Character of Snake in “The School for Scandal” by R.B.Sheridan

In the play School for Scandal, we meet Snake in the very opening scene, and after that, we meet him only in the last scene. The reality of this man is revealed to us at the very outset when we meet him and listen to his conversation with Lady Sneerwell. It is evident that Lady Sneerwell uses this man to give publicity to the scandalous stories which she hears about people and which she improves upon by her imagination. Snake is a very competent man in this line, and he exactly understands Lady Sneerwel’s requirements. He also knows how to humor Lady Sncerwell by admiring her great capacity for scandal-mongering.

However, he is not a reliable man, as Joseph points out in the very beginning. When Lady Sneerwell asks Joseph if Snake is likely to betray them, Joseph’s reply is: “Take my word for it, Lady Sneerwell, that fellow has not virtue enough to be faithful to even his villainy.” In the final scene, the truth of what Joseph has said to Lady Sneerwell is proved. In the final scene, when Lady Sneerwell asks Snake if he too has joined the conspiracy against her, Snake gives the following reply: “I beg your ladyship ten thousand pardons. You paid me extremely liberally for the lie in question, but I have unfortunately been offered double to speak the truth”. The truth which he has been paid to speak is that Charles’s love-letters to Lady Sncerwell were forged by him and were not genuine. Thus Snake is a man who can tell lies, who can commit forgery, who can give publicity to scandalous stories, who can get slanderous gossip published in newspapers, and all this for money. He is thus a dangerous man to deal with, because, if he is paid enough, he may even expose the person whom he has previousıy been serving just as he exposes Lady Sneerwell and Joseph.

It is from Snake’s talk with Lady Sneerwell in the opening scene that we learn certain important particulars about the two brothers, Charles and Joseph, and about Maria. It is an answer to his questions that Lady Sneerwell reveals the intrigue which she and Joseph have set in motion against Charles and Maria. Thus Snake is necessary to what is known as the exposition in this play. At the end of the play, Snake serves to clear Charles of the charge that Lady Sneerwell has brought against him. By stating the truth, Snake dispels the suspicion that had entered the minds of Maria and others as a consequence of Lady Sneerwell’s claim that Charles was pledged to marry her.

Snake is also a source of comedy in the play. In the opening scene, he amuses us greatly by describing the achievements of a certain Mrs Clackit and also by how he describes Lady Sneerwell’s capacity for scandal-mongering. In the final scene, he amuses us even more by requesting the company not to let it be known that he has told the truth in the case relating to Charles and Lady Sneerwell. What he says on this occasion is certainly one of the most amusing speeches. Says he to Sir Peter:

“Ah, sir, consider I live by the badness of my character; have nothing but my infamy to depend on! And, if it were once known that I had been betrayed into an honest action, I should lose every friend I have in the world.”

Finally, through the person of Snake, the dramatist pokes fun at writers, critics, and journalists. Snake, who is one of the targets of satire in the play, is described by Sir Peter as a writer and a critic and he is moreover hand in glove with newspaper editors who publish the scandalous gossip provided to them by him.

Also read: Importance of 5the Auction scene in “School for Scandal”