spite of its somewhat rambling appearance, the structure of The Rivals is as firm as that of most English comedies of this period or of the Restoration. The whole of the action takes place in Bath, and can logically be confined to a single day, although on the stage so much seems to occur that the audience has the sensation of more time passing. The play is allowed to gather its own momentum, however; one episode leads naturally into the next, as Sheridan anticipates the mounting interest of his audience. Although he keeps a firm hand on all strands of the plot, he sometimes over-writes a scene; any director of the play will want to cut some of this over-written material, but this is a difficult task, because stylistically it remains of a high standard. The author has inherited his five-act structure, with its apparent casualness of building scene upon scene, from Congreve, who in his turn learnt it from Shakespeare and Ben Jonson. Without carefully prepared contrasts and parallels, however, the plot would merely sprawl; in fact, its climax and happy outcome can be envisaged long before they arrive. One watches in the course of this play a very gradual disentanglement of simple love from complex snares, so that by the end one is tempted to look back and ask, ‘How on earth did they get themselves into such a state in the first place?’
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