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A Traitor's Kiss: The Life of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, 1751-1816


Publisher:Farrar, Straus and Giroux



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About the book:

Richard Sheridan is primarily remembered for three brilliant plays: The Rivals, The School for Scandal, and The Critic. With these elegant comedies of manners, he almost single-handedly revived the comic spirit of the Restoration, deemed too coarse by the more refined society of the latter 18th century. In Sheridan's work, the clichés of traditional melodrama are turned on their heads (The Rivals, for example, features a man who forces his son to marry the woman he himself is in love with), and romantic intrigues become a forum for discussing political issues and the nature of theater itself. Sheridan's major plays were all written by the time he was 28. While melodramas, adaptations, and pantomimes followed, his career as a playwright was just a prelude to a long involvement in other fields, most notably managing London's Drury Lane theater and a political career that eventually led to a seat in the House of Commons. Little has been written about his later political and business life.

There are romantic intrigues, political battles, and dodges from the debt collectors aplenty in Sheridan's later life, though they seem but a lengthy epilogue to the wit and creativity of his early years. O'Toole is wonderfully lucid, however, in explaining the struggles for Irish autonomy in this period (Sheridan would all his life, to the detriment of his social standing, identify himself as Irish), and he offers an in-depth analysis of the elaborate political and social arena of the time. Particularly well drawn are Sheridan's complex romantic relationships with his wives, involving infidelities and duels. But when compared to the brilliance of his early plays, the historical details of his later life seem somewhat lackluster. --John Longenbaugh

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