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She Stoops to Conquer


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AT: The Mistakes of a Night A: Oliver Goldsmith Pf: 1773, London Pb: 1773 G: Com. in 5 acts; prose S: An old-fashioned house in the country and a nearby inn C: 7m, 4f, extrasOld Mr Hardcastle, a country gentleman, has two children, Kate from his first marriage and a stepson Tony Lumpkin, the boorish son of his second wife, the domineering Mrs Hardcastle. Hardcastle has arranged for his daughter to marry Young Marlow, while Mrs Hardcastle wants Tony to marry Constance, Kate's cousin, so as to keep Constance's jewels in the family. Constance, however, loves Hastings, the best friend of Marlow. Constance tells Kate that Marlow is very modest with women of quality, but that he has ‘a very different character among creatures of another stamp’. At a local inn Marlow and Hastings are tricked by Tony into believing that the Hardcastle residence is also an inn but that the ‘landlord’ has pretensions beyond his station. Arriving at Hardcastle's home, Marlow and Hastings treat the astonished Hardcastle with curt behaviour. Constance encounters Hastings and agrees with him to leave Marlow believing in his mistake, for otherwise his embarrassment would force him to leave at once. When Marlow meets Kate for the first time, he is so shy that he cannot even look at her. Hardcastle and daughter therefore have very different opinions of her intended husband. Kate, learning who Marlow is, now, dressed simply, flirts with the suddenly emboldened Marlow, who takes her for a servant. When Marlow's servants get drunk on the ‘landlord's’ wine, Hardcastle has had enough and orders Marlow and Hastings to leave. Having learnt of Constance's plan to elope with Hastings, Mrs Hardcastle orders Tony to prepare a carriage to convey her and Constance to an aunt. Tony drives his mother round in circles, finally depositing her in a horse-pond. Marlow's father has arrived, and the mistake is explained. Enlightened by Kate's explanation, Hardcastle gives his blessing to her marriage to Marlow, and the now chastened Mrs Hardcastle agrees to let Constance marry Hastings.

AT: The Mistakes of a Night A: Oliver Goldsmith Pf: 1773, London Pb: 1773 G: Com. in 5 acts; prose S: An old-fashioned house in the country and a nearby inn C: 7m, 4f, extras

This play is one of very few that Goldsmith wrote. It is one of the best comedies in English and helped to rescue comedy from the sentimentality into which it was sinking, thus making possible the masterpieces of Sheridan. What was refreshing about She Stoops to Conquer and why it is still popular on the stage, is the naturalness of the characters. The basic ‘mistake’ of the plot may seem far-fetched (although Goldsmith claimed it was based on a true incident), and the neo-classical concern with unity of time packs a lot of incident into one night, but Goldsmith's characters can be performed and identified with ease of familiarity in any age.

Subjects: Literature.


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Authors

Oliver Goldsmith (1730—1774) author


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