mimic the lines and mannerisms in the romantic stories that she reads. Even though she is a very silly and flighty character, Lydia is also stubborn and enduring, causing much tension between her and her guardian. Though she is the heiress of a large sum of money, she seems all too willing to throw it all away to pursue her love of adventure and romance.
Mrs. Malaprop: Lydia’s Legal Guardian
The archetypal hard, proper woman, Mrs. Malaprop is Lydia’s aunt and legal owner of her fortune until Lydia becomes of age. She is strictly opposed to Lydia’s frivolous behavior and often scoffs at her desire for romance and love. Mrs. Malaprop conflicts with Jack’s father in scoffing at love and romance rather than encouraging it. She is a gossiping and melodramatic character, often taking things way out of proportion and putting her own spin on them.
Though not necessarily as important, the minor characters are still key components to the play’s satirical message. They engage in several sub-plots, but mostly center around the activity of Jack and Lydia.
- Julia: Lover of Faulkland – Considered the only reasonable character in the play, Julia is the voice of logic to the sillier characters.
- Lucy: Lydia’s Maid – A sneaky and conniving character, she double deals and back stabs whenever possible.
- Bob Acres: A friend of Jack's – A country gent who tries hard to be a proper gentleman. However, he is portrayed as a pretender and fool.
- Faulkland: A friend of Jack's – Lover of Julia and a torn character. He, like Jack, is dualistic and caught between being a dramatic lover and a proper gentleman.
- Sir Lucius: An Irish courtier and baronet – A proper but short-tempered gentleman who serves as a casual antagonist and courter of many women.
- Jack’s servant: A proper and loyal character who, like Lucy, often lies and connives to get his job done.
- David: Bob’s Servant – An old man who tries to level out the moody Bob.
- Sheridan, Richard. The Rivals.