Characterisation in Oliver Goldsmith’s “She Stoops to Conquer”

Mrs. Hardcastle is the wife of Mr. Hardcastle and the mother to Kate Hardcastle and Tony Lumpkin. She had had Tony in her previous marriage.

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The characters in Oliver Goldsmith‘s She Stoops to Conquer are Miss Kate Hardcastle, Mr Hardcastle, Mrs Hardcastle, Tony Lumpkin, Sir Charles Marlow, Young Marlow, George Hastings, Miss Constance Neville, Diggory, and Maid.

Miss Kate Hardcastle

Miss Kate Hardcastle is the well-bred and well-educated daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Hardcastle. She plays a pivotal role in Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer.

Although she primarily resides in the countryside, she has had some exposure to city life, which her father humorously acknowledges. Kate is depicted as a sensible and stable lady, blending the sophistication of city life with the natural simplicity of rural life.

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Kate’s physical appearance and dressing hold significant importance in the drama. Her father, Mr. Hardcastle, frequently comments on her lavish dressing, expressing disapproval of the “superfluous silk” she adorns. However, Kate cleverly defends her attire, explaining that she dresses as she pleases during the day but adheres to her father’s wishes by donning plain housewear in the evening.

Upon the arrival of Marlow and Hastings, Kate is out for a walk, and when she returns, she wears a bonnet and casual attire. During the first interview with Marlow, he does not look at her face, as the bonnet partially obscures it. This leads to Marlow later mistaking her for a barmaid, believing the two women are different personalities. Kate’s appearance and mannerisms are deliberately employed to “stoop to conquer” Marlow’s natural bashfulness.

As an obedient daughter, Kate accepts her father’s choice of a husband and prepares herself for Marlow’s arrival from London. During their initial interview, she is understanding and supportive, trying to alleviate Marlow’s nervousness and timidity.

Kate ingeniously seizes upon the opportunity when her own maid points out Marlow’s misconception of her identity as a barmaid. She uses this to her advantage in the last interview, where Marlow passionately woos her, believing her to be the housekeeper. This pivotal moment marks the climax of the play.

With Marlow’s timidity conquered, he gains the courage to ask for Kate’s acceptance, while Hastings supports the plea, assuring her that Marlow genuinely loves her. Kate and Marlow are ultimately united in matrimony by Mr. Hardcastle.

Despite being less active than Tony Lumpkin, Kate emerges as the most significant character in the play. The real title, “She Stoops to Conquer,” designates her as the heroine, as she plays a central role in curing Marlow’s shyness through her cunning and wit. While Tony’s mischief aids her efforts, it is Kate’s intelligence and resourcefulness that make her the true heroine of the play.

Kate embodies the sensible and balanced lady, blending the best of both city and rural lifestyles. Her mode of dressing symbolizes this combination of sophistication and simplicity. Additionally, she exemplifies the obedient daughter who actively cooperates to make the match between her and Marlow possible.

Mr Hardcastle

Mr. Hardcastle is the loving and humorous father of the spirited heroine, Miss Kate Hardcastle, and devoted husband to Mrs. Hardcastle. He is also Tony Lumpkin’s stepfather.

He exudes a sense of antiquity with his conservative outlook and deep attachment to rural life. He finds comfort in everything old, dressing in traditional attire and wearing a wig to conceal his baldness, which his wife often laments.

Mrs. Hardcastle playfully refers to him as a “piece of antiquity,” but despite their occasional disagreements, Mr. Hardcastle remains fair-minded and compassionate.

In arranging a match for his daughter, he considers Kate’s feelings, assuring her that he will never impose his choice on her. However, he introduces her to Mr. Marlow, the son of his dear London friend, Sir Charles Marlow, whom he speaks highly of.

As the expected guests from the city arrive, Mr. Hardcastle diligently prepares his awkward and confused servants to be as polite as possible, though they struggle to meet the expectations. When mistaken for an innkeeper by Marlow and Hastings, he tries to maintain his temper, but eventually, he reaches his limit and almost ejects them, but Kate intervenes and sets things right.

