She Stoops to Conquer
She Stoops to Conquer is a comedy by the Irish author Oliver Goldsmith, son of an Anglo-Irish vicar, first performed in London in 1773. The play is a great favourite for study by English literature and theatre classes in Britain and the United States. It is one of the few plays from the 18th century to have an enduring appeal, and is still regularly performed today. It has been adapted into a film several times, including in 1914 and 1923.
Initially the play was titled Mistakes of a Night, and indeed the events within the play happen during the very limited time frame of one night.
Wealthy country man Mr Hardcastle arranges for his daughter Kate, to meet Charles Marlow, the son of a wealthy aristocrat, hoping the pair will marry. Unfortunately Marlow is nervous around upper-class women, yet the complete opposite around the lower-class females. On his first acquaintance with Kate, the latter realises she will have to pretend to be common, to make marital relations with the man possible. Thus Kate stoops to conquer, by posing as a barmaid, hoping to put Marlow at his ease so he falls for her in the process.
One of the sub-plots to this is a comic misunderstanding between Hastings, Marlow and Mr Hardcastle. Before his acquaintance with Kate, Marlow sets out for the Hardcastles' manor with his friend George Hastings, himself an admirer of Miss Constance Neville, another young lady who lives with the Hardcastles. During the journey, the two men become lost and stop off at The Three Pigeons pub for directions. Tony Lumpkin (the son of Mrs Hardcastle and who will acquire a fortune when becoming of "age"), encounters the two strangers at the alehouse, and realising their identities, plays a practical joke by telling them that they are a long way from their destination and will have to stay overnight at an inn. He furthers the joke by telling the twosome the Hardcastles' old house is the inn, thus the pair arrive and treat it as such, and also treat Hardcastle as the mere inn keeper. This leads to Hardcastle becoming both enraged and convinced that Marlow is unappropriate for his beloved Kate; he changes his mind when realising the truth behind Marlow’s behaviour.
Another sub-plot is that of the secret affair between Miss Neville and Hastings. Neville desperately wants her jewels that were left for her, and that are guarded by her aunt and Tony's mother, Mrs Hardcastle; the latter wants Neville to marry her son to keep the jewels in the family. Tony despises Constance (Miss Neville), and thus agrees to steal his mother's jewels for Miss Neville, so she will then flee to France with Hastings.
The play concludes with Kate's plan succeeding, thus she and Marlow become engaged. Tony discovers he is of "age", despite his mother not telling him so, thus he receives the money he is entitled to. He refuses to marry Neville, who then is eligible to receive her jewels and to get engaged to Hastings; this she does.
"She Stoops to Conquer" is currently (Summer 2008) being performed by the Oxford University Dramatic Society. The show is being taken on tour to Oxford, London, Cambridge, Sheffield, Manchester, and the Edinburgh Festival. The run will finish on the 17th of August 2008. Perhaps one of the most famous incarnation of "She Stoops to Conquer" was Peter Hall's version, staged in 1993 and starring Miriam Margolyes as Mrs. Hardcastle - another is the 1971 BBC version featuring Ralph Richardson, Tom Courtenay, Juliet Mills and Brian Cox, with Trevor Peacock as Tony Lumpkin - this version sits in the BBC archive and deserves a long awaited repeat showing on TV - it was shot on location near Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire, and is not just a filmed version of the stage play.
Type of Comedy
The type of comedy She Stoops to Conquer is has been much disputed. However there is a consensus amongst audiences and critics that the play is a Comedy of Manners (see below for details). It can also be seen as one of the following comedy types:
A Laughing Comedy or Sentimental Comedy
When the play was first produced, it was discussed as an example of the revival of laughing comedy over the sentimental comedy seen as dominant on the English stage since the success of The Conscious Lovers, written by Sir Richard Steele in 1722. In the same year, an essay in a London magazine, entitled "An Essay On The Theatre; Or, A Comparison Between Laughing And Sentimental Comedy", suggested that sentimental comedy, a false form of comedy, had taken over the boards from the older and more truly comic laughing comedy.
