Study Guide

She Stoops to Conquer

by Oliver Goldsmith

She Stoops to Conquer Themes

Themes

Appearances and Reality
Much of the comedy of Goldsmith's play depends on confusion between appearance and reality. After all, Marlow's misperception of Mr. Hardcastle's house as an 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 relax with 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. When Constance asks to wear her jewels, Mrs. Hardcastle lies and tells her they have been lost. Tony takes the jewels to give to Hastings, and when Mrs. Hardcastle goes to find them, they have been lost. Her lie has become true.

Sex Roles
In many ways, Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer satirizes the ways the eighteenth-century society believed that proper men and women ought to behave. While the play shows the traditional pattern of male-female relations in Hastings's wooing of Constance, it also reverses the era's sexual etiquette by having Kate pursue Marlow.

Goldsmith's comedy raises serious issues, however. On the eighteenth century's "marriage market, '' many people married for money, land, or title. This practice often turned women into commodities, to be exchanged...

(The entire section is 705 words.)