Later, when old Sir Charles visits, Mr. Hardcastle and Sir Charles secretly eavesdrop on Kate and Marlow to discover the truth about their relationship.

During the fruitless trip in which Mrs. Hardcastle mistakes him for a highwayman, Mr. Hardcastle calmly brings her back to her senses by pointing out familiar landmarks.

Ultimately, he plays a crucial role in rescuing Tony and Miss Neville from Mrs. Hardcastle’s oppression, revealing Tony’s true age and ensuring Miss Neville’s rights to her jewels.

Mr. Hardcastle’s humour adds to the play’s charm, especially evident in his banter with Mrs. Hardcastle. Furthermore, his actions contribute to the successful union of the play’s lovers. By revealing Tony’s age, he paves the way for Constance and Hastings to be together, while also facilitating the union between Kate and Marlow.

Mrs Hardcastle

Mrs. Hardcastle is the wife of Mr. Hardcastle and the mother to Kate Hardcastle and Tony Lumpkin. She had had Tony in her previous marriage.

Mrs. Hardcastle is around forty years old. She is a proud, fashionable, and extravagant woman. She loves the city of London and speaks highly of the city, even though she has never been there.

Her materialistic nature shines through as she obsessively clings to the idea of retaining Miss Neville’s valuable jewels within the family. She constantly disagrees with her husband on various matters, such as the virtues and vices of city life and her son Tony’s behaviour. She yearns for occasional trips to the city to “rub off the rust a little,” but Mr. Hardcastle is content with his rural lifestyle.

To protect her material interests, she plots a match between her son Tony and her niece Constance, hoping to secure Constance’s fortune through the jewels. When Tony temporarily steals the jewels, she nearly loses her sanity with rage but is relieved when they are eventually recovered.

When she discovers the elopement plot through a note from Hastings to Tony, she immediately decides to thwart the lovers’ plans by taking Constance on a forty-mile journey to Aunt Pedigree’s place, with Tony driving the coach. However, Tony takes her for a ride, circling the house and ending up in the horse-pond. She mistakes her husband for a highwayman during this escapade.

Even after presuming that the lovers have eloped, she remains unperturbed as long as she retains possession of the jewels, stating that Constance’s fortune still comforts her for Constance’s loss.

However, her deceptive actions are brought to light when Mr. Hardcastle reveals Tony’s true age at the end of the play. This revelation leads to the forfeiture of her rights to the jewels and the failure of her plan to match Tony and Constance. The play concludes with her in a dejected state.

Mrs. Hardcastle’s poor upbringing of Tony contributes to his mischief, and the pair’s indulgence in each other’s whims exacerbates the situation. Mr. Hardcastle humorously refers to them as “a pair that only spoil each other.”

As a foil to Mr. Hardcastle, Mrs. Hardcastle embodies excessive passion for city life and its allure, thereby highlighting the town-versus-country theme present in the play.

While often appearing simple-minded, especially in falling for Tony’s tricks, she symbolizes greed and materialism as she prioritizes possession of the jewels over Miss Neville’s marital happiness.

While her conduct is often ridiculous, Mrs. Hardcastle remains rather serious for a comedy, ending as the sole unhappy character. Her prominent role in various instances of dramatic irony adds depth and humor to the play. 

Tony Lumpkin

Tony Lumpkin is a lively and mischievous character in Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer. He is the son of Mrs. Hardcastle from her previous marriage.

At the start of the play, he is presented as being almost twenty years old, just shy of the age of discretion, which is 21. However, towards the end, it is revealed that Tony has actually turned 21 three months ago, and his mother has been hiding his true age for her own materialistic reasons.

