Illustration of Kate Hardcastle in high society attire on the left, and dressed as a barmaid on the right

She Stoops to Conquer

by Oliver Goldsmith
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In She Stoops to Conquer, what does Oliver Goldsmith say about that kind of marriage that is settled between Kate and Marlowe?

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It is clear that this comedy, at least in part, is a satirical take on the expected gender relations of Goldsmith's day. Instead of having a woman who is pursued by a man, Kate represents a reversal of sex roles as it is she who pursues Marlowe, and this relationship is juxtaposed by the more traditional relationship between Hastings and Constance. At every stage, the audience is presented with the assertiveness of Kate in her determination to reach her goal and pursue Marlowe, and then also her determination to have her parents agree to the match. Note how in Act V scene 1 it is she who suggests the means by which Sir Charles and Hardcastle can see the truth of Marlowe's love for her:

Then what, sir, if I shold convince you to your face of my sincerity? If you and my papa, in about half an hour, will place yourselves behind that screen, you shall hear him declare his passion to me in person.

At every stage, Kate is a character who expresses determination and shows herself to be confident and in control of the situation, moving around both Marlow and her elders as she wills in order to achieve her goal. Although the marriage between her and Marlowe is a radical departure from the normal method of courtship, at the same time it does make serious comments about marriage as a social institution that is more about the acquisition of wealth and power than love and also it also comments about social class. Kate's willingness to "stoop" so she can "conquer" Marlowe says a lot about her understanding of how society operates and also her own resourcefulness as a strong, dominant female. Although this kind of marriage would never have occurred in Goldsmith's time, it is clear that Goldsmith is using this marriage to comment critically on the function of marriage.

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