Collection No. 82: The Discovery, by Frances Sheridan

Publication Details | Synopsis | Secondary Commentary |Varieties & Dialects | Other

Publication details

Author: Sheridan, Frances Chamberlaine
Author dates: 1724-1766
Title: The Discovery

First played: 1763
First published: 1763, for T. Davies, R. and J. Dodsley, G. Kearsly. 140p.
C18th availability: Available in print in the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library:
B-11 08339
Bound with Arthur Murphy’s “No One’s Enemy but His Own”
Printed for P. Vaillant, 1764

Available from ECCO (1763):

Modern availability: Available from LION (1996)

Genre: Comedy

Character types: Classical

[Return to Top]


Louisa Medway is engaged to Sir Anthony Branville, who is a notorious bore. Lord Medway flirts with Lady Flutter, who often fights with her husband. Lady Medway is aware of this, and arranges a reconciliation between the Flutters. Lord Medway must atone for his errors. His son, Colonel Medway, marries Miss Richly; they share a half-sister, who seduces Sir Anthony away from Louisa, leaving her free to marry Young Branville.

Prologue: poetic justification for women’s writing, including the following:
“A female culprit at your bar appears,
Not destitute of hope, nor free from fears.
Her utmost crime she's ready to confess,
A simple trespass---neither more nor less;
For, truant-like, she rambled out of bounds,
And dar'd to venture on poetic grounds.

The fault is deem'd high-treason by the men,
Those lordly tyrants who usurp the pen!
Then try the vile monopoly to hide
With flattering arts, 'You, ladies, have beside
'So many ways to conquer---sure 'tis fit
'You leave to us that dangerous weapon wit!'
For women, like state criminals, they think
Should be debarr'd the use of pen and ink.

Our author, who disclaims such partial laws,
To her own sex appeals to judge her cause.
She pleads old magna charta on her side,
That British subjects by their peers be try'd.”

Act I.
Lord and Lady Medway argue about their daughter Louisa’s arranged marriage to Sir Anthony Branville. The Lord argues that this gentleman will marry her without a fortune, while the Lady is angry that her daughter won’t be marrying for love; furthermore, if their son’s marriage to Mrs. Knightly (which has not yet even been suggested to him) takes place, the Lord will be able to provide Louisa with a sufficient dowry to marry anyone she chooses. Lady Medway reveals that Louisa loves Sir Anthony’s nephew Branville. The Lord and Lady reflect on their guests the Flutters, who are always bickering. Lady Medway exits to tell her daughter that she must do her father’s bidding. Lord Medway laments his poverty. Sir Harry Flutter enters and discusses his wife with Lord Medway: they have had another argument and Lady Flutter has requested a separate bed. Lord Medway counsels Sir Harry to be stricter with his wife; Sir Harry suggests that they switch wives. Lord Medway gives Sir Harry advice on how to resolve the argument, then tells the audience that if Sir Harry takes his advice, Lady Flutter will hate him all the more, and Lord Medway will have a chance to step in and comfort her. Lady Medway tries to persuade Louisa to accept Sir Anthony Branville. Lord Medway enters. Although, when pressed, Louisa admits to preferring young Branville, Lord Medway makes her cry, and commands her to marry Sir Anthony. Colonel Medway, Lord Medway’s son, enters. He admits to preferring Mrs. Knightly’s younger sister Miss Richly, and tells Lord Medway that she reciprocates his love. Lord Medway is displeased at the prospect of his son marrying a beggar. 

Act II.
Sir Harry and Lady Flutter fight; Lady Flutter plans to go to her parents. Lord Medway enters to soothe Lady Flutter. Sir Harry leaves. Lord Medway counsels Lady Flutter to not leave Sir Harry and praises her lavishly. He is kissing her hand when Sir Anthony Branville arrives. He asks Lord Medway for Louisa’s Christian name, which he plans to use as her lover, and is confounded when Lord Medway says that he has already made Sir Anthony’s attentions known to his daughter. Sir Anthony refuses to pay court to Louisa until he has extricated himself from his previous attachment to Mrs. Knightly. Sir Anthony refuses to see this lady: “twere safer, my Lord, to encounter a basilisk”. Mrs. Knightly enters immediately. Lord Medway leaves the former lovers alone, and Sir Anthony withdraws his suit with difficulty. Lady Flutter enters and the two ladies laugh at his formal and unromantic manner. Sir Harry enters and spars with Lady Flutter. Mrs. Knightly asks Lady Flutter to the opera, but Sir Harry demands that she stay at home. When she refuses, Sir Harry says he will take Mrs. Knightly to the opera himself. They depart. Lord Medway enters to find Lady Flutter: he tells her that he loves her. Lady Medway sees them holding hands from a doorway. Lord Medway arranges to get an opera-box for Lady Flutter so that they can converse privately. Lady Medway has overheard everything.

