The play She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith is set in the countryside home of Mr. and Mrs. Hardcastle, who have differing views on city life. Mrs. Hardcastle longs to experience the excitement of London, while Mr. Hardcastle prefers the peaceful rural existence. Their disagreement sparks arguments between them.
The main focus of the play is on the romantic entanglements of their children. They have a daughter named Kate and Mrs. Hardcastle’s son, Tony Lumpkin, as well as a niece named Constance Neville.
Mrs. Hardcastle wants Tony to marry Constance, who is in possession of valuable jewels. However, neither Tony nor Constance desires this union. Constance is in love with Hastings, who lives in London, while Tony has feelings for a local girl named Bett Bouncer. To deceive Mrs. Hardcastle, Tony and Constance pretend to be in love and then fall out of love.
Meanwhile, Mr. Hardcastle arranges a match between his daughter Kate and Charles Marlow, the son of his friend Sir Charles Marlow from London. Kate becomes interested in the match, while Marlow, who is shy around upper-class women, becomes more confident and boastful around women of lower social status. He is reluctant about the trip but is accompanied by his friend Hastings, who plans to elope with Constance during their visit.
Upon arriving in the countryside, the visitors get lost and seek directions at an alehouse where they encounter Tony. Unintentionally insulting him, Tony decides to seek revenge by directing them to Mr. and Mrs. Hardcastle’s house, pretending it is an inn. This misinformation leads to a series of comedic misunderstandings, including Mr. Hardcastle being mistaken for a barman and Kate pretending to be a barmaid to win Marlow’s affection.
Tony plays practical jokes, particularly on his mother, Mrs. Hardcastle. The attempts at matchmaking have different outcomes: Mrs. Hardcastle’s attempt fails, while Mr. Hardcastle’s succeeds, and Tony is free to pursue his love interest, Bett Bouncer.
She Stoops to Conquer explores two main themes. Firstly, it emphasizes the importance of adapting to societal changes over time, as reflected in the play’s setting. The play depicts a clash between the city and the countryside regarding the issue of marriage. In the city, individuals typically choose their marriage partners based on romantic relationships. In contrast, parents in the countryside often dictate whom their children should marry, as exemplified by Mrs. Hardcastle’s insistence on arranging a marriage between her son, Squire Tony Lumpkin, and her niece, Miss Constance Neville.
The play highlights the contrasting perspectives between urban and rural areas, suggesting that parents should abandon the practice of forcing marriage partners on their children. Instead, they should provide guidance and counseling to help them make informed choices, as seen in the agreement between Mr. Hardcastle and his daughter, Kate Hardcastle.
Secondly, the play emphasizes the significance of leading a good and morally upright life for both young and old individuals, regardless of their location or time period. Goldsmith asserts that piety and moral uprightness are key to achieving success in life.
She Stoops to Conquer is set in the 18th century European countryside near London. The physical setting reflects an agrarian environment where farming and related occupations are central to people’s livelihoods. Transportation is primarily done on foot or using animals such as horses and bulls.
The social setting of the play takes place during the romantic age in Europe. People express their actions, beliefs, and ideas with strong emotions. In cities, individuals have the freedom to choose their marital partners without being constrained by customs or traditions. The character Miss Constance Neville exemplifies this social setting as she resists an arranged marriage and follows her own desires.
In the countryside, communities adhere to long-standing customs and Christian values. Moral deficiency is frowned upon, and individuals are expected to be virtuous and principled. The character Squire Tony Lumpkin represents the failure to meet these moral standards, as he is accused of being spoiled by his mother and deemed morally bankrupt by the community.
The psychological setting of the play explores various aspects of human behaviour. Oliver Goldsmith emphasizes the importance of self-respect, open-mindedness, accommodation, and generosity. Characters like Mr. Hardcastle embody these virtues. Miss Kate Hardcastle serves as a model of moral excellence with her obedience, intelligence, tenderness, rationality, and perseverance.
On the other hand, characters such as Mrs. Hardcastle and Squire Tony Lumpkin illustrate vices like wickedness, covetousness, gullibility, irrationality, stealing, addiction to alcohol, laziness, treachery, mischief, and disrespectfulness.