Last Updated on July 29, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 618
Today, we take it for granted that people marry for love. This was not always the case, however. During the 18th century, for example, parents— usually fathers—selected their daughters' prospective husbands. A young women had the right to refuse their choice, and parents rarely forced her to marry a man she found entirely unappealing. Still, young women rarely had the right to select their own husbands.
What is Goldsmith saying about this kind of arrangement? Does his play suggest that the right people end up married to their proper spouses? How would you feel about this kind of arrangement?
Further research might be done into the 18th century's "marriage market," and the ways in which women reacted to it. The novels of Frances Burney or Jane Austen offer suitable comparisons. More generally, since much of She Stoops to Conquer revolves around parent-child relationships, you might investigate how parents really related to their children during this time.
One thing that keeps Constance and Hastings apart is money. If she marries without Hardcastle's permission, she loses her inheritance of jewels. How important should money be in deciding whom and when to marry? Should couples be practical, or can people really live on love?
You might research 18th century property law, under which all control of a woman's money passed to her husband after marriage. Until the Married Women's Property Act of 1867, the law also made it impossible for a women to own anything, even custody of their children. Nor could women vote, hold office, or attend universities. You might examine that status of women during the 18th century. In many ways, the status of working- and lower-class men was not much better. Your research might compare and contrast their various conditions.
Even today, we still hear jokes about the city slicker and the country bumpkin. This common
comic theme began as soon as society became urbanized, starting with classical writers like Juvenal satirizing the inhabitants of ancient Rome. Goldsmith's play depends on this kind of culture clash, between London residents like Marlow and Hastings, and country gentry like Mr. and Mrs. Hardcastle. How does this theme of culture clash function in the play? What might it signify about love, society, and lifestyles?
Authors are not alone in exploring the tremendous changes which England experienced during the 18th century. Historians, social scientists, art historians, and anthropologists all work to uncover the complex web of related social changes. Select and research an aspect of this fascinating social upheaval. You might compare representations of English life in the paintings of Constable, Gainsborough, and Reynolds with the very different illustrations of Hogarth.
Constance's inheritance comes from an uncle who worked for the East India Company. During the 18th century, people called someone who returned wealthy from colonies in the East or West Indies a "nabob." Nabobs figure prominently in 18th century literature. You might examine the historical background of these people, then read a play or novel in which they play significant parts.
The comedy in She Stoops to Conquer results from a conflict between appearance and reality, between what things appear to be and what they are. We see this in Marlow's confusion of Hardcastle with an innkeeper and of Kate with a barmaid. In a sense, the action of the play revolves around Tony's lie, yet true love wins out in the end. What is Goldsmith saying about the role of honesty in society? How important and under what circumstances is it essential to be brutally honest? When do the ends justify the means? You might compare Goldsmith's play with a similar comedy by Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest, which treats being earnest (i.e. honest), among other things.
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