Act III.
Colonel Medway assures Miss Richly of his love for her. Mrs. Knightly enters. Colonel Medway departs after bantering with the two women. Mrs. Knightly wonders how her dull sister can attract Colonel Medway’s attentions, and tells a maid to intercept Miss Richly’s mail. Lady Medway enters to find Lady Flutter at her toilet. After cautioning Lady Flutter to stop expressing her displeasure in her husband to everyone, Lady Medway tells her that she knows of Lord Medway’s designs upon Lady Flutter, and warns her against accepting them. Lady Flutter entreats Lady Medway to keep this knowledge from Sir Harry; Lady Medway will do so on the condition that Lady Flutter allow herself to be guided in her conduct with her husband.  Sir Harry enters; after a short conversation in which Lady Flutter is kind to him even as he insults her, he begins to be nice to her and they agree to never fight again. Lady Medway withdraws triumphantly. Sir Harry and Lady Flutter flirt. Lord Medway enters; to his dismay, the lovers he was trying to separate are reconciled. Sir Anthony arrives and tells Lord Medway he intends to court Louisa. We learn that Sir Anthony has courted eight women in the past thirteen years, but he is fastidious about his tastes in women and is reluctant to marry. Lord Medway departs to fetch Louisa. Playing on Sir Anthony’s strict reservations about hurrying a courtship, Louisa suggests that they wait, much to his satisfaction. She can now assure her father that she is prepared to marry Sir Anthony whenever he is ready.

Act IV.
Sir Harry and Lady Flutter laughingly forbid Lord Medway from marrying Louisa to Sir Anthony, Lady Flutter’s uncle, and “an old hero in a tapestry hanging”. Colonel Medway enters, and Lord Medway confesses that he has just lost £2000 gambling.  Colonel Medway decides to give up his love and marry Mrs. Knightly to save his parents from poverty. A letter arrives for Mrs. Knightly from lord Medway to say that Colonel Medway intends to pursue her. Miss Richly asks to be sent to the country. Mrs. Knightly intercepts Colonel Medway’s letter to Miss Richly; she learns that he loves Miss Richly, and that he is only courting her to save his father from ruin. Colonel Medway arrives and tells Miss Richly of the situation; they are both heartbroken. Lord Medway enters and Colonel Medway pleads with him to talk to Mrs. Knightly, as he himself is too overwrought.

Act V.
Colonel Medway is prepared to meet Mrs. Knightly. However, his father has discovered that she is his long-lost daughter from a liaison that took place during a military campaign in Spain. Mrs. Knightly’s mother married soon after to Mr. Richly, who was in India when the baby was born. Mrs. Knightly gives Miss Richly, her half-sister, half her fortune, and permission to marry Colonel Medway. Lord and Lady Medway are reconciled. With their blessing, Mrs. Knightly seduces Sir Anthony away from Louisa, leaving her to marry young Branville. Finally, Lord Medway is reformed by Lady Medway, and urges Lady Flutter to continue in her pleasant relationship with Sir Harry.

[Return to Top]

Secondary commentary

A) Ross, Ian Campbell. ‘Sheridan , Frances (1724–1766)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 29 May 2008.

"Sheridan next turned from fiction to the theatre, writing a comedy, The Discovery (1763), which pleased David Garrick, who staged it at Drury Lane on 3 February 1763, playing the role of Sir Anthony Branville himself with Thomas Sheridan taking the part of Lord Medway. The young John O'Keeffe declared that the comedy ‘gave great delight, and the success was perfect’ (O'Keeffe, 1.86). It played to full houses for seventeen nights; subsequent revivals included an adaptation by Aldous Huxley in 1924."

B) Doody, Margaret Anne. ‘Frances Sheridan: 1724-1766’. Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 39: British Novelists, 1660-1800. Edited by Martin C. Battestin, University of Virginia. The Gale Group, 1985. LiteratureResourceCenter. 29 May 2008.

"Boswell, who offered to contribute the prologue to The Discovery, was vexed when Thomas Sheridan at length refused his effort; Boswell proceeded to accuse the Sheridans of bearing malevolence toward him. Both plays are about sexual and marital difficulties…The Discovery, lighter and more sparkling, has a particularly entertaining young married pair, constantly squabbling and regressing to childishness. The play, highly popular in its own period, was mined for material in the next century and revamped in 1924 in a strange version adapted by Aldous Huxley at the suggestion of Nigel Playfair. Huxley tried to preserve ‘the charming best of Mrs. Sheridan’ while remedying the defects of the play's (and its era's) ‘low sentiment’."

