Throughout the play, people are mistaken for people who they are not, whether through their own scheming or due to some other misunderstandings. Jack Absolute poses as Ensign Beverley to win the heart of the romantically inclined Lydia Languish, and Lucy the maid gives the letters that Lucius O'Trigger has written to Lydia to her middle-aged aunt instead. Jack ends up getting challenged to a duel by Lucius, who believes that he has Lydia's heart. Meanwhile, Bob Acres, thinking that Jack is Ensign Beverley, also challenges him to a duel. These instances of mistaken identity drive the plot and become a motif that illuminates just how suggestible these absurd characters are.
Early on in the play, Fag and Thomas, two servants, discuss the latest hair fashions. Fag notices that Thomas still wears a wig, a custom that has gone out of fashion, but Thomas says that he will never change his hairstyle.
Then later, Bob Acres, who is self-conscious about coming off as rural and not up to the trends of city life, discusses his hair with especial vanity, having just gotten a new haircut in order to impress the woman he loves, Lydia.
Throughout the play, characters send letters to one another to transmit information back and forth. It becomes a kind of communicative motif, one that illuminates how communication worked in England at this time, but also serves to heighten some of the misunderstandings between them. For instance, Mrs. Malaprop receives letters from Lucius O'Trigger meant for Lydia, and thinks they are for her. Then, Faulkland and Julia exchange letters at various points to either resolve or deepen their quarrels. The letters that are exchanged come to represent either unification or misunderstanding at various points in the play.
Bath is a city in England known for its restorative springs and various spas. As such it is a place that represents good health, leisure, and relaxation, and the characters discuss the fact that it is a quiet, but relaxing place. It represents healing and good feeling, even though much of the action of the play is anything but relaxing.
The Duel (Symbol)
The duel, as a social ritual, is a symbol of defending one's honor and represents the participant's willingness to die for what they believe in. Thus, when Lucius O'Trigger and Bob Acres each challenge Jack Absolute to a duel, it represents their desire to show that they are willing to die for their love of Lydia Languish, and their refusal to swallow their pride and surrender. The duel is a social representation of the preservation of one's honor.
The Rivals Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Rivals is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.