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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She Stoops to Conquer Characters

The main characters in She Stoops to Conquer are Charles Marlow, Kate Hardcastle, Constance Neville, George Hastings, Richard Hardcastle, Tony Lumpkin, and Dorothy Hardcastle.

  • Charles Marlow is Kate's suitor. He is timid around ladies but bold with working girls.
  • Kate Hardcastle is a clever young woman with social ambitions.
  • Constance Neville is Kate's best friend and, at Dorothy Hardcastle's urging, Tony's fiancée.
  • George Hastings is Marlow's reckless best friend and Constance's suitor.
  • Richard Hardcastle is an old-fashioned gentleman and Kate's father.
  • Tony Lumpkin is Mrs. Hardcastle's spoiled son. He likes to drink and prank.
  • Dorothy Hardcastle is a commanding woman who has a hand in her children's affairs.


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Charles Marlow

Charles Marlow is Sir Charles Marlow’s son and Kate Hardcastle’s love interest. He admits early on that his visitation is motivated mostly by the desire to give his friend Hastings an occasion to elope with Constance.

Ironically, despite being the romantic leading man, Marlow is perhaps the main victim of the play. Almost every other character at some point devises or participates in some deception on him, and he alone seems to pay for these deceptions. His main problem is his inability to reconcile the multiple fronts he puts up with different people. In contrast to Tony, who means more or less the same thing to everyone, Marlow means something different to each character: to Hastings, he is a loyal and good friend; to Kate, he is a stammering gentleman; to Kate the bar-maid, he is a bold casanova; to Mr. Hardcastle, he is simply impudent.

Marlow has spent most of his life residing at inns and colleges, and this is why he is nervous around upper-class women, whom he doesn’t have much experience with.

Kate Hardcastle

Kate Hardcastle is the daughter of Richard Hardcastle from his previous marriage and, alongside Marlow, one of the romantic leads of the play. She is shown to be dutiful but also creative enough to sway disadvantageous situations to her favor. Having lived a year or two in town, she has an interest in contemporary fashion. She is the character who eponymously “stoops to conquer,” because she willingly plays the part of a barmaid in order to win Marlow over with her charm.

Constance Neville

Constance is the orphaned cousin of Tony and the best friend of Kate. Her given name, which invokes constancy, stability, and resilience, is made manifest in her ability to remain devoted to her long-time suitor, George Hastings, and her ability to remain pragmatic and level-headed despite being immured by an aunt who wishes to impound her fortune.

She was engaged to Hastings prior to her father’s death but is now forced to feign affection for Tony under her aunt Dorothy’s watch. Her dramatic situation and serious nature is a foil to Kate’s lighthearted situation and creative nature. Her pragmatism and patience also contrast with the character of Hastings, who, as his name suggests, tends to be hasty.

George Hastings

George Hastings is the suitor of Constance Neville and a close friend of Marlow. His plot to extricate Constance forms half of the play’s central story. He has a social fluidity and ease that his friend Marlow lacks. His fantasy of eloping with hardly any money betrays his romantic and—true to his surname—hasty nature.

Richard Hardcastle

True to his surname, which evokes firmness and regard for one’s home, Richard Hardcastle is a traditionalist who is firm in his dealings with his family and his estate. However, he is also tolerant and kind. This can be seen in his easy-going relationship with his servants, his daughter Kate (with whom he is willing to bargain receptively), and his stepson, Tony (whom he grumbles about but never restricts). This also proves true later in the play in his reactions to Marlow’s deluded actions. Although Mr. Hardcastle perceives Marlow’s behavior as impudence, he is nevertheless patient while demonstrating a firm limit. When he understands the cause of Marlow’s attitude, he has the good humor to forego any grudges and instead laugh about it.

His rural conservatism provides the basis for certain misunderstandings: His old-fashioned mansion (as his wife complains) looks like an inn, and his insistence that his daughter Kate should wear plain clothes leads her to be mistaken for a barmaid.

(This entire section contains 995 words.)

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His rural conservatism provides the basis for certain misunderstandings: His old-fashioned mansion (as his wife complains) looks like an inn, and his insistence that his daughter Kate should wear plain clothes leads her to be mistaken for a barmaid.

Tony Lumpkin

Tony’s surname, “Lumpkin,” refers to a clumsy, unintelligent person and in sound is reminiscent of “bumpkin.” He is the son of Dorothy Hardcastle from her first marriage and the stepson of Richard Hardcastle. He is well-off, owing to an annuity paid out by his birth father, which allows him to pursue his country pleasures freely, with little concern for his future prospects. He is also illiterate and sickly, and he resents his mother’s controlling nature. Most notably, he criticizes her habit of lacing his food with mood-altering medication. 

Most of the characters in the play (except for his mother) hold a negative view of him as a profligate and idle troublemaker. For the first acts of the play, Tony does lend himself well to that impression. Contrary to this “witless and unhelpful” name, however, Tony serves both as the play’s fool and its unlikely hero. He can be viewed as the prime mover of the play, as his tricks are what set the central conflicts into motion. He also later proves to be a key force in the deliverance of Constance from Mrs. Hardcastle.

Dorothy Hardcastle

Dorothy is the doting mother of Tony Lumpkin and the closest thing the play has to an antagonist. She is highly interested in London society and contemporary fashion, but, unlike Marlow or Kate, displays an apparent inability to discern what is fashionable or not. This ties in thematically with her poor ability to see through appearances, which is a notable disadvantage in a play that is about making up appearances. For example, she makes vain attempts to lie about her own age (and also about Tony’s age). In her conversations with Hastings, her understanding of contemporary fashion is hinted at as being poor, and she falls for Hastings’s obvious flattery. She suspects nothing of Constance and Hastings’s plot until she reads a letter which flatly lays it out. She remains clueless as to what people really think of her (like Hastings, who refers to her as “the hag”). Finally, during the climax of the play, she is misled about the region around her own estate and mistakes even her own husband for a highwayman. This final mistake can be read as an indication of her acquisitve, greedy nature.