Charles Marlow, bashful with women of his own class but uninhibited with those of lower rank, is traveling to meet Kate Hardcastle, his prospective wife. He is accompanied by Hastings, who loves Constance Neville, a niece and ward of Kate’s mother.
When they stop at an alehouse for directions, Tony Lumpkin, Mrs. Hardcastle’s son, directs them for lodging to a supposed inn, which really is the Hardcastle home.
When they arrive, Hastings sees Miss Neville and learns that Tony duped them; however, he does not tell Marlow, thus setting the stage for Marlow’s pursuit of Kate, whom his father has chosen for him, but whom he thinks is a servant.
Hastings and Constance want to wed, but her aunt hopes to match Tony with the girl. Since Tony does not want to marry, he helps orchestrate Constance’s elopement.
In the final act, Tony again demonstrates that though illiterate, he is not an oaf, and he cleverly forestalls his mother’s attempt to remove Constance to another aunt for safekeeping. The arrival of Marlow’s father also moves the plot to its proper conclusion, for he and Hardcastle confront the young man with the real identity of the girl he has been wooing.
Mrs. Hardcastle finally releases Constance’s inheritance when Hardcastle’s revelation that Tony is of age enables the young man to renounce Constance as his prospective wife. All are reconciled and look forward to the two marriages.
Goldsmith’s play is a rejection of the morally uplifting sentimental comedy popular through much of the 18th century and a return to the older tradition of laughing comedy. Therefore, it is more closely related in subject matter and technique to Shakespeare’s comedies and those of the Restoration than to its 18th century predecessors.
Dixon, Peter. Oliver Goldsmith Revisited. Boston: Twayne, 1991. Solid introduction to Goldsmith’s work in general and She Stoops to Conquer in particular. Details the biographical episode that inspired Goldsmith to write the comedy and ties the play to Goldsmith’s theories on dramatic writing.
Quintana, Ricardo. Oliver Goldsmith: A Georgian Study. New York: Macmillan, 1967. Enthusiastic and graceful study of Goldsmith’s work. Places less emphasis on the drama itself and more on the circumstances surrounding the play’s production and theatrical success.
Sells, A. Lytton. Oliver Goldsmith: His Life and Works. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1974. Examines Goldsmith’s life and offers a chapter on his writing the play and the problems he faced presenting it on the London stage. Offers two chapters on Goldsmith the dramatist and critically scrutinizes She Stoops to Conquer.
Swarbrick, Andrew, ed. The Art of Oliver Goldsmith. London: Vision Press, 1984. Ten essays touching on all aspects of Goldsmith’s writings. Contains Bernard Harris’ engaging “Goldsmith in the Theatre,” examining Goldsmith’s dramatic career, theater philosophy, and difficulties in staging She Stoops to Conquer.
Worth, Katharine. Sheridan and Goldsmith. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992. Intelligent investigation of the playwriting careers of Oliver Goldsmith and Richard Brinsley Sheridan, with special attention given to Goldsmith’s intense dislike of the prevailing sentimental comedy. Long chapter on She Stoops to Conquer is an excellent discussion of the boisterous play.