The School for Scandal

Author: Richard Brinsley Sheridan  | Date: 1777



JOS. SURF. No letter from Lady Teazle?

SER. No, sir.

JOS. SURF. [Aside.] I am surprised she has not sent, if she is

prevented from coming. Sir Peter certainly does not suspect me.

Yet I wish I may not lose the heiress, through the scrape I have

drawn myself into with the wife; however, Charles’s imprudence

and bad character are great points in my favour.

[Knocking without.

SER. Sir, I believe that must be Lady Teazle.

JOS. SURF. Hold! See whether it is or not, before you go to the

door: I have a particular message for you if it should be my


SER. ’Tis her ladyship, sir; she always leaves the chair at the

milliner’s in the next street.

JOS. SURF. Stay, stay: draw that screen before the window- that will

do;- my opposite neighbour is a maiden lady of so curious a

temper.- [SERVANT draws the screen, and exit.] I have a

difficult hand to play in this affair. Lady Teazle has lately

suspected my views on Maria; but she must by no means be let

into that secret,- at least, till I have her more in my power.


LADY TEAZ. What sentiment in soliloquy now? Have you been very

impatient? O Lud! don’t pretend to look grave. I vow I couldn’t

come before.

JOS. SURF. O madam, punctuality is a species of constancy very

unfashionable in a lady of quality.

[Places chairs, and sits after LADY TEAZLE is seated.

LADY TEAZ. Upon my word, you ought to pity me. Do you know Sir Peter

is grown so ill-natured to me of late, and so jealous of Charles

too- that’s the best of the story, isn’t it?

JOS. SURF. I am glad my scandalous friends keep that up. [Aside.

LADY TEAZ. I am sure I wish he would let Maria marry him, and then

perhaps he would be convinced; don’t you, Mr. Surface?

JOS. SURF. [Aside.] Indeed I do not.- [Aloud.] Oh, certainly I do!

for then my dear Lady Teazle would also be convinced how wrong

her suspicions were of my having any design on the silly girl.

LADY TEAZ. Well, well, I’m inclined to believe you. But isn’t it

provoking, to have the most ill-natured things said at one? And

there’s my friend Lady Sneerwell has circulated I don’t know how

many scandalous tales of me, and all without any foundation,

too; that’s what vexes me.

JOS. SURF. Ay, madam, to be sure, that is the provoking

circumstance- without foundation; yes, yes, there’s the

mortification, indeed; for, when a scandalous story is believed

against one, there certainly is no comfort like the

consciousness of having deserved it.

LADY TEAZ. No, to be sure, then I’d forgive their malice; but to

attack me, who am really so innocent, and who never say an

ill-natured thing of anybody- that is, of any friend; and then

Sir Peter, too, to have him so peevish, and so suspicious, when

I know the integrity of my own heart- indeed ’tis monstrous!

JOS. SURF. But, my dear Lady Teazle, ’tis your own fault if you

suffer it. When a husband entertains a groundless suspicion of

his wife, and withdraws his confidence from her, the original

compact is broken, and she owes it to the honour of her sex to

endeavour to outwit him.

LADY TEAZ. Indeed! So that, if he suspects me without cause, it

follows, that the best way of curing his jealousy is to give him

reason for’t?

JOS. SURF. Undoubtedly- for your husband should never be deceived in

you: and in that case it becomes you to be frail in compliment

to his discernment.

LADY TEAZ. To be sure, what you say is very reasonable, and when the

consciousness of my innocence-

JOS. SURF. Ah, my dear madam, there is the great mistake; ’tis this

very conscious innocence that is of the greatest prejudice to

you. What is it makes you negligent of forms, and careless of

the world’s opinion? why, the consciousness of your own

innocence. What makes you thoughtless in your conduct, and apt

to run into a thousand little imprudences? why, the

consciousness of your own innocence. What makes you impatient

of Sir Peter’s temper, and outrageous at his suspicions? why,

the consciousness of your innocence.

LADY TEAZ. ’Tis very true!

JOS. SURF. Now, my dear Lady Teazle, if you would but once make a

trifling faux pas, you can’t conceive how cautious you would

grow, and how ready to humour and agree with your husband.