Some theatre historians believe that the essay was written by Goldsmith as a puff piece for She Stoops to Conquer, as an exemplar of the laughing comedy Goldsmith (perhaps) had touted. Goldsmith's name was linked with that of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, author of The Rivalsand The School for Scandal, as standard-bearers for the resurgent laughing comedy.
A Comedy of Manners
The play can also be seen as a Comedy of Manners, where, set in a polite society, the comedy arises from the gap between the characters' attempts to preserve standards of polite behaviour, that contrasts to their true behaviour.
A Romantic Comedy
It also seen by some critics as a Romantic Comedy, which depicts how seriously young people take love, and how foolishly it makes them behave (similar to Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream); in She Stoops to Conquer, Kate’s stooping and Marlow’s nervousness are good examples of romantic comedy.
A Satiric Comedy
Alternatively, it can be seen as a Satiric Comedy, where characters are presented as either ludicrous or eccentric. Such a comedy might leave the impression that the characters are either too foolish or corrupt to ever reform, hence Mrs Hardcastle.
A Farce or a Comedy of Errors
The play is sometimes described as a Farce and a Comedy of Errors, because it’s based on multiple misunderstandings, hence Marlow and Hastings believing the Hardcastles' house is an inn.
The title refers to Kate's ruse of pretending to be a barmaid to reach her goal. It originates in the poetry of Dryden, which Goldsmith may have seen misquoted by Lord Chesterfield. In Chesterfield's version, the lines in question read:
"The prostrate lover, when he lowest lies, But stoops to conquer, and but kneels to rise."
* Charles Marlow - The central male character, who has set out to court the young attractive Kate Hardcastle. A well-educated man, who's been "bred a scholar", Marlow is brash and rude to Mr Hardcastle, owner of Liberty Hall, who Marlow believes to be an innkeeper. Because Marlow's rudeness is comic, the audience is likely not to dislike him for it. Marlow is sophisticated and has travelled the world. Around lower-class women Marlow is a lecherous rogue, but around those of an upper-class card he is a nervous, bumbling fool. Thus, his interview with Kate exploits the man's fears, and convinces Miss Hardcastle she'll have to alter her persona drastically to make a relationship with the man possible. The character of Charles Marlow is very similar to the description of Goldsmith himself, as he too acted "sheepishly" around women of a higher class than himself, and amongst "creatures of another stamp" acted with the most confidence.
* George Hastings - A close friend of Charles Marlow and the admirer of Miss Constance Neville. Hastings is also an educated man who cares deeply about Constance, with the intention of fleeing to France with her. However the young women makes it clear she can't leave without her jewels guarded by Mrs Hardcastle, thus the pair and Tony collaborate to get hold of the jewels. When Hastings realises Mr Hardcastle's isn't an inn, he decides not to tell Marlow who would thus leave the premises immediately.
* Mr Hardcastle - The father of Kate Hardcastle, who's mistaken by Marlow and Hastings as an innkeeper. Hardcastle is a level-headed countryman who loves "everything old" and hates the town and the "follies" that come with it. He is very much occupied with the 'old times' and likes nothing better than to tell his war stories and drop names, such as the Duke of Marlborough into conversations. Hardcastle cares for his daughter Kate, but insists she dresses plainly in his presence. It is he who arranges for Marlow to come to the country to marry his daughter. Mr Hardcastle is a man of manners and, despite being highly insulted by Marlow's treatment of him, manages to keep his temper with his guest until near the end of the play. Hardcastle also demonstrates a wealth of forgiveness as he not only forgives Marlow once he has realised Marlow's mistake, but also gives him consent to marry his daughter.
* Mrs Hardcastle - Wife to Mr Hardcastle and mother to Tony, Mrs Hardcastle is a corrupt and eccentric character. She is an over-protectivemother to Tony, who she cares about, but fails to tell him he's of age so he receives £1,500 a year. Her behaviour is either over-the-top or far-fetched, providing some of the play's comedy. Mrs Hardcastle is also partly selfish, wanting Neville to marry her son to keep the jewels in the family; she's blissfully unaware however, Tony and Neville both despise each other, and that Constance is in fact planning to flee to France with Hastings. Mrs Hardcastle is a contrast to her husband, this providing humour in the play's opening. Mrs Hardcastle loves the town, and is the only character who's not happy at the end of the play. Mrs Hardcastle is too corrupt and far-fetched for the audience to sympathise with her.
