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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XI. The Period of the French Revolution.

XII. The Georgian Drama

§ 7. A Trip to Scarborough

While Sheridan was making money, he was also perfecting his art. He showed how much of stage-craft he had learnt when, in 1777, he adapted Vanbrugh’s The Relapse to the taste of the Georgian public and brought it out as A Trip to Scarborough. No more striking illustration of Sheridan’s manner could be found, and its failure on the boards is merely another of those mysteries familiar to all who study the annals of the stage. Vanbrugh’s play has a double plot. On the one hand, there is a sort of picaresque adventure, in which a needy gallant, by impersonating his elder brother in a love-suit, accomplishes his revenge on an inimitable coxcomb and wins a wife and a fortune to boot. On the other hand, there is a complicated intrigue. Loveless, the reformed libertine and now the virtuous husband of Amanda, finds that his wife has, unwittingly, invited to the house one of his former paramours, now a blithe widow, named Berinthia. Of course, Loveless relapses, and Berinthia encourages another of her admirers, named Worthy, to make love to Amanda, in order that the wife may not be inclined to spy on her husband. In the end, Loveless accomplishes his desire with Berinthia; but her seducer is rejected with horror by Amanda. Sheridan showed his mastery of construction by unifying the action. He made the first act a more artistic exposition of the plot and economised both characters and scenes by arranging that everything accessory should be narrated instead of acted. Above all, he altered the motives and actions of the characters to suit the more refined perceptions of his own time. Berinthia is no longer a common adventuress, nor does she urge Townley (the Worthy of The Relapse) to court Amanda. She tempts Loveless in order to punish Townley for transferring his attentions from herself to her friend. The guilty couple are not exposed, but are shamed out of their design in a situation of considerable tact and dramatic skill, which Sheridan used again in The School for Scandal. Their assignation in a moonlit garden is disturbed. They take cover and are forced to overhear Amanda, against whom they are in league, scornfully rejecting Townley. As Berinthia and Loveless emerge from their concealment, she remarks “Don’t you think we steal forth two contemptible creatures?” Even in the other part of the play, the burlesque business of Miss Hoyden’s courtship, a new turn is given to the farcical stage character Lord Foppington. The final speech which Sheridan puts into his mouth reveals his true nature and shows a man arrogant and ill-bred, but of native shrewdness, and too discerning to marry a woman in whose eyes he had been made to appear ridiculous.