Tony’s mischievous nature is evident from the beginning when he heads to his favorite ale-house, the Three Jolly Pigeons, despite his mother’s restrictions. Inside the ale-house, he leads a song when Marlow and Hastings enter seeking directions. Feeling offended by Marlow’s remarks about Mr. Hardcastle’s “son,” he decides to misdirect them without revealing his true identity.

In a plot to deceive his mother, Tony pretends to fall in and out of love with Constance, aiming to thwart his mother’s plans to arrange a match between them to keep Constance’s valuable jewels within the family.

He becomes involved in aiding Hastings and Constance with their elopement plan by stealing the jewels, though his mishandling of Hastings’ letter leads to its ruin. To make amends, Tony takes his mother and Miss Neville on a deceptive journey around the house, culminating in a frightening horse-pond ride that terrifies the women.

Tony takes great pleasure in teasing and taunting his mother, a reaction to her denial of his rights and privileges, even if he hasn’t fully attained the age of discretion as she claims. After the horse-pond incident, he retorts to his angry mother, “Mother, all the parish says you have spoil’d me, and so you may take the fruits on’t,” expressing his sense of justice.

When finally informed that he has been of age for the past three months, Tony exercises his freedom by formally rejecting Constance, allowing her to claim her jewels and marry whoever she chooses. This decision also gives him the freedom to pursue his own romantic interest, Bett Bouncer.

Tony proves to be the most active character, scheming and devising one plan after another, except for the occasional tactless handling of sensitive matters.

With a rustic wit that outshines city wisdom, Tony masterfully makes a fool of Marlow and, to a lesser extent, Hastings, the London visitors. He becomes the central figure in various instances of dramatic irony throughout the play.

Considering the alternative title, “The Mistakes of A Night,” Tony emerges as the hero, as most of the mistakes are of his making. While the mistakes themselves are not significant, they play a crucial role in advancing the cause of the lovers in the play and allow Kate to seize the opportunities they create to conquer Marlow.

Sir Charles Marlow

Sir Charles Marlow is an esteemed elderly gentleman who hails from the bustling city of London. He is the father of Young Charles Marlow and a friend to Mr Hardcastle.

To set the wheels of love in motion, Sir Charles pens a letter to Mr. Hardcastle, residing in the serene countryside, announcing his intent to send his son, Young Charles Marlow, on a visit.

The purpose of this visit is to foster a potential match between their offspring — the charming Young Marlow and the lovely Miss Kate Hardcastle. Sir Charles enthusiastically promises to follow soon after his son embarks on this romantic adventure.

Upon his arrival at the Hardcastle residence, Sir Charles is unaware that his son has already encountered some amusing mishaps. Young Marlow has made two blunders, but he remains blissfully unaware of Miss Kate Hardcastle’s true identity.

In the company of Mr. Hardcastle, Sir Charles shares hearty laughter over his son’s initial missteps and the imperious tone with which Young Marlow issued his “sublime commands.”

As doubts arise regarding the truthfulness of Young Marlow and Miss Hardcastle’s statements about their courtship, Miss Hardcastle devises a clever plan. Sir Charles and Mr. Hardcastle willingly accept her suggestion to conceal themselves behind a screen and listen as Young Marlow passionately professes his love to her in person.

The ingenious scheme succeeds, and they witness Young Marlow on bended knee, ardently declaring his affection for Kate, whom he still believes to be a mere housekeeper. Unable to contain himself any longer, Sir Charles emerges from his hiding spot and affectionately addresses his son, exclaiming,

Charles, Charles, how hast thou deceived me! Is this your indifference, your uninteresting conversation?

She Stoops to Conquer

While Sir Charles makes his physical appearance only in the last act, the audience is well prepared for his arrival from the play’s outset. As the initiator of the plot, sending Young Marlow to woo Kate at the Hardcastles’ abode, Sir Charles plays a crucial role in propelling the story’s action forward. His arrival injects fresh energy into the unfolding events and significantly contributes to the play’s impactful climax.

He stays on to witness the joyous union of the two couples at the play’s conclusion, sealing the tale with a heartwarming conclusion.

