Why did Oliver Goldsmith develop the theme of hypocrisy in She Stoops to Conquer?
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The theme of hypocrisy in this play is evident through the way that Goldsmith criticises the social mores of his day surrounding courtship and marriage. He does this through having two sets of lovers. One set, Hastings and Constance, model the traditional and expected way of courtship, with Hastings wooing Constance. In the other, Kate challenges the norms of relationships by being the one to woo Marlow. However, in spite of the comedy of the situation, there is a much more serious message behind it. In the 18th century, marriage was not a matter of feelings alone, and often material concerns overruled emotions to a great extent. It was all too easy for women to be viewed not on their own merits but on the wealth, land or position that came with them. Note how this view is evident through the presentation of Mrs. Hardcastle and her insistence that Constance marry her own son. In the following quotation, Kate explains to Constance (and the audience) why Mrs. Hardcastle is so keen to press Tony upon Constance:
A fortune like yours is no small temptation. Besides, as she has the sole management of it, I'm not surprised to see her unwilling to let it go out of the family.
Hypocrisy is therefore evident in the way that marriage is presented as being, in some cases, more about material gain than anything else. This was a very important aspect of 18th century society, and it is clear that Goldsmith wished to parody the situation through this comedy.
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