LADY TEAZ. Do you think so?

JOS. SURF. Oh, I’m sure on’t; and then you would find all scandal

would cease at once, for- in short, your character at present is

like a person in a plethora, absolutely dying from too much


LADY TEAZ. So, so then I perceive your prescription is, that I must

sin in my own defence, and part with my virtue to preserve my


JOS. SURF. Exactly so, upon my credit, ma’am.

LADY TEAZ. Well, certainly this is the oddest doctrine, and the

newest receipt for avoiding calumny?

JOS. SURF. An infallible one, believe me. Prudence, like experience,

must be paid for.

LADY TEAZ. Why, if my understanding were once convinced-

JOS. SURF. Oh, certainly, madam, your understanding should be

convinced. Yes, yes- Heaven forbid I should persuade you to do

anything you thought wrong. No, no, I have too much honour to

desire it.

LADY TEAZ. Don’t you think we may as well leave honour out of the

argument? [Rises.

JOS. SURF. Ah, the ill effects of your country education, I see,

still remain with you.

LADY TEAZ. I doubt they do, indeed; and I will fairly own to you,

that if I could be persuaded to do wrong, it would be by Sir

Peter’s ill-usage sooner than your honourable logic, after all.

JOS. SURF. Then, by this hand, which he is unworthy of-

[Taking her hand.

Re-enter SERVANT.

’Sdeath, you blockhead- what do you want?

SER. I beg your pardon, sir, but I thought you would not choose Sir

Peter to come up without announcing him.

JOS. SURF. Sir Peter!- Oons- the devil!

LADY TEAZ. Sir Peter! O Lud! I’m ruined! I’m ruined!

SER. Sir, ’twasn’t I let him in.

LADY TEAZ. Oh! I’m quite undone! What will become of me? Now, Mr.

Logic- Oh! mercy, sir, he’s on the stairs- I’ll get behind here-

and if ever I’m so imprudent again-

[Goes behind the screen.

JOS. SURF. Give me that book.

[Sits down. SERVANT pretends to adjust his chair.


SIR PET. Ay, ever improving himself. Mr. Surface, Mr. Surface-

[Pats JOSEPH on the shoulder.

JOS. SURF. Oh, my dear Sir Peter, I beg your pardon. [Gaping,

throws away the book.] I have been dozing over a stupid book.

Well, I am much obliged to you for this call. You haven’t been

here, I believe, since I fitted up this room. Books, you know,

are the only things I am a coxcomb in.

SIR PET. ’Tis very neat indeed. Well, well, that’s proper; and you

can make even your screen a source of knowledge- hung, I

perceive, with maps.

JOS. SURF. Oh, yes, I find great use in that screen.

SIR PET. I dare say you must, certainly, when you want to find

anything in a hurry.

JOS. SURF. Ay, or to hide anything in a hurry either. [Aside.

SIR PET. Well, I have a little private business-

JOS. SURF. You need not stay. [To SERVANT.

SER. No, sir. [Exit.

JOS. SURF. Here’s a chair, Sir Peter- I beg-

SIR PET. Well, now we are alone, there is a subject, my dear friend,

on which I wish to unburden my mind to you- a point of the

greatest moment to my peace; in short, my good friend, Lady

Teazle’s conduct of late has made me very unhappy.

JOS. SURF. Indeed! I am very sorry to hear it.

SIR PET. Yes, ’tis but too plain she has not the least regard for

me; but, what’s worse, I have pretty good authority to suppose

she has formed an attachment to another.

JOS. SURF. Indeed! you astonish me!

SIR PET. Yes! and, between ourselves, I think I’ve discovered the


JOS. SURF. How! you alarm me exceedingly.

SIR PET. Ay, my dear friend, I knew you would sympathize with me!

JOS. SURF. Yes, believe me, Sir Peter, such a discovery would hurt

me just as much as it would you.

SIR PET. I am convinced of it. Ah! it is a happiness to have a

friend whom we can trust even with one’s family secrets. But

have you no guess who I mean?

JOS. SURF. I haven’t the most distant idea. It can’t be Sir Benjamin


SIR PET. Oh, no! what say you to Charles?