Young Marlow

Young Marlow, the son of the esteemed Sir Charles Marlow, is a product of the vibrant city of London. Possessing a fine education and promising career prospects, he is highly regarded by Mr. Hardcastle as a man of excellent understanding – generous, young, brave, remarkably handsome, and yet, paradoxically, one of the most bashful and reserved young gentlemen in existence. This complex personality defines Young Marlow throughout the story.

At his father’s behest, Young Marlow embarks on a journey to the countryside to visit the family of the woman chosen to be his wife. Although obedient, he undertakes the trip with reluctance, determined to maintain his usual cold and formal demeanor towards Kate, as he does with high-class ladies. “I don’t think I shall venture to look in her face until I see my father’s again,” he admits.

To avoid facing the challenges alone, he brings his close friend Hastings along, both to support him and to play a role in fostering a relationship between Hastings and Miss Neville.

However, their journey takes an unexpected turn when they encounter Tony Lumpkin at an ale-house. The mischievous Tony misdirects them to the home of the Hardcastles, tricking them into believing it’s an inn.

While Hastings quickly sees through the illusion, Young Marlow remains deceived for a prolonged period, gradually discovering the truth. Even after realizing that the house is not an inn and Mr. Hardcastle is not an innkeeper (hence, Kate is not a barmaid), he continues to view her as a mere housekeeper, treating her as a woman of low social status, until he is eventually caught in the act of wooing her.

This transformative experience pushes Young Marlow out of his shell, enabling him to overcome his shyness and find the courage to ask for Kate’s hand in marriage towards the play’s conclusion. Mr. Hardcastle wholeheartedly supports their union, joyfully bringing them together.

Young Marlow becomes the primary victim of Tony Lumpkin’s mischief, enduring the longest deception in the play. Alongside Mrs. Hardcastle, he bears the brunt of Tony’s tricks, yet emerges with newfound self-assurance and love for Kate.

Indeed, it is Kate’s clever maneuver, “stooping to conquer,” that enables Young Marlow to win her heart. He becomes the subject of dramatic irony throughout the play, and while he is initially deceived, he ultimately benefits from the series of amusing events that lead to his transformation and a happy ending.

George Hastings

He is a very intimate friend of Young Marlow and the real lover of Miss Constance Neville.

Hastings follows Young Marlow on the trip to the Hardcastles partly to give him moral support (since Marlow is an extremely shy lover), but mainly to gain access to the house of Mr and Mrs Hardcastle where his lover, Miss Neville, lives.

He and Young Marlow are misled by Tony Lumpkin, but he gets out of the illusion as soon as he makes his first contact with his lover. He suggests to Constance that Marlow should remain deceived to give them enough time to plan their elopement:

In the meantime, my friend Marlow must not be let into his mistake. I know the strange reserve of his temper is such, that if abruptly informed of it, he would instantly quit the house before our plan was ripe for execution.

She Stoops to Conquer

His decision to keep Marlow in ignorance of the initial mistake caused by Tony makes him an active collaborator with Tony in the game of deceit. This leads to other errors and prolongs Marlow’s period of illusion.

When Tony hands over the stolen jewels to him, he sends them to Marlow through a servant without letting Marlow into his secret plans. Marlow does what he thinks most appropriate in the circumstances: sends the jewels to the management of the “inn” for safe keeping. The recovery of the jewels by Mrs Hardcastle is a result of the communication gap between Hastings and Marlow.

Hastings next writes a secret letter to Tony to ask for a fresh pair of horses to assist him and Constance in their elopement bid. The letter, unfortunately, falls into the hands of Mrs Hardcastle because of the tactless handling by Tony, and the elopement plan is ruined.

However, with Tony’s help he is saved the agony of physical separation from Miss Neville as planned by Mrs Hardcastle. Tony’s formal rejection of Miss Neville also paves the way for the union between her and Hastings.

