Analysis of She Stoops to Counquer

Plot of of She Stoops to Counquer by Oliver Goldsmith

By Michael J. Cummings…© 2003
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,band, 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 tobfeed 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 thei 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.” Hardcastle Annoyed 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 willvshortly 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’snhouse. 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/poo 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 l betrothed. Mrs. Hardcastle comments, “This is all but the whining end of a modern novel.”

Themes of She Stoops to Counquer by Oliver Goldsmith

She Stoops to Counquer
Theme of Appearances and Reality

Appearances and Reality:
Much of the comedy of Goldsmith’s play depends onnconfusion between appearance and reality. After all, Marlow’s misperception of Mr. Hardcastle’s house asnan inn drives the narrative action in the first place. Ironically, Goldsmith’s comedy allows appearance to lead to the discovery of reality, Kate’s deception leads her to discover Marlow’s true nature. Falling in love when he thinks her a barmaid, he declares his decision to defy society and marry her in spite of the differences in their social class. Her falsehood allows him to relaxbwith her and reveal his true self.
Truth and Falsehood Thematically related to the theme of Appearance and Reality, Goldsmith uses falsehood to reveal the truth. Most obviously Tony’s lie about Mr. Hardcastle’s mansion being an inn produces the truth of the lovers’ affections. Lying also leads to poetic justice.

She Stoops to Counquer
Theme of Class

While the play is not explicitly a tract on class, the theme is central to it. The decisions the characters make and their perspectives on one another, are all largely based on what class they are a part of. Where Tony openly loves low-class people like the drunks in the Three Pigeons, Marlow must hide his love of low- class women from his father and “society.” His dynamic relationship with Kate (and the way he treats her) is defined by who he thinks she is at the time – from high-class Kate to a poor barmaid to a woman from good family but with no fortune. Hastings ’ and Marlow’s reaction to Hardcastle is also a great example of the importance of class—they find him impudent and absurd, because they believe him to be of low class, but his behavior would be perfectly reasonable and expected from a member of the upper
class, as he truly is.

She Stoops to Counquer
Theme of Money

One of the factors that keeps the play pragmatic even when it veers close to contrivance and sentiment is the unavoidable importance of money. While some of the characters, like Marlow and Hardcastle, are mostly unconcerned with questions of money, there are several characters whose lives are largely defined by a lack of access to it. Constance cannot run away with Hastings because she worries about a life without her inheritance. When Marlow thinks Kate is a poor relation of the Hardcastles, he cannot get himself to propose because of her lack of dowry. And Tony seems to live a life unconcerned with wealth, although the implicit truth is that his dalliances are facilitated by having access to wealth.

She Stoops to Counquer
Theme of Love Ignores Social Boundaries

Love Ignores Social Boundaries
Although prevailing attitudes among England’s elite classes frown on romance between one of their own an a person of humble origin, Marlow can’t help falling in love with a common “barmaid” (who is, of course, Kate in disguise).

She Stoops to Counquer
Theme of Hope for Flawed Humanity

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 tovappreciate him for his genuinely good qualities—whichvare 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.

She Stoops to Counquer
Theme of Moderation

Throughout the play runs a conflict between the refined attitudes of town and the simple behaviors of the country. The importance of this theme is underscored by the fact that it is the crux of the opening disagreement between Hardcastle and his wife. Where country characters like Hardcastle see town manners as pretentious, town characters like Marlow see country manners as bumpkinish. The best course of action is proposed through Kate, who is praised by Marlow as having a “refined simplicity.” Having lived in town, she is able to appreciate the values of both sides of life and can find happiness inappreciating the contradictions that exist between them.

She Stoops to Counquer
Theme of Contradiction

Most characters in the play want others to be simple to understand. This in many ways mirrors the expectations of an audience that Goldsmith wishes to mock. Where his characters are initially presented as comic types, he spends time throughout the play complicating them all by showing their contradictions. Most clear are the contradictions within Marlow, who is both refined and base. The final happy ending comes when the two oldest men – Hardcastle and Sir Charles – decide to accept the contradictions in their children. In a sense, this theme helps to understand Goldsmith’s purpose in the play, reminding us that all people are worthy of being mocked because of their silly, base natures, and no one is above reproach.

