Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Definition

Theater

  • (1751 - 1816) Dublin-born British playwright and theatermanager, who produced three classic comedies within a five-year writingcareer. "Whatever Sheridan has done or chosen to do,"Lord Byron wrote, "has been, par excellence, the bestof its kind."

    He was the son of the Irish actor-manager Thomas Sheridan and his wifeFrances, a popular novelist. In 1775 the double success of Sheridan's firstgreat comedy, The Rivals, and his comic opera The Duennaallowed him to buy Garrick's share in Drury Lane; he became managerin 1776 and sole owner two years later. Another brilliant comedy of manners,The School for Scandal, opened in 1777 at Drury Lane to universalacclaim. He also wrote a burlesque of heroic drama, The Critic (1779).All are high comedies, featuring such memorable characters as Mrs Malaprop,Lady Teazle, and Mr puff.

    Unfortunately he was not so brilliant in his management ofDrury Lane. His love of extravagant spectacles almost led to bankruptcy,and he constantly became embroiled in legal action against managersof unlicensed theaters (see licence). In 1794 he rebuilthis theater to such vast proportions that Mrs Siddons called it "awilderness of a place".

    In 1780 Sheridan abandoned the theater to enter parliament,where he gained a reputation as a fine orator (on one occasion speaking forover five hours). When Drury Lane caught fire in 1809 he drank a leisurelyglass of wine at the Great Piazza Coffee House, watching the flamesconsume his theater and remarking "A man may surely be allowed to takea glass of wine at his own fireside." He died in poverty.

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