He illustrates the idea of true love which has no room for material considerations. He tries a number of times to convince Constance to leave the jewels behind without success.

Miss Constance Neville

Miss Constance Neville is the niece of Mrs. Hardcastle and cousin to Miss Kate Hardcastle. She plays a significant role in Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer. She is also the lover of Hastings, but her legal control rests with Mrs. Hardcastle since her father’s passing. Constance finds herself entangled in a predicament where her valuable jewels are under Mrs. Hardcastle’s custody, and the only way she can regain them is if Tony formally rejects her, which can only happen if he is of age.

Despite staying with the Hardcastles in the countryside, Constance has some exposure to city life. She intimates to Kate about the closeness between Hastings and Marlow, noting Marlow’s modesty among women of reputation but contrasting behaviour among others.

To deceive Mrs. Hardcastle and bide her time for freedom, Constance engages in a game of mock courtship with Tony. When the elopement plan is exposed, she is taken on a tumultuous ride with Tony and Mrs. Hardcastle, ending up in the horse-pond.

Throughout the play, Constance wrestles with the decision between staying for her jewels and eloping with Hastings. Eventually, she seeks Mr. Hardcastle’s assistance to escape Mrs. Hardcastle’s oppression. Mr. Hardcastle resolves the situation by revealing Tony’s true age, enabling him to formally reject Constance and allowing her to marry Hastings without forfeiting her valuable jewels.

Miss Neville’s “stooping” in the play takes a different form and reason compared to Miss Hardcastle. She stoops to deception and pretends to love Tony to evade Mrs. Hardcastle’s oppression. However, her steadfastness in love remains evident as she remains true to Hastings, choosing him despite material considerations.

Diggory

Diggory is a servant in Mr. Hardcastle’s household. He typically works in the barn but is assigned to be a waiter for the expected guests from the city, Marlow and Hastings.

Mr. Hardcastle tries to teach Diggory and the other servants proper decorum and polite behavior for the occasion, but they seem to get even more confused.

Diggory tends to talk more than the other servants, prompting Mr. Hardcastle to warn him about being too chatty. But Diggory humorously replies, “By the laws, your worship, that’s perfectly unpossible. Whenever Diggory sees yeating going forward, he’s always wishing for a mouthful himself.”

He plays a crucial role in the plot when he delivers Hastings’ letter to Tony regarding the elopement plan. Despite Tony’s request to hand the letter to his mother, Mrs. Hardcastle, Diggory insists on following the given instructions. The letter later falls into Mrs. Hardcastle’s hands due to Tony’s clumsiness.

Among the servants, Diggory is highlighted as the most important and humorous character, adding to the comedic elements with his funny remarks and actions.

Diggory serves as a vital link between Hastings and Tony concerning the elopement letter, which, unfortunately, comes to the knowledge of Mrs. Hardcastle due to Tony’s mistake.

Maid

Maid is one of Miss Hardcastle’s maidservants.

She draws Miss Hardcastle’s attention to the fact that Marlow has mistaken her true identity. She informs Miss Hardcastle, “But what is more, Madam, the young gentleman as you passed by in your present dress, asked me if you were the barmaid? He mistook you for the barmaid, Madam.”

When Miss Hardcastle decides to use this mistake to her advantage and deceive Marlow further, the Maid inquires about her intentions. Miss Hardcastle explains that she hopes to gain three things: to instill confidence in Marlow so he can look at her face without hesitation, to initiate a relationship between them, and to have the opportunity to observe Marlow more closely.

The Maid expresses her doubts about whether Miss Hardcastle can effectively play the role of a barmaid, disguising her voice as well. In response, Miss Hardcastle reassures the Maid that she is well acquainted with the speech and mannerisms of a barmaid and demonstrates it briefly before her.

The Maid’s main significance lies in providing the crucial hint that sets the central action of the play in motion — Miss Hardcastle’s decision to stoop to conquer Marlow.

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