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Richard Brinsley Sheridan

(1751—1816) playwright and politician


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(1751–1816),

the son of Thomas Sheridan, an Irish actor‐manager, and Mrs F. Sheridan. He fell in love with (and in 1773 married) Eliza Linley, a beautiful and accomplished young singer, with whom he eloped to France. Very short of money, he decided to try his hand at a play, and in a very few weeks wrote The Rivals, produced at Covent Garden in 1775. It established Sheridan in the fashionable society he sought and was followed in the same year by the farce St Patrick's Day and The Duenna, and in 1777 by A Trip to Scarborough. In 1776 Sheridan, with partners, bought Garrick's half‐share in the Drury Lane Theatre and became its manager. He was elected a member of Dr Johnson's Club in 1777, and The School for Scandal was produced in the same year. The play was universally acclaimed, but nevertheless Sheridan's financial anxieties became even more acute. In 1779 he became sole proprietor of Drury Lane and produced his new play The Critic. In spite of the success of his plays, Sheridan wished to shine only in politics. He became the friend and ally of Fox and in 1780 won the seat at Stafford. In 1783 he became secretary to the Treasury and established his reputation as a brilliant orator in the House of Commons. In 1787 Burke persuaded him into supporting the impeachment of Warren Hastings, and his eloquent speech of over five hours on the Begums of Oude ensured that he was made manager of the trial. He became a friend of the prince regent and other royal figures. Eliza died in 1792, and in the same year the Drury Lane Theatre had to be demolished. Sheridan raised £150,000 for a new theatre. In 1795 he married Esther Ogle. Pizarro, a historical tragedy adapted by Sheridan from Kotzebue, was performed in 1799. Sheridan's friendship with Fox was fading, and when Grenville formed the ‘ministry of all the talents’ in 1806 Sheridan was offered only the treasurership to the navy. In 1809 the new Drury Lane was destroyed by fire, in 1811 he lost his seat at Stafford, and in 1813 he was arrested for debt. He is remembered chiefly as the author of two superb comedies, but his speeches and letters have also been published.

Subjects: Literature.


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