The numerous mistakes that occur and build on previous ones are essential elements of Oliver Goldsmith’s comedy. Some of the characters' mistakes happen because other characters deliberately mislead them. However, Marlow and Hastings, the two friends who are hoping to make good impressions on the family of their potential spouses, also make errors of judgment and behavior that are not directly connected to such deceit. In the end, both young men end up with the women they desire, but not before some complex machinations and implausible misunderstandings.
Of all the characters, it is Marlow who makes the most mistakes. The first one is made in the company of Hastings. At they travel together, they run into a local man; only later do they learn that he is Tony Hardcastle. Their first mistake is to take the word of a stranger, as Tony finds it amusing to lie to them about their destination. He tells them that his father’s home is an inn where they can spend the night.
The next mistake is also made by both Marlow and Hastings. Arriving at the “inn,” they fail to ascertain its actual function. They compound this error by behaving disrespectfully to the supposed innkeeper. Later ,they will learn that he is Mr. Hardcastle, the father of Kate, the young woman that Marlow intends to impress as a potential suitor.
Marlow commits the third error on his own. Even though he expected to be introduced to a lovely young woman, he had not planned out his approach, so he is almost done in by his natural shyness. When he finally meets Kate, he makes a very poor impression.
Fortunately for him and his friend, the Hardcastles ultimately forgive them, especially when they realize that Tony had a hand in setting up the whole string of misunderstandings. It is Kate who takes the initiative by disguising herself as a lower-class woman who will not be intimidating, and she and Marlow end up making a match.