Essays and Criticism
Advancements in the Era
Not accidentally, ages of great social change frequently leave behind great comedy. Oliver Goldsmith' s She Stoops to Conquer provokes laughter— often at situations that are quite serious. Parent/child relationships and marriage stand at the center of Goldsmith's play, as the characters attempt to strike some balance between authority and freedom, obedience and independence. While Goldsmith treats these themes lightheartedly, the play's humor conceals a somber undercurrent. By the time Goldsmith's play debuted in the late 18th century, England had undergone great political, economic, and social transformations. These changes created what came to be know as the "marriage market," which provides the backdrop for She Stoops to Conquer. Simply put, the comedy asks how, at a time when many people married for money rather than love, can marriage join people who are both economically and emotionally compatible?
During the 17th century, England's Civil War moved the nation from a government by strong monarchy to one which balanced power between king and parliament. A series of wars with the United Dutch Provinces and France positioned England's ascent as a colonial power. The agricultural and industrial revolution had brought progress. By the mid-18th century, England had become an increasingly prosperous nation occupying a central position on the world stage.
These changes did not occur without costs, however. The agricultural...
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Overview Originally Published in 1773
On Monday the 15th of this month [i.e. March] was first performed at this theatre a new comedy, called She Stoops to Conquer, or The Mistakes of a Night, written by Dr. Goldsmith...
Mr. Hardcastle is a plain honest country gentleman. His wife is well-meaning, but foolish and positive, and so indulgent to her son, Squire Lumpkin, that she has given him no education for fear of hurting his health. This Squire is quite a spoiled child, regardless of his mother, fond of low company, and full of mischievous humor. Miss Hardcastle is a lively and amiable young lady, whom her father is desirous of marrying to young Marlow the son of Sir Charles. This Marlow is a fashionable young fellow, who has constantly lived in the pleasures of the town; and by being accustomed to the company of courtesans only, is in great dread of modest women, and behaves in their presence with a very awkward bashfulness. Miss Neville is a niece of Mrs. Hardcastle's, has a good fortune, and lives in the family. It is the purpose of the relations to have this young lady married to Squire Lumpkin; but this couple have not the least regard for each other. On the contrary, the Squire is enamored with a vulgar country-beauty; and Miss Neville has a strong penchant for Mr. Hastings, the friend of Young Marlow. These two gentlemen had never been at Hardcastle's, but the former is expected every moment from London; and Hastings, by an agreement with Marlow, was to accompany...
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Prime Example of the Theatre Era From Which it Emerged
Oliver Goldsmith stands quite high in English literature, and a little apart, by reason of his three-pronged claims to recognition. There is his extremely famous poem, The Deserted Village; his extremely famous novel, The Vicar of Wakefield; his extremely famous play, She Stoops to Conquer. To have achieved three unquestioned classics that jointly run to about the length of an average-sized book is a notable example of how to travel down the ages with the lightest of luggage.
But though all three remain unquestioned classics, they no longer—if we are to be honest—enjoy a quite equal esteem or popularity. The Deserted Village has come to be a bit of a deserted poem. Certain of its lines and couplets have passed into the language, their authorship rather obscured; but the poem itself seems to be gradually passing out of circulation. Even as a high-school standby I suspect it is being replaced by something less pastoral and more vibrant. The Vicar of Wakefield has fared better, as it deserves to have done. For it has much of Goldsmith's kindliness and charm; and in any at all exhaustive journey through the English novel, one that stops at picturesque towns as well as populous cities, it must always have a place; it must, indeed— like Cranford, like Our Village—survive as the kind of minor work whose value rests on its being minor. Its voice may not carry far, or instantly rivet attention, but it is a...
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