How to justify the title "She Stoops To Conquer" and its sub title "The Mistakes of a Night"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator
  • Goldsmith's comedy itself "stooped to conquer" as its prologue pronounces that the play's purpose is solely to make the audience laugh, while at the same time, the presentation pokes fun of its author by using the term "Doctor" and the metaphor of "Five Draughts" for five acts since Goldsmith was rumored to have practiced medicine although he was not really a doctor: 

I give it up--morals won't do for me;
To make you laugh, I must play tragedy.
One hope remains--hearing the maid was ill,
A Doctor comes this night to show his skill.
To cheer her heart, and give your muscles motion,
He, in Five Draughts prepar'd, presents a potion:

In addition, the manager of Covent Garden, George Colman, who had anticipated failure for the play, was "conquered" by the immediate success of the comedy. Thus, Colman also made "mistakes of the night."

  • Within the play itself there are "mistakes of the night," especially the initial one of Marlow and Hastings believing that the home of the Hardcastles' is an inn.
  • Then, they do not conduct themselves with decorum to the gentleman, Mr. Hardcastle as they believe he is the innkeeper. They order the food they want, demand that their rooms be prepared, etc.
  • In Act III, Kate Hardcastle changes into the modest clothes that her father wishes her to wear in the evening, so she appears different from the lady whom Marlow has been introduced to by Miss Neville. With her father, she discusses the boorish behavior of young Marlow, but she also notes his shyness, "his mauvaise honte," as she calls it. As they converse, Kate senses something awry with Marlow's contradictory behavior to her father and to her.
  • When Kate discovers that Tony has deceived Marlow and Hastings, she decides to play some pranks of her own and disguises herself as a barmaid, knowing that Marlow, to whom she is attracted, is more relaxed when not in the company of gentlewomen. Learning more of Marlow's true personality in her guise as a barmaid, Kate realizes his better qualities as well, and she determines to make him her husband.

I never knew half his merit till now. He shall no go, if I have power or art to detain him. I'll still perderve the character in which I STOOPED TO CONQUER; but will undeceive my papa, who perhaps may laugh him out of his resolution (Act Four)

Therefore, "she stoops to conquer" as she places herself in a lower social position in order to win Marlow's heart and correct "the mistakes of a night" made between Marlow, Hastings, and her father.