In Oliver Goldsmith’s play She Stoops to Conquer, Kate Hardcastle is the most important character because she is the one who “stoops to conquer.” Kate is an upper-class lady, and her father wants her to marry an upper-class man named Charles Marlow. However, Marlow is timid and dismissive around women of his class, and Kate knows she will not be able to really get to know him if she is open about who she is. Marlow does speak openly and even vulgarly to women of lower classes, and he mistakes Kate for a barmaid. Kate pretends she is in fact a barmaid in order to get to know him. In doing so, she “stoops” to a lower social class and “conquers” him.
Kate’s actions reveal how socially constructed class distinctions can impact interpersonal relationships. The fact that she had to act like she was from a lower class to see Marlow’s true self shows how people disguise themselves to fit in. Kate stoops to get to know Marlow but in doing so is also concealing who she is. Goldsmith uses Kate’s experience to explore the idea of appearance versus reality in his society. He critiques the obsession with status in eighteenth-century Britain and shows how it can restrict authentic relationships.