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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Act 1

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 489

Scene 1

Act 1 begins inside the Hardcastle manor. Mr. Hardcastle and Mrs. Hardcastle enter. The two argue about visiting town, to which Mrs. Hardcastle is inclined. Mr. Hardcastle, however, is against it. The two then talk about Tony, Mrs. Hardcastle’s son from her first marriage. Mr. Hardcastle berates Mrs. Hardcastle for raising Tony to be idle and ill-behaved. Mrs. Hardcastle tries to defend Tony, pointing out that he never had an education, as he is too sickly for school. Mr. Hardcastle then replies that the only schools Tony is willing to go to are the alehouse and the stables. Tony then enters.

Mrs. Hardcastle greets Tony affectionately and asks where he is off to. Tony replies that he is going to The Three Pigeons, an alehouse. Mrs. Hardcastle tries to persuade Tony not to go, but he brushes off his mother’s entreaties. Tony and Mrs. Hardcastle exit.

Miss Kate Hardcastle enters. She and Mr. Hardcastle talk about how the gentleman Mr. Hardcastle has chosen to be her suitor will be arriving soon. Mr. Hardcastle discloses that the gentleman is Charles Marlow, the son of Sir Charles Marlow, an old friend he holds in high esteem. He proceeds to list down the younger Marlow’s virtues: he is scholarly, generous, and very handsome. Kate is pleased at this. But she is less pleased when Mr. Hardcastle mentions that he is reserved as well, because she is suspicious of modesty. Mr. Hardcastle then announces that he must prepare his household and exits. Miss Constance Neville enters.

Constance asks Kate why she looks troubled, to which the latter replies that Marlow is to be her suitor. Constance then informs Kate that her admirer, Mr. George Hastings, is a close acquaintance of Marlow’s. The two then discuss how Mrs. Hardcastle is bent on marrying Constance off to Tony. Kate remarks that Mrs. Hardcastle wants to secure Constance’s small fortune, which consists of jewels. It is then revealed that Constance and Tony share a mutual hatred for each other but that Constance feigns affection for him in order to appease Mrs. Hardcastle. The afternoon bell rings. Kate and Constance exit.

Scene 2

The setting shifts to the interior of an alehouse. Tony, surrounded by his friends, sings a song he has composed. The landlord then enters, informing Tony that two foreigners are asking for directions to Mr. Hardcastle’s estate. Tony suspects one of them is the suitor his sister is expecting.

Marlow and Hastings enter. Without giving away his identity, Tony informs the two that Mr. Hardcastle’s estate is a long way off and that it would be best if they stopped for the night before continuing with their journey. He then directs them to a nearby inn. This is pure deception on Tony’s part, because the “inn” he directs them to is actually the Hardcastle manor itself. However, Marlow and Hastings believe Tony and proceed to Hardcastle manor.

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Act 2