Sentimental Economies in The School for Scandal

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
James E. Evans, Professor (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
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Abstract: Richard Brinsley Sheridan's The School for Scandal, which premiered on 8 May 1777, demonstrates a central fimction of eighteenth-century literary texts, as described by Mary Poovey: "to mediate value-that is, to help people understand the new credit economy and the market model of value that it promoted."l The play perfonns this cultural work through a discourse in which "the languages of sensibility and economic theory, conventionally deemed to be separate and indeed antagonistic," tum out "to overlap and coincide."2 In two of Sheridan's plots the threat to the Teazles' marriage by Joseph Surface and the testing of Joseph and Charles Surface by their Uncle Oliver-he includes scenes in which several characters seem to express sensibility and in which patriarchal figures offer monetary rewards to characters who actually possess it. As these scenes reveal new bases of wealth-trade rather than the inherited property of gentlemen-better characters reap the benefits. Yet Sheridan remains ambivalent about luxury, compelling Lady Teazle to retrench while rewarding Charles in spite of his excesses. Framed by the activities of the Scandal School, these plots mirror the cultural work of the comedy itself, in which Sheridan, also manager of the Drury Lane Theatre in his first season, sought money for his representation of sensibility. artfully embedded in a satire of slander. In The Wealth of Nations, published the year before, Adam Smith speaks of money as "the great wheel of circulation, the great instrument of commerce," which "makes a part and a very valuable part of the capital ... of the society to which it belongs."3 Smith's trope helps us appreciate how much the characters and performances of Sheridan's play depend on circulation, not only on the circulation of money (between nations, between generations, between spouses and brothers, between tradesmen and customers, between audiences and manager), but also on the circulation of scandal, cultural capital, and celebrity, especially the celebrity of the actress who first portrayed Lady Teazle.

Additional Information

New Perspectives on the Eighteenth Century 8 (2011): 51-63.
Language: English
Date: 2011
18th century drama, Economics, Capital, Wealth

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