The school's "principals" are Lady Sneerwell and a man named Snake, who like to collect gossip about their neighbors and others in London society; one of their cohorts is the brilliantly ironic character Mrs. Candour, who openly reprehends idle gossip but blithely participates in it anyway. One of their favorite subjects of gossip is the Surface brothers, Joseph and Charles. The popular perception is that Joseph is responsible and respectable, while Charles is a wastrel and a miscreant.
The Surface brothers' uncle, Sir Oliver Surface, returns to London after spending many years in India, hears the rumors about his nephews, and decides to verify them for the purpose of choosing an heir between the two. Since he has been gone so long that his nephews would not recognize him, he visits them incognito. Posing as a moneylender to Charles, and as a poor relative to Joseph, he discovers that his nephews are not quite of the natures he has been led to believe.
Sheridan employs some typical comedic devices like love triangles and hiding characters, but for the most part this is an inventive play that picks its targets well and hits the bullseye every time. Considering it was written at such a turbulent time in England's history, it's interesting that social satire still managed to break through greater national concerns and be successful and appreciated.
The Dover Thrift edition has no introduction or analysis. Intoduction and analysis are of course not necessary, but in some situations they are nice things to have.