She Stoops to Conquer Essay
She Stoops to Conquer
The first act of ‘She Stoops to Conquer’ by Oliver Goldsmith sets foundations for the comedic plots and themes which run through the play. Act one focuses on exposition – that is, giving the audience and idea of what is to come later in the play, and introducing them to the characters and their relationships with each other, setting the scene and so on. The central ideas of deception, disguise, reality and appearance and status are presented in the first act.
The initial theme we encounter is very relevant to the context in which the play was written – whether town (London), with all its airs, graces and ‘fopperies’ was superficial in comparison with the country, and whether one (or one’s wife, Mrs. Hardcastle) should indulge in such culture. She disputes with Mr. Hardcastle that they, like everyone else, should make a trip to the social epicentre to ‘rub off the rust a little.
‘ However, her husband fails to find the superficiality of the French fashions and the city lifestyle enticing, and seems to think that once someone has been to London and indulged in the vanity it offers, it inhabits them upon their departure, ‘its fopperies come down, not only as inside passengers, but in the very basket. ‘ Mr. Hardcastle is very traditional, and his attitudes are referred to in the argument by his wife as ‘old-fashioned trumpery. ‘ He responds to this by declaring his love of all things old, ‘I love everything that’s old; old friends, old times, old manners, old books, old wines and…
an old wife. ‘ We are then introduced to Tony – Mrs. Hardcastle’s son from her first marriage, who has ‘not come to years of discretion yet,’ – i. e. he is not yet a fully fledged adult. Mr. Hardcastle’s abrupt, ‘nor ever will,’ indicates his attitude towards his step son, and also implies that there is something of a residing childish nature within Tony. A list of Tony’s pranks are then reeled off by Mr. Hardcastle, and these are comedic (which is amplified by his disapproval of them), ‘If burning the footmen’s shoes, frightening the maids, and worrying the kittens be humour, he has it.
It was yesterday he fastened my wig to the back of my chair, and when I went to take a bow, I popt my bald head in Mrs. Frizzle’s face. ‘ It seems that Mr. Hardcastle has a distinct lack of tolerance with Tony, which is formed by his wife’s comments, to appear as no sense of humour, ‘Come… you must allow the boy a little humour. ‘ Mr. Hardcastle’s description of Tony’s pranks prepares us for the tomfoolery to come later in the play, and gets the audience in the right mood to watch this play. Mrs. Hardcastle’s disillusioned belief that her son may be tamed by studying Latin is humorous both to the audience and to her husband, ‘Latin for him!
A cat and fiddle. ‘ She also talks of how she believes ‘we shan’t have [Tony] long among us. Any body that looks in his face may see he’s consumptive. ‘ Her husband sees through Tony’s supposed ailments, and realistically perceives his personality, whereas Mrs. Hardcastle makes Tony sound like a mummy’s boy. This conflict of opinion is made more ironic when Tony enters and is referred to by his mother with affectionate names such as ‘my charmer’ and he appears to be more individual and rebellious (rowing with and defying his mother) than his mother – with her rose tinted spectacles – admits.
It is obvious that her indulgent treatment of her son is a contributory factor to his behaviour. His prankster temperament really comes to the fore when he leads a conspiracy to misdirect Marlow and Hastings and convince them that the Hardcastle residence is in fact an inn. This results in all sorts of misunderstandings and comedic scenarios upon their arrival later in the play. Through this prank, the audience gets to see the serial joker in action, and judging by the fact he manages to pull it off successfully, we can see that he is clearly experienced in lying and misleading people…
Another example of where he employs this would be the love affair constructed by himself and Constance Neville for Mrs. Hardcastle’s benefit. The two of them are in no way amorous of each other (Constance is in love with Mr. Hastings – Marlow’s companion), but assume the pretence because Mrs. Hardcastle believes they are in love, and hopes – by their union – to keep Constance’s fortune in jewels within the family. The play seems to be saturated with hidden agendas and lies from the start, and the audience is made to anticipate the consequences of the deceit, and how the characters react when all is revealed.
However, in true comic fashion, one lie leads to another and the situation spirals. The misunderstandings (of oblivious responses of characters who are unaware of these agendas) are a basis for comedy. Marlow is introduced to the audience by way of a conversation between Mr. Hardcastle and his daughter Kate, who is set to meet him as a prospective partner. This duologue is humorous because of Kate’s abundant interest, then sudden discarding as different traits of Marlow are reeled off. She seems eager when she is informed that he is ‘very generous… young and brave… and very handsome.
‘ He is also ‘one of the most reserved and bashful fellows in all the world,’ which Mr. Hardcastle regards as a major attribute. Goldsmith is thus satirising sentimental comedy’s perception of virtuous characteristics through this mock-sentimental reference, ‘and to crown it all… ‘ Kate, however, claims he has ‘frozen [her] to death,’ by unveiling this factor of his personality, because she regards this as undesirable quality for a man to have. Although she has this newly adopted reluctance, she still states that ‘if he be so young, so handsome, and so everything as you mention, I believe he’ll do still.
I think I’ll have him,’ as if she would be doing Marlow himself a favour. The fact is that ‘it’s more than an even wager… he may not have [her]. ‘ Kate is also enlightened to another aspect of Marlow by Constance later in the Act – that he has a dual personality, i. e. he is a respectable gentleman in good company, but not so with ‘creatures of another stamp. ‘ This hints at how we will see a contrast in Marlow during the play. The description of Marlow imbues the audience with a sense of comic anticipation – we want to know what will happen, and there seems as though there will be some comic moments when the two of them meet.