* Miss Kate Hardcastle - Daughter to Mr Hardcastle, and the play's stooping-to-conquer heroine. Kate respects her father, dressing plainly in his presence to please him. Her formal and respectful relationship that she shares with her father, contrasts with that between Tony and Mrs Hardcastle. Kate enjoys "French frippery" and the attributes of the town like her mother. She is both calculating and scheming, posing as a barmaid and deceiving Marlow, thus so he then falls in love with her.
* Miss Constance Neville - Niece of Mrs Hardcastle and the women Hastings intends to court. Constance despises her cousin Tony, she is heir to a large fortune of jewels, hence her aunt wants her to remain in the family and marry Tony; she is secretly an admirer of George Hastings however. Neville schemes with Hastings and Tony to get the jewels so she can then flee to France with her admirer; this is essentially one of the sub-plots of She Stoops to Conquer.
* Tony Lumpkin - Son of Mrs Hardcastle's and stepson to Mr Hardcastle, Tony is a mischievous, uneducated playboy. Mrs Hardcastle has no authority over Tony, and their relationship contrasts with that between Hardcastle and Kate. He is promised in marriage to his cousin, Constance Neville, yet she is a character he despises, thus goes to great effort to help herself and Hastings in their plans to leave the country. He cannot reject the impending marriage with Neville, because he believes he's not of age. Tony takes an interest in horses, "Bet Bouncer" and especially the alehouse, where he joyfully sings with members of the lower-classes. It is Tony's initial deception of Marlow, for a joke, which sets up the plot.
* Sir Charles Marlow - A minor character and father to Charles Marlow; he follows his son, a few hours behind. Unlike his son, he does not meet Tony Lumpkin in the Three Pigeons, and thus is not confused. He is an old friend of Mr Hardcastle, both of them once having been in the British military, and is quite pleased with the union of his son and his friend's daughter. Sir Charles enjoys the follies of his son, but does not understand these initially. However, he is quite upset when his son treats Kate as a barmaid.
The Three Unities
The dramatic technique of the three Unities is employed by Goldsmith in She Stoops to Conquer to respectable degree.
The Unity of Action - This is the one Unity that Goldsmith does not rigorously follow; there is the inclusion of the Constance-Hastings eloping sub-plot that distracts from the main narrative of the play. However, it shares similar themes of relationships and what makes the best ones (mutual attraction or the arrangement of a parent or guardian). Furthermore, the sub-plot is inter-weaving with the main plot, for example, when Hastings and Marlow confront Tony regarding his mischief making.
The Unity of Time - The alternative title of Mistakes of the Night illustrates that the Unity of Time is carefully observed. With all of the events occurring in a single night, the plot becomes far more stimulating as well as more plausibility being lent to the series of unlucky coincidences that conspire against the visitors.
The Unity of Place - Whilst some may question whether She Stoops to Conquer contains the Unity of Place — after all, the scene at the "The Three Pigeons" is set apart from the house — but the similarity between the alehouse and the "old rumbling mansion, that looks all the world like an inn" is one of close resemblance; enough that in past performances, the scenes have often doubled up the use of the same set back drop. Also, there is some debate as to whether the excursion to "crackskull common" counts as a separate setting, but since the truth is that the travellers do not leave the mansion gardens, the Unity of Place is not violated.
.......In a downstairs room of their old mansion, Dorothy Hardcastle tells her husband that they need a little diversion–namely, a trip to London, a city she has never visited. Their neighbors, the Hoggs sisters and Mrs. Grigsby, spend a month in London every winter. It is the place to see and be seen. But old Hardcastle, content with his humdrum rural existence, says people who visit the great city only bring back its silly fashions and vanities. Once upon a time, he says, London’s affectations and fopperies took a long time to reach the country; now they come swiftly and regularly by the coach-load.