She Stoops to Counquer
Theme of Comedy

Though it is only explicitly referred to in the prologue, an understanding of Goldsmith’s play in context shows his desire to reintroduce his audience to the “laughing comedy” that derived from a long history of comedy that mocks human vice. This type of comedy stands in contrast to the then-popular “sentimental comedy” that praised virtues and reinforced bourgeois mentality. Understanding Goldsmith’s love of the former helps to clarify several elements of the play: the low scene in the Three Pigeons; the mockery of baseness in even the most high-bred characters; andbthe celebration of absurdity as a fact of human life.

She Stoops to Counquer
Theme of Deceit/Trickery

Much of this play’s comedy comes from the trickery played by various characters. The most important deceits come from Tony, including his lie about Hardcastle’s home and his scheme of driving his mother and Constance around in circles. However, deceit also touches to the center of the play’s more major themes. In a sense, the only reason anyone learns anything about their deep assumptions about class and behavior is because they are duped into seeing characters in different ways. This truth is most clear with Marlow and his shifting perspective on Kate, but it also is true for the Hardcastles and Sir Charles, who are able to see the contradictions in others because of what trickery engenders.

Roles and Analysis of All Character in She Stoops to Counquer by Oliver Goldsmith

  Character Analysis and Role of 
Mr. Hardcastle in She Stoops to Counquer 

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.

  Character Analysis and Role of 
Sir Charles Marlow in She Stoops to Counquer 

Sir Charles Marlow /h2>

The father of Young Marlow and friend of Hardcastle. A respectable and aristocratic fellow from the town who believes his son is of very modest character.

  Character Analysis and Role of 
Charles Marlow in She Stoops to Counquer 

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.

  Character Analysis and Role of 
Hastings in She Stoops to Counquer 


Friend of Marlow’s, and lover of Constance Neville. A decent fellow who is willing to marry Constance even without her money.

  Character Analysis and Role of 
Tony Lumpkin in She Stoops to Counquer 

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.

  Character Analysis and Role of 
Diggory in She Stoops to Counquer 


A talkative, likeable servant with poor table manners and a broad sense of humor. Mr. Hardcastle attempts to teach Diggory and other field servants to serve at a formal table, with comic results. Diggory also delivers the letter which tells Tony that Hastings needs fresh horses in order to elope with Constance. Constance must read the letter aloud in front of her aunt. Realizing its contents, Constance pretends to read, instead fabricating a story about gambling. Tony’s interest in gaming causes him to hand the letter to his mother, which spoils the secret elopement.

  Character Analysis and Role of 
Mrs. Hardcastle in She Stoops to Counquer 

Mrs. Hardcastle

Matriarch of the Hardcastle family, most notable forbher pronounced vanity. She coddles her son Tony, and wants him to marry her niece Constance Neville.

  Character Analysis and Role of 
Kate Hardcastle in She Stoops to Counquer 

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 captivectongue so she can discover what he really thinks about her.

  Character Analysis and Role of 
Constance Neville in She Stoops to Counquer 

Constance Neville

Called “Miss Neville” in the play. Niece of Mrs. Hardcastle, an orphan whose only inheritance is a set of jewels in the care of her aunt. Her aunt wishes hercto marry Tony Lumpkin, but Constance wants to marry Hastings.

  Character Analysis and Role of 
Landlord in She Stoops to Counquer 


Landlord of the Three Pigeons, who welcomes Marlow and Hastings, and helps Tony to play his trick on them.

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 m 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 stagv( 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.

First Performance
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. Acting Approach
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.

Age of Sensibility
Many works written between 1750 and 1798
emphasized emotion and pathos, instead of drama and humor. The Sentimental comedy, called a comedy notvbecause of its humor but because it had a happyvending, ruled the stage. She Stoops to Conquer reacts against this tradition, for Goldsmith’s comedy actually evokes laughter. The prologue by Garrick and the epilogue by Goldsmith clearly situate the play as a challenge to sensibility, and positive audience responsebinitiated a new age in stage comedy.
Comedy of Manners While She Stoops to Conquer contains elements of farce, its comedy also stems from poking fun at the manners and conventions of aristocratic, sophisticated society.

In the concluding statement of She Stoops to Conquer , Goldsmith summarizes the plot and hopes that the comedy has conquered his audience as Kate hasconquered Marlow’s heart. Farce Many critics have described She Stoops to Conquer, a comedy…


Most of the action takes place in the Hardcastlemansion 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 eighteenth century.

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