JOS. SURF. My brother! impossible!

SIR PET. Oh, my dear friend, the goodness of your own heart misleads

you. You judge of others by yourself.

JOS. SURF. Certainly, Sir Peter, the heart that is conscious of its

own integrity is ever slow to credit another’s treachery.

SIR PET. True; but your brother has no sentiment- you never hear him

talk so.

JOS. SURF. Yet I can’t but think Lady Teazle herself has too much


SIR PET. Ay; but what is principle against the flattery of a

handsome, lively young fellow?

JOS. SURF. That’s very true.

SIR PET. And then, you know, the difference of our ages makes it

very improbable that she should have any great affection for me;

and if she were to be frail, and I were to make it public, why

the town would only laugh at me, the foolish old bachelor, who

had married a girl.

JOS. SURF. That’s true, to be sure- they would laugh.

SIR PET. Laugh! ay, and make ballads, and paragraphs, and the devil

knows what of me.

JOS. SURF. No, you must never make it public.

SIR PET. But then again- that the nephew of my old friend, Sir

Oliver, should be the person to attempt such a wrong, hurts me

more nearly.

JOS. SURF. Ay, there’s the point. When ingratitude barbs the dart of

injury, the wound has double danger in it.

SIR PET. Ay- I, that was, in a manner, left his guardian: in whose

house he had been so often entertained; who never in my life

denied him- my advice!

JOS. SURF. Oh, ’tis not to be credited! There may be a man capable

of such baseness, to be sure; but, for my part, till you can

give me positive proofs, I cannot but doubt it. However, if it

should be proved on him, he is no longer a brother of mine- I

disclaim kindred with him: for the man who can break the laws of

hospitality, and tempt the wife of his friend, deserves to be

branded as the pest of society.

SIR PET. What a difference there is between you! What noble


JOS. SURF. Yet I cannot suspect Lady Teazle’s honour.

SIR PET. I am sure I wish to think well of her, and to remove all

ground of quarrel between us. She has lately reproached me more

than once with having made no settlement on her; and, in our

last squarrel, she almost hinted that she should not break heart

if I was dead. Now, as we seem to differ in our ideas of

expense, I have resolved she shall have her own way, and be her

own mistress in that respect for the future; and, if I were to

die, she will find I have not been inattentive to her interest

while living. Here, my friend, are the drafts of two deeds,

which I wish to have your opinion on. By one, she will enjoy

eight hundred a year independent while I live; and, by the

other, the bulk of my fortune at my death.

JOS. SURF. This conduct, Sir Peter, is indeed truly generous.-

[Aside.] I wish it may not corrupt my pupil.

SIR PET. Yes, I am determined she shall have no cause to complain,

though I would not have her acquainted with the latter instance

of my affection yet awhile.

JOS. SURF. Nor I, if I could help it. [Aside.

SIR PET. And now, my dear friend, if you please, we will talk over

the situation of your hopes with Maria.

JOS. SURF. [Softly.] Oh, no, Sir Peter; another time, if you please.

SIR PET. I am sensibly chagrined at the little progress you seem to

make in her affections.

JOS. SURF. [Softly.] I beg you will not mention it. What are my

disappointments when your happiness is in debate!- [Aside.]

’Sdeath, I shall be ruined every way!

SIR PET. And though you are averse to my acquainting Lady Teazle

with your passion, I’m sure she’s not your enemy in the affair.

JOS. SURF. Pray, Sir Peter, now oblige me. I am really too much

affected by the subject we have been speaking of to bestow a

thought on my own concerns. The man who is entrusted with his

friend’s distresses can never-

Re-enter SERVANT.

Well, sir?

SER. Your brother, sir, is speaking to a gentleman in the street,

and says he knows you are within.

JOS. SURF. ’Sdeath, blockhead, I’m not within- I’m out for the day.

SIR PET. Stay- hold- a thought has struck me:- you shall be at home.

JOS. SURF. Well, well, let him up.- [Exit SERVANT.] He’ll interrupt

Sir Peter, however. [Aside.

SIR PET. Now, my good friend, oblige me, I entreat you. Before

Charles comes, let me conceal myself somewhere, then do you tax

him on the point we have been talking, and his answer may

satisfy me at once.