.......Mrs. Hardcastle, eager for fresh faces and conversations, says their only visitors are Mrs. Oddfish, the wife of the local minister, and Mr. Cripplegate, the lame dancing teacher. What’s more, their only entertainment is Mr. Hardcastle’s old stories about sieges and battles. But Hardcastle says he likes everything old–friends, times, manners, books, wine, and, of course, his wife.
.......Living in their home with them is their daughter, Kate, a pretty miss of marriageable age, and Tony, Mrs. Hardcastle’s son by her first husband, Mr. Lumpkin. As a boy, Tony bedeviled his stepfather, Mr. Hardcastle, with every variety of mischief, burning a servant’s shoes, scaring the maids, and vexing the kittens. And, Hardcastle says, “It was but yesterday he fastened my wig to the back of my chair, and when I went to make a bow, I popt my bald head in Mrs. Frizzle’s face.”
.......Now as a young man, Tony has become a fat slob who spends most of his time at the local alehouse. Soon he will come of age, making him eligible for an inheritance of 1500 pounds a year with which to feed his fancies. Mrs. Hardcastle wants to match Tony with her niece and ward, Constance Neville, who has inherited a casket of jewels from her uncle. As Miss Neville’s guardian, Mrs. Hardcastle holds the jewels under lock and key against the day when Constance can take legal possession of them.
.......While Mr. and Mrs. Hardcastle discuss the London trip that is not to take place, Tony passes between them and sets off for the alehouse, The Three Pigeons. Mrs. Hardcastle chases out the door after him, saying he should find something better to do than associate with riffraff.
.......Alone, Mr. Hardcastle laments the follies of the age. Even his darling Kate is becoming infected, for now she has become fond of “French frippery.” When she enters the room, he tells her he has arranged for her to meet an eligible young man, Mr. Charles Marlow, a scholar with many good qualities who “is designed for employment in the service of the country.” Marlow is to arrive for a visit that very evening with a friend, Mr. George Hastings. Young Marlow is the son of Hardcastle’s friend, Sir Charles Marlow. Kate welcomes the opportunity to meet the young man, although she is wary about her father’s description of him as extremely shy around young ladies.
.......By and by, Constance Neville comes in for a visit. When Kate tells her about young Mr. Marlow, Constance tells her that her own admirer, Mr. Hastings, a friend of the Marlow family. Miss Neville welcomes the attentions of Hastings but laments Mrs. Hardcastle’s attempts to pair her with her “pretty monster,” Tony, in an effort to keep Miss Neville’s jewels in the family. Tony and Constance despise each other.
Tony Plays Trick
.......Meanwhile, at the alehouse, Tony is having a ripping good time singing and drinking when Hastings and young Marlow come in asking for directions to the Hardcastle home. Having just arrived in the area from London after a wearisome trip, they have lost their way. Tony, who resents Mr. Hardcastle’s treatment of him lately, sees a way to get even: He tells Marlow and Hastings that Hardcastle is an ugly, cantankerous fellow and that his daughter is a “tall, trapesing, trolloping, talkative maypole.” But, he says, Hardcastle’s son (meaning himself) is a “pretty, well-bred youth that everybody is fond of.” Marlow says he has been told otherwise, namely, that the daughter is “well-bred and beautiful; the son, an awkward booby, reared up and spoiled at his mother’s apron-string.”
.......Taken aback, Tony can only hem and haw. Then, deciding to work a mischief, he tells them the Hardcastle home is too far to reach by nightfall but that there is a nice inn just up the road. The “inn” is, of course, the Hardcastle home. When Marlow and Hastings arrive there, they note that the inn is old but commendable in its own way. Hastings comments that Marlow has traveled widely, staying at many inns, but wonders why such a man of the world is so shy around young women. Marlow reminds him that he is shy only around young ladies of culture and bearing. Around women of the lower classes, he is a nonstop talker, a wag completely at ease. Hastings replies: “But in the company of women of reputation I never saw such an idiot, such a trembler; you look for all the world as if you wanted an opportunity of stealing out of the room.”