C) Fitzgerald, Percy Hetherington. The Lives of the Sheridans. London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1886.

"Mrs. Sheridan, at all events, took the advice of her friends, and succeeded beyond her hopes. Her comedy, ‘The Discovery,’ is written in a spirited vein, and the characters are all marked, distinct, and little exaggerated. It is impossible to read it without interest and amusement, or the feeling that its author must have been a woman of superior and even masculine ability. Sir Anthony Branville, the pedantic lover, with his reservations and parentheses, is original, and worked out with due variety and spirit. The Flutters, a young and newly married pair, always quarrelling, are pleasantly conceived; and the whole eminently deserved the success it enjoyed."

[Return to Top]

Varieties & Dialects

Overview of varieties / dialects

Mostly Standard English, except for Sir Anthony’s attempts at formality (undercut by some poor grammar!). There are a few non-standard spellings in Lord Medway’s speech.

Varieties / dialects

Variety: Lord Medway
a. Sample of dialect
[page 37]
He deserves it, I confess; but, ma'am, give me leave to reason with you a little now; for I know you are a woman of sense, and capable of reasoning. Don't you think a leetle stroke of censure may possibly glance on you, for not endeavouring to bear, for a while longer at least, with his indiscretion; for every-body knows that your prudence is much superior to his, and therefore more will be expected from you.

[page 105]
Oh fy! fy upon it! how like a woman this is!---Your sister, a romantic girl, could do no more than sooth me with fine speeches; I expected a more substantial proof of silial love from you.

b.1 Orthography: “leetle” (wheedling); “silial love” = transcription error of ‘filial love’
b.2 Grammar
b.3 Vocabulary
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: corrupt lord
e. Consistency of representation: these non-standard examples only (one of which is a typo)

Variety: Sir Anthony’s formality
a. Sample of dialect
[page 41]

My Lord (without a compliment) I esteem myself extremely happy, in the agreeable hope, that I now see your Lordship in perfect health.

I thank you, good Sir Anthony, pretty well.  (Heavens! what a circumlocution, to ask a man how he does!) [Aside

May I presume to ask the christian name of the young Lady.

I would not have Lady Medway hear you make so emphatical a distinction, Sir Anthony; ladies you know are always young---

[page 43]
My Lord, I have a most lively sense of the very great honour your Lordship does me; and I can assure you my heart,
if I can with certainty venture to pronounce about any thing which is in its own nature so uncertain---

Oh now he has got into his parenthesis---

[page 44]
My Lord, the profound respect I have for your Lordship makes me unwilling to animadvert on such proceedings, as you in your wisdom (which I take to be very great) have thought expedient; but I am a man, my Lord, who love method.

[page 89]
My Lord, I humbly thank you; 'tis a felicity to me I acknowlege; for, my Lord, there never was such a Syren, such a Circe! Sylla and Charybdis (of whom we read in fable) were harmless innocents to her; but, Heaven be praised, I am my own man again; and now, my Lord, I am come, agreeably to the intimation I gave you before, to make a most respectful

[Page 90 ]

offering of my heart, to the truly deserving and fair Lady, Louisa.
[page 92]
Sir ANTHONY [Solus.]

I hope this tender fair one will not be too easily won---that would debase the dignity of the passion, and deprive me of many delightful hours

[Page 93 ]

  of languishment---There was a time when a lover was allowed the pleasure of importuning his mistress, but our modern beauties will scarce permit a man that satisfaction. Pray heaven my intended bride may not be one of those---If it should prove so---I tremble for the consequences; ---but she comes, the condescending nymph approaches.

b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar: “I am a man…who love”; parenthesis in speech
b.3 Vocabulary: “animadvert”; classical references (“Circe, Sylla, Charybdis”)
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: pedantic and tiresome suitor
e. Consistency of representation: very consistent

[Return to Top]

Narrative comments on varieties and dialects

Lord Medway’s criticism of romantic language corresponds to his plans to marry his children for money:

LORD. Now, ma'am---walk back if you please---for I have not done with you yet.
(She comes back.)
---Whither were you swimming with that sweet languishing air, like an Arcadian princess?
LOUISA. I was going to my chamber, my Lord, if you had not forbid it.
LORD. Forbid! fy, what an ungenteel word to use towards a heroine in romance!

[Return to Top]

Other points of interest


[Return to Top]

©2008 Arden Hegele