JOS. SURF. Oh, fie, Sir Peter! would you have me join in so mean a

trick?- to trepan my brother too?

SIR PET. Nay, you tell me you are sure he is innocent; if so, you do

him the greatest service by giving him an opportunity to clear

himself, and you will set my heart at rest. Come, you shall not

refuse me: [Going up] here, behind the screen will be- Hey! what

the devil! there seems to be one listener here already- I’ll

swear I saw a petticoat!

JOS. SURF. Ha! ha! ha! Well, this is ridiculous enough. I’ll tell

you, Sir Peter, though I hold a man of intrigue to be a most

despicable character, yet you know, it does not follow that one

is to be an absolute Joseph either! Hark’ee, ’tis a little

French milliner, a silly rogue that plagues me; and having some

character to lose, on your coming, sir, she ran behind the


SIR PET. Ah, a rogue- But, egad, she has overheard all I have been

saying of my wife.

JOS. SURF. Oh, ’twill never go any farther, you may depend upon it!

SIR PET. No! then, faith, let her hear it out.- Here’s a closet will

do as well.

JOS. SURF. Well, go in there.

SIR PET. Sly rogue! sly rogue! [Goes into the closet.

JOS. SURF. A narrow escape, indeed! and a curious situation I’m in,

to part man and wife in this manner.

LADY TEAZ. [Peeping.] Couldn’t I steal off?

JOS. SURF. Keep close, my angel!

SIR PET. [Peeping.] Joseph, tax him home.

JOS. SURF. Back, my dear friend!

LADY TEAZ. [Peeping.] Couldn’t you lock Sir Peter in?

JOS. SURF. Be still, my life!

SIR PET. [Peeping.] You’re sure the little milliner won’t blab?

JOS. SURF. In, in, my dear Sir Peter!- ’Fore Gad, I wish I had a key

to the door.


CHAS. SURF. Holla! brother, what has been the matter? Your fellow

would not let me up at first. What! have you had a Jew or a

wench with you?

JOS. SURF. Neither, brother, I assure you.

CHAS. SURF. But what has made Sir Peter steal off? I thought he had

been with you.

JOS. SURF. He was, brother; but, hearing you were coming, he did not

choose to stay.

CHAS. SURF. What! was the old gentleman afraid I wanted to borrow

money of him!

JOS. SURF. No, sir: but I am sorry to find, Charles, you have lately

given that worthy man grounds for great uneasiness.

CHAS. SURF. Yes, they tell me I do that to a great many worthy men.

But how so, pray?

JOS. SURF. To be plain with you, brother, he thinks you are

endeavouring to gain Lady Teazle’s affections from him.

CHAS. SURF. Who, I? O Lud! not I, upon my word.- Ha! ha! ha! ha! so

the old fellow has found out that he has got a young wife, has

he?- or, what is worse, Lady Teazle has found out she has an old


JOS. SURF. This is no subject to jest on, brother. He who can laugh-

CHAS. SURF. True, true, as you were going to say- then, seriously, I

never had the least idea of what you charge me with, upon my


JOS. SURF. Well, it will give Sir Peter great satisfaction to hear

this. [Raising his voice.

CHAS. SURF. To be sure, I once thought the lady seemed to have taken

a fancy to me; but, upon my soul, I never gave her the least

encouragement. Besides, you know my attachment to Maria.

JOS. SURF. But sure, brother, even if Lady Teazle had betrayed the

fondest partiality for you-

CHAS. SURF. Why, look’ee, Joseph, I hope I shall never deliberately

do a dishonourable action; but if a pretty woman was purposely

to throw herself in my way- and that pretty woman married to a

man old enough to be her father-

JOS. SURF. Well!

CHAS. SURF. Why, I believe I should be obliged to borrow a little of

your morality, that’s all. But, brother, do you know now that

you surprise me exceedingly, by naming me with Lady Teazle; for

i’faith, I always understood you were her favourite.

JOS. SURF. Oh, for shame, Charles! This retort is foolish.

CHAS. SURF. Nay, I swear I have seen you exchange such significant


JOS. SURF. Nay, nay, sir, this is no jest.