.......When Mr. Hardcastle enters, he welcomes them as the expected guests–the Marlow fellow who is to meet his daughter and Marlow’s friend Hastings. However, the young men–believing that they are at the inn described by Tony–think Mr. Hardcastle is the innkeeper, and treat him like one, giving him orders to prepare their supper and asking to see the accommodations. Hardcastle is much offended by their behavior, thinking them the rudest of visitors, for he remains unaware that they think they are at an inn. He keeps his feelings to himself.
.......When Hardcastle goes upstairs with Marlow to show him his room, Hastings runs into Constance Neville and, through his conversation with her, realizes that he is at the Hardcastle home, not an inn. Hastings decides to keep the information a secret from Marlow, fearing that Marlow would react to the mix-up by immediately leaving. Thus, he allows Marlow to believe that Constance and Kate are also guests at the “inn.”
.......When Marlow finally meets Kate, his shyness all but tongue-ties him. Almost every time he starts a sentence, Kate has to finish it. But she compliments him on being so clever as to bring up interesting topics of conversation. All the while that they talk, Marlow lacks the courage even to look at her face. He does not even know what she looks like.
.......In another room, Tony, who has returned from the pub, and Constance are insulting each other, as usual, to the dismay of Mrs. Hardcastle. After Hastings observes their spitfire give-and-take, he tells Tony he will take the young lady off his hands if Tony will help him win her.
.......“I’ll engage to whip her off to France, and you shall never hear more of her,” Hastings says.
.......Tony replies: “Ecod, I will [help] to the last drop of my blood.”
.......Mr. Hardcastle, meanwhile, is becoming more and more annoyed with Marlow for treating him like a lackey. Alone on the stage, Hardcastle laments, “He has taken possession of the easy-chair by the fire-side already. He took off his boots in the parlour, and desired me to see them taken care of. I’m desirous to know how his impudence affects my daughter.”
.......Kate has been upstairs changing into casual clothes. When she comes down and talks with her father, she bemoans Marlow’s incredible shyness while Hardcastle, in turn, complains about Marlow’s rudeness. They wonder whether they are talking about the same person.
.......While they converse, Tony, who knows where his mother keeps everything, gets the casket of jewels Mrs. Hardcastle is holding for Constance and gives it to Hastings as an inducement for Hastings to run off with Constance. Later, Mrs. Hardcastle discovers it missing and thinks a robber is about.
.......Meanwhile, a maid tells Kate that Marlow believes he is at an inn. The maid also tells her that Marlow mistook Kate for a barmaid after she changed into her casual attire. Kate decides to keep up the charade, changing her voice and demeanor in Marlow’s presence.
.......When he strikes up a conversation with her, he says she is “vastly handsome.” Growing bold, he adds, “Suppose I should call for a taste, just by way of a trial, of the nectar of your lips.” (To audiences attending the play, Marlow’s bold behavior is not at all surprising, for they are aware that Marlow is a different man when in the presence of women of the servant class.) When old Hardcastle observes Kate and Marlow together, he sees Marlow seize Kate’s hand and treat her like a milkmaid. He’s thinking of turning Marlow out. When he makes his feelings known to Kate, she asks for an hour to convince her father that Marlow is not so bold and rude as her father believes he is. He agrees to her proposal.
.......The plot thickens at this point, for another visitor will shortly arrive–Marlow’s father, Sir Charles Marlow. It seems Miss Neville happened on a letter to old Hardcastle in which Sir Charles announced that he would arrive at the Hardcastle home a few hours after his son made his appearance. When she tells George Hastings of Sir Charles’s expected arrival at any minute, George worries that Sir Charles–who is aware of George’s fondness for Constance–will somehow upset their plans to run off together. Constance asks whether the jewels are safe. George assures her they are, for he has sent the jewels, via a servant, to Marlow for safekeeping.
.......Unfortunately, unknown to Hastings, Marlow has told the servant to give the casket of jewels to the “landlady” for safekeeping. So the jewels are back where they were originally, in Mrs. Hardcastle’s possession (as Miss Neville’s guardian). Tony tells his mother a servant was responsible for misplacing them. Satisfied, she returns to the task of promoting a romance between Tony and Constance, unaware that Hastings and the young lady are plotting to abscond.
