Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
Hardcastle Mansion. This village dwelling is a substantially built house, which nevertheless must have been timbered and devoid of the familiar medieval stone turrets and towers that marked the castles of the nobility and the upper class. The mansion can be easily mistaken for a country inn. This mistaken identity of place represents the major theme of the play. The Englishman, especially the male, is a modern person for whom identity is always a question; a satisfactory resolution of identity depends on a wise marriage of the old and the new, in which both the man and the woman are strong characters. The complex nature of the house in the play symbolizes this theme.
Three Pigeons Inn
Three Pigeons Inn. Tavern whose taproom is the location where the plot of mistaken identity is planned by Tony Lumpkin, who is even more innovative in his notions of identity than the marrying couple of the play. Drinking and the carefree life of the tavern may represent future social change for Goldsmith, or at least his mockery of it in the play.
Feather-bed Lane. Bumpy road on which the wild roundabout ride in the final act of the play begins only to end in the pond. The comic chase represents again how revolutionary Goldsmith is with his suggestions of a changing British society, in which town and country values are tossed together.
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The late 18th century marked a period of great transition for England. Between 1640 and 1688, the nation fought a civil war, executed its king, and restored its monarchy; it then established a government which balanced power between monarch and parliament. England had also fought a series of wars with the United Dutch Provinces and France, setting the stage for English dominance as a colonial power. The American Revolution loomed on the horizon, but most historians agree that the loss of the colonies had limited political or economic impact. England became an increasingly prosperous nation occupying a central position on the world stage.
The Shift to Industrialism
That said, not everything in this transition went smoothly. The agricultural revolution had begun in the 16th century with developments in farming and animal husbandry. By the 18th century, these improvements resulted in generally greater supplies of higher-quality, lower-priced food. Still, hunger persisted because bad harvests, war, and inflation caused food supplies and prices to vary from region to region. Further, the change from a system of many small farms to fewer large farms drove many farmers off their land and into the factories created by the industrial revolution. Goldsmith's poem The Deserted Village elegizes one such village that became vacant as England shifted from an economy largely rural and agricultural to one more urban, based on manufacturing and trade....
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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 not because of its humor but because it had a happy ending, 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 response initiated 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 has conquered Marlow's heart.
Many critics have described She Stoops to Conquer, a comedy characterized by broad humor and outlandish incidents, as a farce.
Goldsmith uses foreshadowing to create expectations and explain subsequent developments. For example, Mrs. Hardcastle in act one describes their house as "an old rumbling mansion, that looks for all the world like an inn." This helps the audience understand what gave Tony the idea for his practical joke and explains...
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Compare and Contrast
1700s: During the 18th century, entirely arranged marriages were rare, but a young women rarely had the right to select a husband entirely on her own. More customary was for the father to select the prospective husband, while the daughter had the right to accept or refuse him. In She Stoops to Conquer, Mr. Hardcastle has selected Marlow, the son of an old friend, but he assures Kate he would never control her choice.
Today: The majority of people who marry make their own decisions and join together primarily for love.
1700s: India was a British colony ruled largely by the East India Company, for whom Constance's uncle was a director.
Today: India is one of the world's largest democracies.
1700s: Mr. Hardcastle complains that life in the country has changed since he was a young man and offers no protection against the corruption of London life. Better roads and coaches carry mail and newspapers, connecting the city and country. London fashions and manners infiltrate even rural estates.
Today: Many people live in suburbs which he between urban and rural areas. Not only mass transit, but mass media and the Internet connect communities throughout the world.
1700s: Mrs. Hardcastle's comment that "since inoculation began, there is no such thing to be seen as a plain woman" refers to the fact that, with advancing medical science and the advent of...
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Topics for Further Study
Today, we take it for granted that people marry for love. This was not always the case, however. During the 18th century, for example, parents— usually fathers—selected their daughters' prospective husbands. A young women had the right to refuse their choice, and parents rarely forced her to marry a man she found entirely unappealing. Still, young women rarely had the right to select their own husbands.
What is Goldsmith saying about this kind of arrangement? Does his play suggest that the right people end up married to their proper spouses? How would you feel about this kind of arrangement?
Further research might be done into the 18th century's "marriage market," and the ways in which women reacted to it. The novels of Frances Burney or Jane Austen offer suitable comparisons. More generally, since much of She Stoops to Conquer revolves around parent-child relationships, you might investigate how parents really related to their children during this time.
One thing that keeps Constance and Hastings apart is money. If she marries without Hardcastle's permission, she loses her inheritance of jewels. How important should money be in deciding whom and when to marry? Should couples be practical, or can people really live on love?
You might research 18th century property law, under which all control of a woman's money passed to her husband after marriage. Until the Married Women's Property Act of 1867, the law also...
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She Stoops to Conquer was adapted for film by Paul H. Cromelm in 1914.
It was also adapted into a one-act play in Schulenburg, Texas, in 1965.
Readings of Goldsmith's poems are included in a recording entitled Johnson, Goldsmith, Cowper, produced by Argo in 1972.
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What Do I Read Next?
Students who enjoy reading Shakespeare might want to consider two of his plays which treat themes similar to those in Goldsmith's play, in particular love and the problems faced by young lovers whose marriage has been forbidden by parents. Critics see resemblances between Goldsmith's Kate and Rosalind, the heroine of Shakespeare's 1599 comedy As You Like It. Both plays feature smart and spirited women and both create comedy from forbidden loves, disguises, and mistaken identities.
Those preferring tragedy might prefer Shakespeare's 1595 Romeo and Juliet, in which parental interference with the lover's plans for marriage leads to suicide and death. Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim successfully adapted Romeo and Juliet for the musical theatre in West Side Story.
Like Goldsmith's play, Frances Burney's 1778 epistolary novel Evelina, or a Young Lady's Entrance into the World also portrays the eighteenth century's Britain's marriage market. It recounts the heroine's introduction into London society and explores the ways love and marriage influence female identity.
In Mary Wollstonecraft's Mana, or, The Wrongs of Woman, late eighteenth-century England's marriage market leads a naive, sincere young women to destruction. Until the Married Women's Property Act of 1867, women who married lost control over their property under a legal convention known as "coverture.1' In this short, fragmentary,...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Bevis, Richard. "Oliver Goldsmith" in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 89: Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Dramatists, Third Series, edited by Paula R. Backscheider, Gale, 1989. pp 150-69.
Presents extensive information about Goldsmith's life and how it relates to his writings. Traces Goldsmith's career from student to journalist to novelist, playwright, and poet, with discussion of all the major and much minor work.
Kroenberger, Louis Introduction to She Stoops to Conquer; or, The Mistakes of a Night, by Oliver Goldsmith, Heritage, 1964, pp. v-xi.
Kroenberger discusses reasons for the continued popularity of Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer, which he attributes particularly to its farcical elements.
Styan, JL "Goldsmith's Comic Skills" in Costerus, Vol 9, 1973, pp. 195-217
Styan situates Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer within the context of restoration and sentimental comedy, and analyzes the elements that contributes to the play's dramatic and comedic success. These elements include Goldsmith's manipulation of farce, absurdity, and exaggeration, and the creation of characters who must themselves act different parts (for example, Kate acts first as a dutiful daughter, then as a barmaid) Finally, Styan considers Goldsmith's development as a playwright, comparing the successful She Stoops to Conquer with the earlier, less successful The Good-Natur'd Man.
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
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...
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