CHAS. SURF. Egad, I’m serious! Don’t you remember one day, when I

called here-

JOS. SURF. Nay, pr’ythee, Charles-

CHAS. SURF. And found you together-

JOS. SURF. Zounds, sir, I insist-

CHAS. SURF. And another time, when your servant-

JOS. SURF. Brother, brother, a word with you!- [Aside.] Gad, I must

stop him.

CHAS. SURF. Informed, I say, that-

JOS. SURF. Hush! I beg your pardon, but Sir Peter has overheard all

we have been saying. I knew you would clear yourself, or I

should not have consented.

CHAS. SURF. How, Sir Peter! Where is he?

JOS. SURF. Softly, there! [Points to the closet.

CHAS. SURF. Oh, ’fore Heaven, I’ll have him out. Sir Peter, come


JOS. SURF. No, no-

CHAS. SURF. I say, Sir Peter, come into court.- [Pulls in SIR

PETER.] What! my old guardian!- What!- turn inquisitor, and take

evidence, incog.? Oh, fie! Oh, fie!

SIR PET. Give me your hand, Charles- I believe I have suspected you

wrongfully; but you mustn’t be angry with Joseph- ’twas my plan!

CHAS. SURF. Indeed!

SIR PET. But I acquit you. I promise you I don’t think near so ill

of you as I did. What I have heard has given me great


CHAS. SURF. Egad, then, ’twas lucky you didn’t hear any more. Wasn’t

it, Joseph?

SIR PET. Ah! you would have retorted on him.

CHAS. SURF. Ah, ay, that was a joke.

SIR PET. Yes, yes, I know his honour too well.

CHAS. SURF. But you might as well have suspected him as me in this

matter, for all that. Mightn’t he, Joseph?

SIR PET. Well, well, I believe you.

JOS. SURF. Would they were both out of the room! [Aside.

SIR PET. And in future, perhaps, we may not be such strangers.

Re-enter SERVANT and whispers JOSEPH SURFACE.

SER. Lady Sneerwell is below, and says she will come up.

JOS. SURF. Gentlemen, I beg pardon- I must wait on you downstairs;

here’s a person come on particular business.

CHAS. SURF. Well, you can see him in another room. Sir Peter and I

have not met a long time, and I have something to say to him.

JOS. SURF. [Aside.] They must not be left together.- [Aloud.]

I’ll send Lady Sneerwell away, and return directly.- [Aside to

SIR PETER.] Sir Peter, not a word of the French milliner.

SIR PET. [Aside to JOSEPH SURFACE.] I! not for the world!- [Exit

JOSEPH SURFACE.] Ah, Charles, if you associated more with your

brother, one might indeed hope for your reformation. He is a man

of sentiment. Well, there is nothing in the world so noble as a

man of sentiment.

CHAS. SURF. Psha! he is too moral by half; and so apprehensive of

his good name, as he calls it, that I suppose he would as soon

let a priest into his house as a wench.

SIR PET. No, no,- come, come,- you wrong him. No, no, Joseph is no

rake, but he is no such saint either, in that respect.- [Aside.]

I have a great mind to tell him- we should have such a laugh at


CHAS. SURF. Oh, hang him! he’s a very anchorite, a young hermit!

SIR PET. Hark’ee- you must not abuse him: he may chance to hear of

it again, I promise you.

CHAS. SURF. Why, you won’t tell him?

SIR PET. No- but- this way.- [Aside.] Egad, I’ll tell him. [Aloud.]

Hark’ee, have you a mind to have a good laugh at Joseph?

CHAS. SURF. I should like it of all things.

SIR PET. Then, i’faith, we will! I’ll be quit with him for

discovering me. He had a girl with him when I called.


CHAS. SURF. What! Joseph? you jest.

SIR PET. Hush!- a little French milliner- and the best of the jest

is- she’s in the room now.

CHAS. SURF. The devil she is!

SIR PET. Hush! I tell you. [Points to the screen.

CHAS. SURF. Behind the screen! Odds life, let’s unveil her!

SIR PET. No, no, he’s coming:- you shan’t indeed!

CHAS. SURF. Oh, egad, we’ll have a peep at the little milliner!

