Thomas Sheridan (actor)

Last updated
Thomas Sheridan Thomas Sheridan.jpg
Thomas Sheridan

Thomas Sheridan (1719 – 14 August 1788) was an Anglo-Irish stage actor, an educator, and a major proponent of the elocution movement. He received his M.A. in 1743 from Trinity College in Dublin, and was the godson of Jonathan Swift. He also published a "respelled" dictionary of the English language (1780). He was married (1747) to Frances Chamberlaine. His sons were the better known Richard Brinsley Sheridan and Charles Francis Sheridan, while his daughters were also writers - Alicia, a playwright, and Betsy Sheridan a diarist. His work is very noticeable in the writings of Hugh Blair.

Contents

Life

Thomas Sheridan was the third son of Dr Thomas Sheridan, an Anglican divine, noted for his close friendship with Jonathan Swift, and his wife Elizabeth McFadden [1] His parents' marriage was notoriously unhappy, and they lived apart much of the time. Thomas attended Westminster School in 1732–1733 but, because of his father's financial problems, he had to finish his initial education in Dublin. In 1739, he earned his BA from Trinity College, Dublin and he went on to earn his MA from Trinity in the early 1740s. He had his début in acting when he played the title role in Shakespeare's Richard III in Dublin. Soon after, he was noted as the most popular actor in Ireland, being compared often with David Garrick. Not only an actor, but he also wrote The Brave Irishman or Captain O'Blunder which premièred in 1738. He became the manager of the Dublin theatre sometime in the 1740s.

Sheridan left his acting career, although he continued to manage theatre companies and occasionally play bit parts, and moved permanently to England with his family in 1758. There, his time was spent as a teacher and an educator offering a very successful lecture course. In 1762 Sheridan published Lectures on Elocution. Following that work, he published A Plan of Education (1769), Lectures on the Art of Reading (1775), and A General Dictionary of the English Language (1780). Each of these works was based on some form of an argument taken in an earlier work British Education: Or, The source of the Disorders of Great Britain. Being an Essay towards proving, that the Immorality, Ignorance, and false Taste, which so generally prevail, are the natural and necessary Consequences of the present to defective System of Education. With an attempt to shew, that a revival of the Art of Speaking, and the Study of Our Own Language, might contribute, in a great measure, to the Cure of those Evils (1756).

He lived in London for a number of years before moving to Bath where he founded an academy for the regular instruction of Young Gentlemen in the art of reading and reciting and grammatical knowledge of the English tongue. This venture apparently proving to be unsuccessful, he returned to Dublin and the theatre in 1771. Thomas's son Richard became a partial owner of the Theatre Royal in London in 1776. Two years later Thomas was appointed manager of the theatre, a position he held until 1781.

Beliefs

Sheridan attempted to supply the willing student with a guide to public speaking that was correct, appropriate, and successful. What he actually wanted was a total reform of the British education system, as he saw it disregarding elocution and/or rhetorical delivery. In his work British Education , Sheridan claimed that poor preaching was negatively affecting religion itself.

Sheridan's belief in the valuable effects of strong and correct public speaking was so strong that he was sure studying elocution would help ensure perfection in all of the arts. In British Education, Sheridan writes that preaching from the pulpit "must either effectually support religion against all opposition, or be the principal means of its destruction".

Convinced that English preaching was not done as well as it should be, Sheridan focused on delivery as the principal avenue toward delivering effective messages to an audience: "Before you can persuade a man into any opinion, he must first be convinced that you believe it yourself. This he can never be, unless the tones of voice in which you speak come from the heart, accompanied by corresponding looks, and gestures, which naturally result from a man who speaks in earnest." Sheridan believed that elocution was not restricted to the voice, but embodied the entire person with facial expressions, gestures, posture, and movement.

A Course of Lectures on Elocution

Published in 1762, this work is considered by many to be Sheridan's most well-known. He established a niche for his insights through decrying the current state of public speaking, as he often did: "so low is the state of elocution amongst us, that a man who is master even of these rudiments of rhetoric, is comparatively considered, as one of excellent delivery". Besides establishing the points previously mentioned, the quote also offers a more narrow definition of rhetoric that seems to be influenced by Peter Ramus.

Central to Sheridan's work was his emphasis on the importance of tones to eloquence. These tones, which correlated with the expressive effects one can give to their speaking, were something Sheridan considered an important part of persuasion. He stated, "The tones expressive of sorrow, lamentation, mirth, joy, hatred, anger, love, &c. are the same in all nations, and consequently can excite emotions in us analogous to those passions, when accompanying words which we do not understand: nay the very tones themselves, independent of words, will produce the same effects". For Sheridan, how a message was communicated was apparently as important as the message itself. He uses the example of someone saying in a calm demeanour, "My rage is rouzed to a pitch of frenzy, I can not command it: Avoid me, be gone this moment, or I shall tear you to pieces" to show the importance of tones to a message.

Because of this, Sheridan set out to address what he thought John Locke had left out in his treatment of language: "(t)he nobler branch of language, which consists of the signs of internal emotions, was untouched by him as foreign to his purpose".

