The Rivals

The Rivals Study Guide

The Rivals by Richard Brinsley Sheridan is a comedy of manners in five acts that premiered at Covent Garden Theatre in 1775. It is considered one of Sheridan's best-known works and in addition to receiving many revivals, it has served as an inspiration for musicals and contemporary television shows, such as Maverick, a show which appeared on television between 1957 and 1962.

The Rivals was Sheridan's first play. During the time that Sheridan was writing, he and his wife, Elizabeth Linley, were living beyond their means, as "Eliza" had given up her career as a singer, as was customary for a young wife to do. Sheridan's completion of The Rivals was in part a project he undertook to earn some money for his household.

The play premiered in 1775, with Mary Bulkley, a comedian, in the role of Julia Melville. It was met with scorn from the public and from critics on its opening night. Audiences even threw apples at the actor playing Sir Lucius O'Trigger, who was perceived as being a rude representation of Ireland. Sheridan listened to his public and not only rewrote the part, but recast it. Afterward, it was met with critical acclaim, not only in England, but also in the colonies. The play was allegedly George Washington's favorite play.