SIR PET. Not for the world!- Joseph will never forgive me.

CHAS. SURF. I’ll stand by you-

SIR PET. Odds, here he is!

[CHARLES SURFACE throws down the screen.


CHAS. SURF. Lady Teazle, by all that’s wonderful!

SIR PET. Lady Teazle, by all that’s damnable!

CHAS. SURF. Sir Peter, this is one of the smartest French milliners

I ever saw. Egad, you seem all to have been diverting yourselves

here at hide and seek, and I don’t see who is out of the secret.

Shall I beg your ladyship to inform me? Not a word!- Brother,

will you be pleased to explain this matter? What! is Morality

dumb too?- Sir Peter, though I found you in the dark, perhaps

you are not so now! All mute! Well- though I can make nothing of

the affair, I suppose you perfectly understand one another; so

I’ll leave you to yourselves.- [Going.] Brother, I’m sorry to

find you have given that worthy man grounds for so much

uneasiness.- Sir Peter! there’s nothing in the world so noble as

a man of sentiment! [Exit.

JOS. SURF. Sir Peter- notwithstanding- I confess- that appearances

are against me- if you will afford me your patience- I make no

doubt- but I shall explain everything to your satisfaction.

SIR PET. If you please, sir.

JOS. SURF. The fact is, sir, that Lady Teazle, knowing my

pretensions to your ward Maria- I say, sir, Lady Teazle, being

apprehensive of the jealousy of your temper- and knowing my

friendship to the family- she, sir, I say- called here- in order

that- I might explain these pretensions- but on your coming-

being apprehensive- as I said- of your jealousy- she withdrew-

and this, you may depend on it, is the whole truth of the


SIR PET. A very clear account, upon my word; and I dare swear the

lady will vouch for every article of it.

LADY TEAZ. For not one word of it, Sir Peter!

SIR PET. How! don’t you think it worth while to agree in the lie?

LADY TEAZ. There is not one syllable of truth in what that gentleman

has told you.

SIR PET. I believe you, upon my soul, ma’am!

JOS. SURF. [Aside to LADY TEAZLE.] ’Sdeath, madam, will you betray


LADY TEAZ. Good Mr. Hypocrite, by your leave, I’ll speak for myself.

SIR PET. Ay, let her alone, sir; you’ll find she’ll make out a

better story than you, without prompting.

LADY TEAZ. Hear me, Sir Peter!- I came here on no matter relating to

your ward, and even ignorant of this gentleman’s pretensions to

her. But I came, seduced by his insidious arguments, at least to

listen to his pretended passion, if not to sacrifice your honour

to his baseness.

SIR PET. Now, I believe, the truth is coming, indeed!

JOS. SURF. The woman’s mad!

LADY TEAZ. No, sir; she has recovered her senses, and your own arts

have furnished her with the means.- Sir Peter, I do not expect

you to credit me- but the tenderness you expressed for me, when

I am sure you could not think I was a witness to it, has

penetrated so to my heart, that had I left the place without the

shame of this discovery, my future life should have spoken the

sincerity of my gratitude. As for that smooth-tongued hypocrite,

who would have seduced the wife of his too credulous friend,

while he affected honourable addresses to his ward- I behold him

now in a light so truly despicable, that I shall never again

respect myself for having listened to him. [Exit.

JOS. SURF. Notwithstanding all this, Sir Peter, Heaven knows-

SIR PET. That you are a villain! and so I leave you to your


JOS. SURF. You are too rash, Sir Peter; you shall hear me. The man

who shuts out conviction by refusing to-

[Exeunt SIR PETER and JOSEPH SURFACE, talking.


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Chicago: Richard Brinsley Sheridan, "Scene III.- A Library in Joseph Surface’s House," The School for Scandal Original Sources, accessed September 24, 2023,

MLA: Sheridan, Richard Brinsley. "Scene III.- A Library in Joseph Surface’s House." The School for Scandal, Original Sources. 24 Sep. 2023.

Harvard: Sheridan, RB, 'Scene III.- A Library in Joseph Surface’s House' in The School for Scandal. Original Sources, retrieved 24 September 2023, from