Selected plays

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Public speaking</span> Performing a speech to a live audience

Public speaking, also called oratory or oration, has traditionally been defined as speaking in person to a live audience. Today, the term can also refer to speaking to an audience through digital technology.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rhetoric</span> Art of persuasion

Rhetoric is the art of persuasion. It is one of the three ancient arts of discourse (trivium) along with grammar and logic/dialectic. As an academic discipline within the humanities, rhetoric aims to study the techniques that speakers or writers use to inform, persuade, and motivate their audiences. Rhetoric also provides heuristics for understanding, discovering, and developing arguments for particular situations.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Richard Whately</span> English academic, philosopher, and theologian

Richard Whately was an English academic, rhetorician, logician, philosopher, economist, and theologian who also served as a reforming Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin. He was a leading Broad Churchman, a prolific and combative author over a wide range of topics, a flamboyant character, and one of the first reviewers to recognise the talents of Jane Austen.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hugh Blair</span> Scottish philosopher (1718–1800)

Hugh Blair FRSE was a Scottish minister of religion, author and rhetorician, considered one of the first great theorists of written discourse.

<i>Kairos</i> Right or opportune moment

Kairos is an ancient Greek word meaning 'the right, critical, or opportune moment'. In modern Greek, kairos also means 'weather' or 'time'.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Irish theatre</span> Theatre of Ireland

The history of Irish theatre begins in the Middle Ages and was for a long time confined to the courts of the Gaelic and "Old English" – descendants of 12th-century Norman invaders – inhabitants of Ireland. The first theatre building in Ireland was the Werburgh Street Theatre, founded in 1637, followed by the Smock Alley Theatre in 1662.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Elocution</span> Study of formal speaking in pronunciation, grammar, style, and tone

Elocution is the study of formal speaking in pronunciation, grammar, style, and tone as well as the idea and practice of effective speech and its forms. It stems from the idea that while communication is symbolic, sounds are final and compelling.

<i>Elocutio</i> Third canon of classical rhetoric

Elocutio is a Latin term for the mastery of rhetorical devices and figures of speech in Western classical rhetoric. Elocutio or style is the third of the five canons of classical rhetoric that concern the craft and delivery of speeches and writing.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Composition (language)</span> Assembling words and sentences into a work

The term composition as it refers to writing, can describe authors' decisions about, processes for designing, and sometimes the final product of, a composed linguistic work. In original use, it tended to describe practices concerning the development of oratorical performances, and eventually essays, narratives, or genres of imaginative literature, but since the mid-20th century emergence of the field of composition studies, its use has broadened to apply to any composed work: print or digital, alphanumeric or multimodal. As such, the composition of linguistic works goes beyond the exclusivity of written and oral documents to visual and digital arenas.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">George Campbell (minister)</span> Figure of the Scottish Enlightenment, born 1719

George Campbell FRSE was a Scottish Enlightenment philosopher, minister, and professor of divinity. Campbell was primarily interested in rhetoric, since he believed that its study would enable his students to become better preachers. He became a philosopher of rhetoric because he took it that the philosophical changes of the Age of Enlightenment would have implications for rhetoric.

Gilbert Austin (1753–1837) was an Irish educator, clergyman and author. Austin is best known for his 1806 book on chironomia, Chironomia, or a Treatise on Rhetorical Delivery. Heavily influenced by classical writers, Austin stressed the importance of voice and gesture to a successful oration.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Glossary of rhetorical terms</span>

Owing to its origin in ancient Greece and Rome, English rhetorical theory frequently employs Greek and Latin words as terms of art. This page explains commonly used rhetorical terms in alphabetical order. The brief definitions here are intended to serve as a quick reference rather than an in-depth discussion. For more information, click the terms.

In philosophy, lexis is a complete group of words in a language, vocabulary, the total set of all words in a language, and all words that have meaning or a function in grammar.

Sir Brian William Vickers is a British academic, now Emeritus Professor at ETH Zurich. He is known for his work on the history of rhetoric, Shakespeare, John Ford, and Francis Bacon. He joined the English department at University College London as a visiting professor in 2012.

Roger D. Duke is an author, theologian, educator, itinerant preacher, and was a professor at several institutions of higher learning including Union University, Baptist College of Health Sciences, Liberty University, Memphis Theological Seminary, and Columbia Evangelical Seminary. Professor Duke also serves as a Consulting Editor for B & H Academic's Studies in Baptist Life and Thought series. He retired in 2016 to focus on a speaking and writing career by forming the Duke Consulting Group.

Debating societies emerged in London in the early eighteenth century, and were a prominent feature of society until the end of the century. The origins of the debating societies are not certain, but by the mid-18th century, London fostered an active debating culture. Topics ranged from current events and governmental policy, to love and marriage, and the societies welcomed participants from all genders and all social backgrounds, exemplifying the enlarged public sphere of the Age of Enlightenment.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Declamation</span> Art of public speaking; Roman genre

Declamation is an artistic form of public speaking. It is a dramatic oration designed to express through articulation, emphasis and gesture the full sense of the text being conveyed.

Captain O'Blunder or The Brave Irishman is a comedy play by the Irish actor-manager Thomas Sheridan, first performed in the early 1740s at the Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin. It depicts the adventures of a naive Irishman in London.

The rhetorical presidency is a political communication theory that describes the communication and government style of U.S. presidents in the twentieth century. This theory describes the transition from a presidency that directed rhetoric toward the United States Congress and other government bodies, to one that addresses rhetoric, policy and ideas directly to the public.

William Cockin was an English schoolmaster and versatile author.

References

  1. Charles Frederick Partington (1838), "Sheridan, Thomas", The British Cyclopædia of Biography

Bibliography