.......Marlow is by now captivated by the barmaid and says to himself, “She’s mine, she must be mine.”
.......Meanwhile, old Hardcastle has had enough of impudent Marlow and orders him to leave. Marlow protests. Hardcastle rants and exits in a huff. When Kate enters, she realizes Marlow now knows something strange is going on, so she reveals that the inn is Hardcastle’s house. However, she describes herself as a “relative”–a “poor relation” who helps out. As such, she knows, Marlow will continue to talk to her freely, since a “poor relation” is the same in standing as a barmaid. Marlow, shaken and deeply embarrassed, says, “To mistake this house of all others for an inn, and my father's old friend for an innkeeper! What a swaggering puppy must he take me for! What a silly puppy do I find myself!
.......Marlow tells the “poor relation” that he will be leaving, in view of the circumstances, but notes that she has been the only positive thing that happened to him during the confusing and disconcerting ordeal. His words help to identify the feeling she felt for him when they met: love. Her scheme of posing as a barmaid/poor relation to find out his real feelings–a scheme in which she stooped to conquer–has proved wise.
.......Further mix-ups develop involving Miss Neville’s jewels and Mr. Hastings’ planned elopement with Constance. Tony is implicated as the trickster who set in motion the comedy of errors by telling Marlow and Hastings that the Hardcastle home was an inn.
.......When Sir Charles arrives, he and old Hardcastle have a laugh about the mix-ups, but Hardcastle tells Kate that he is still unconvinced that Marlow is anything but rude and insulting. To prove that Marlow is a worthy man, Kate enacts one final scene as the poor relative while Marlow converses with her and Sir Charles and Hardcastle listen behind a screen. In the end, Kate reveals her identity to Marlow, and everyone understands the mistakes of the evening.
.......But there is a further development: Old Hardcastle reveals that Tony is “of age”–and has been for three months, meaning he has a right now to make up his own mind about his future. Immediately, as his first act as his own man, Tony goes against his mother’s wishes and refuses to marry Constance Neville, freeing her to marry Hastings–and qualifying her to receive the jewels. In the end, the young lovers–Kate and Marlow, Constance and Hastings–are betrothed.
.......Mrs. Hardcastle comments, “This is all but the whining end of a modern novel.”
Most of the action takes place in the Hardcastle mansion in the English countryside, about sixty miles from London. The mansion is an old but comfortable dwelling that resembles an inn. A brief episode takes place at a nearby tavern, The Three Pigeons Alehouse. The time is the 18th Century.
Mr. Hardcastle Middle-aged gentleman who lives in an old mansion in the countryside about sixty miles from London. He prefers to the simple rural life and its old-fashioned manners and customs to the trendy and pretentious ways of upper-crust London.
Mrs. Dorothy Hardcastle Wife of Mr. Hardcastle. Unlike her husband, she yearns to sample life in high society. She also values material possessions and hopes to match her son (by her first husband) with her niece, Constance Neville, in order to keep her niece's inheritance in the family.
Charles Marlow Promising young man who comes to the country to woo the Hardcastles' pretty daughter, Kate. His only drawback is that he is extremely shy around refined young ladies, although he is completely at ease–and even forward–with women of humble birth and working-class status. He is a pivotal character in the play, used by author Goldsmith to satirize England's preoccupation with, and overemphasis on, class distinctions. However, Marlow's redeeming qualities make him a likeable character, and the audience tends to root for him when he becomes the victim of a practical joke resulting in mix-ups and mistaken identities.
Kate Hardcastle Pretty daughter of the Hardcastles who is wooed by Charles Marlow. When he mistakes her for a woman of the lower class, she allows him to continue to mistake her identity, thus freeing his captive tongue so she can discover what he really thinks about her.
Tony Lumpkin Son of Mrs. Hardcastle by her first husband. He is a fat, ale-drinking young man who has little ambition except to play practical jokes and visit the local tavern whenever he has a mind. When Tony comes of age, he will receive 1,500 pounds a year. His mother hopes to marry him to her niece, Constance Neville, who is in line to inherit a casket of jewels from her uncle. Tony and Miss Neville despise each other.
