by Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Lydia Languish, a wealthy young heiress, is staying with her aunt, Mrs Malaprop, in Bath. She is in love with a penniless junior officer, Ensign Beverley, of whom her aunt heartily disapproves. Meanwhile Mrs Malaprop herself is involved in an exchange of amorous correspondence with an Irish Baronet, Sir Lucius O’Trigger. Lydia’s maid, Lucy, a crafty young woman out to make a quick profit wherever she can, has been carrying the letters to and from Sir Lucius and has led him to believe that he is in fact corresponding with Lydia. In this scene Mrs Malaprop calls for Lucy to take yet another letter to Sir Lucius. She warns her that being a ‘simpleton’ will not excuse any betrayal of confidence. Left alone, Lucy advises all girls of ‘her station’ to put on a mask of ‘silliness’, and recounts the inventory of the profits made by her ‘simplicity’.
Ha! Ha! Ha! So, my dear simplicity, let me give you a little respite – (altering her manner) – let girls in my station be as fond as they please of appearing expert, and knowing in their trusts; commend me to a mask of silliness, and a pair of sharp eyes for my own interest under it! Let me see to what account I have turned my simplicity lately – (looks at a paper) – For abetting Miss Lydia Languish in a design of running away with an ensign – in money – sundry times – twelve pound twelve – gowns, five – hats, raffles, caps, etc, etc – numberless! From the said Ensign, within this last month, six guineas and a half – about a quarter’s pay! Item, from Mrs Malaprop, for betraying the young people to her – when I found matters were likely to be discovered – two guineas, and a black paduasoy. Item, from Mr Acres, for carrying divers letters – which I never delivered – two guineas, and a pair of buckles. Item, from Sir Lucius O’Trigger – three crowns – two gold pocket-pieces – and a silver snuff-box! – Well done, simplicity! – yet I was forced to make my Hibernian believe, that he was corresponding, not with the aunt, but with the niece: for, though not over rich, I found he had too much pride and delicacy to sacrifice the feelings of a gentleman to the necessities of his fortune.
- Paduasoy = heavy corded silk; a gown of that material
- Divers = various
- Crowns = five-shilling pieces
- Pocket-pieces = coins no longer current, or similar small objects, carried as lucky charms
- Hibernian = Irishman