George Hastings Friend of Marlow who loves Constance Neville.While Marlow is busy with Kate, Hastings is busy with Constance. Hastings hatches a plan to elope with Constance and receives the help of Tony, who wants to erase Constance from his life–and his mother's constant efforts to match him with Constance.
Constance Neville Comely young lady who loves Hastings but is bedeviled by Mrs. Hardcastle's schemes to match her with Tony. Constance, an orphan, is the niece and ward of Mrs. Hardcastle (who holds Miss Neville's inheritance in her possession until she becomes legally qualified to take possession of it) and the cousin of Kate.
Sir Charles Marlow Father of young Charles.
Servants in the Hardcastle Household
Maid in the Hardcastle Household
Landlord of the Three Pigeons Alehouse
First Fellow, Second Fellow, Third Fellow, Fourth Fellow Drinking companions of Tony Lumpkin.
Type of Play
She Stoops to Conquer is a comedy of manners, meaning that it ridicules the manners (way of life, social customs, etc.) of a certain segment of society, in this case the upper class. The play is also sometimes termed a drawing-room comedy. The play uses farce (including many mix-ups) and satire to poke fun at the class-consciousness of 18th Century Englishmen and to satirize what Goldsmith called the "weeping sentimental comedy so much in fashion at present."
Style and Structure
Goldsmith's style is wry, witty, and simple but graceful. From beginning to end, the play is both entertaining and easy to understand, presenting few words and idioms that modern audiences would not understand. It is also well constructed and moves along rapidly, the events of the first act–in particular, references to Tony Lumpkin's childhood propensity for working mischief and playing playing practical jokes–foreshadowing the events of the following acts. There are frequent scene changes, punctuated by an occasional appearance of a character alone on the stage (solus in the stage directions) reciting a brief account of his feelings. In modern terms, the play is a page-turner for readers. Goldsmith observed the classical unities of time and place, for the action of the play takes place in single locale (the English countryside) on a single day.
Goldsmith completed the play in 1773. It was first performed at Covent Garden Theatre in London on March 15 of that year. It was well received. Over the last two centuries, it has become one of the most popular comedies in English literary history. It is still performed often today throughout the English-speaking world.
She Stoops to Conquer generally requires actors to deliver restrained, subtle performances for a production of the play to be successful. Overacting, typical in so many modern motion-picture comedies, can ruin the play. The best comedic actors–like Laurel and Hardy, W.C. Fields, Peter Ustinov, and Peter Sellers–use a straight face to bend people over with laughter.
Appearances are deceiving, or you can't judge another human being by the quality of his or her wrapping. This appears to be the central theme of the play, as demonstrated primarily by the behavior of Young Marlow and Mrs. Hardcastle. Until Kate teaches him a lesson, Marlow responds to women solely on the basis of their status in society. He looks down on women of the lower class but is wholly at ease around them; he esteems women of the upper class but is painfully shy around them. Like the London society in which he was brought up, he assumes that all women of a certain class think and act according to artificial and arbitrary standards expected of that class. As for Mrs. Hardcastle, she appears to assess a person by the value of his or her possessions.
Love ignores social boundaries. Although prevailing attitudes among England's elite classes frown on romance between one of their own and a person of humble origin, Marlow can't help falling in love with a common "barmaid" (who is, of course, Kate in disguise).
There is hope for flawed humanity. Although Marlow makes a fool of himself as a result of his upper-class biases, Kate has enough common sense to see through the London hauteur encasing him and to appreciate him for his genuinely good qualities–which are considerable, once he allows them to surface. Also, Mrs. Hardcastle, in spite of her misguided values, enjoys the love of her practical, down-to-earth husband. He, too, is willing to look beyond her foibles in favor of her good points.
Money breeds indolence. Tony Lumpkin will get 1,500 pounds a year when he comes of age. Thus, without financial worries, he devotes himself to ale and a do-nothing life.
The climax occurs when Kate reveals her true identity to young Marlow while Hardcastle and Sir Charles listen behind a screen.