The play She Stoops to Conquer is based on practical jokes, mistaken identities, and miscommunication interwoven into a comedy of manners.
Mrs. Hardcastle wants her ward, Constance to marry Tony Lumpkin who is a drinker and a prankster. Indeed, his pranks lead to confusions and false assumptions. However, there's another suitor, Hastings, who's coming down from London in hopes of winning Constance's hand in marriage.
Mr. Hardcastle asks his closest friend, Sir Charles Marlow, to send his son from London to meet with his daughter Kate, who is pleased by her father’s description of the young man in all features except that he is shy and retiring. Marlow and Hastings travel from London, but are tricked by Tony into believing the Hardcastle home is an inn. Knowing nothing of Hastings and Marlow’s misconception, Hardcastle treats them as guests, while they, in turn, treat him as an innkeeper. Each party thinks the other extremely rude. Hardcastle certainly sees no modesty in Marlow’s brash behavior.
Kate disguises as a barmaid to see if Marlow is really that shy. He is embarrassed when he learns of her true identity and the confusion and hinderance is later cleared up and Kate and Marlow marry.
Act I - V Summary
Mr. and Mrs. Hardcastle live in an old house that looks like an inn, and they are waiting for the arrival of Marlow, son of Mr. Hardcastle's old friend and a possible suitor to his daughter Kate. Kate is very close to her father, so much so that she dresses plainly in the evenings and fancifully in the mornings for her friends. Meanwhile, Mrs. Hardcastle's niece Constance is in the old woman's care, and has her small inheritance held until she is married, hopefully to Mrs. Hardcastle's spoiled son from an earlier marriage, Tony Lumpkin. The problem is that neither Tony nor Constance love each other. Tony's problem is also that he is a drunk and a lover of low living, which he shows when the play shifts to a pub nearby. When Marlow and Hastings arrive at the pub, Tony plays a practical joke by telling the two men that there is no room at the pub and that they can find lodging at the old inn down the road, which is happened to be Hardcastle's home.
When Marlow and Hastings arrive, they are rude to Hardcastle, whom they think is a landlord and not a host. Hardcastle expects Marlow to be a polite young man, and is shocked at the behavior. Constance finds Hastings, and reveals to him that Tony must have played a trick. However, they decide to keep the truth from Marlow, because they think revealing it will upset him and ruin the trip. They decide they will try to get her jewels and elope together. Marlow has a bizarre tendency to speak with exaggerated timidity to "modest" women, while speaking in lively and hearty tones to women of low-class. When he has his first meeting with Kate, she is dressed well, and hence drives him into a debilitating stupor because of his inability to speak to modest women. She is nevertheless attracted to him, and decides to try and draw out his true character. Tony and Hastings decide together that Tony will steal the jewels for Hastings and Constance, so that he can be rid of his mother's pressure to marry Constance, whom he doesn't love.
This act opens with Hardcastle and Kate each confused with the side of Marlow they saw. Hardcastle is shocked at his impertinence; Kate is disappointed to have seen only modesty. She asks her father for the chance to show him that Marlow is more than both believe. Tony has stolen the jewels, but Constance doesn't know and continues to beg her aunt for them. Tony convinces Mrs. Hardcastle to pretend they were stolen to dissuade Constance, a plea she willingly accepts until she realizes they have actually been stolen. Meanwhile, Kate is now dressed in her plain dress and is mistaken by Marlow as a barmaid to whom he is attracted. She decides to play the part, and they have a lively, fun conversation that ends with him trying to embrace her, a move Mr. Hardcastle observes. Kate asks for the night to prove that he can be both respectful and lively.
News has spread that Sir Charles Marlow is on his way, which will reveal Hastings's identity as beloved of Constance and also force the question of whether Kate and Marlow are to marry. Hastings has sent the jewels in a casket to Marlow for safekeeping but Marlow, confused, has given them to Mrs. Hardcastle. When Hastings learns this, he realizes his plan to elope with wealth is over, and decides he must convince Constance to elope immediately. Meanwhile, Marlow's impertinence towards Hardcastle grows and Hardcastle kicks him out of the house finds. Marlow finds Kate, who now pretends to be a poor relation to the Hardcastles, which would make her a proper match as far as class but not a good marriage as far as wealth. Marlow is starting to love her, but cannot pursue it because it would be unacceptable to his father because of her lack of weatlh, so he leaves her. Meanwhile, a letter from Hastings arrives that Mrs. Hardcastle intercepts, and she reads that he waits for Constance in the garden, ready to elope. Angry, she insists that she will bring Constance far away, and makes plans for that. Marlow, Hastings and Tony confront one another, and the anger over all the deceit leads to a severe argument, resolved temporarily when Tony promises to solve the problem for Hastings.
Sir Charles arrives, and he and Hastings laugh together over the confusion young Marlow was in. Marlow arrives to apologize, and in the discussion over Kate, claims he barely talked to Kate. Hardcastle accuses him of lying, since Hardcastle saw him embrace Kate. She arrives after Marlow leaves the room and convinces the older men she will reveal the full truth if they watch an interview between the two from a hidden vantage behind a screen. Meanwhile, Hastings waits in the garden, for Tony's instruction, and Tony arrives to tell him that he drove his mother and Constance all over in circles, so that they think they are lost far from home when in fact they have been left nearby. Mrs. Hardcastle, distraught, arrives and is convinced she must hide from a highwayman who is approaching. The “highwayman” proves to be Mr. Hardcastle, who scares her in her confusion for a while but ultimately discovers what is happening. Hastings and Constance decide they will not elope but plead to Mr. Hardcastle for mercy. In the house, the interview between Kate and Marlow reveals his truly good character, and after some discussion, everyone agrees to the match. Hastings and Constance ask permission to marry and Tony decides not to marry Constance, the permission is granted. All are happy except for Mrs. Hardcastle and the "mistakes of a night" have been corrected.
Sir Charles Marlow
Father of Young Marlow and friend of Hardcastle. A respectable and aristocratic fellow from the town who believes his son is of very modest character.
A respectable fellow who comes to Hardcastle's home to meet Kate Hardcastle. He is mortified to speak to any "modest" woman, but is lively and excitable in conversation with servants.
The head of the Hardcastle family, and owner of the estate where the play is set. He despises the ways of the town, and is dedicated to the simplicity of country life and old-fashioned traditions.
Friend to Marlow and lover of Constance Neville. A decent fellow who is willing to marry Constance even without her money.
Wife to Mr. Hardcastle and mother to Tony. She wants her son Tony to marry her niece, Constance Neville.
The heroine of the play, she is able to balance the simplicity of country life with the love of life associated with the town. She pretends to be a barmaid in order to judge her suitor Marlow's true character.
Son of Mrs. Hardcastle from an earlier marriage, and known for his free-wheeling ways of drinking. Likes to play practical jokes. Proves to be good-natured and kind despite his superficial disdain for everyone. His mother wants him to marry Constance but he is set against the idea.
Hardcastle's head servant.
She is called "Miss Neville" in the play. Niece of Mrs. Hardcastle, an orphan whose only inheritance is a set of jewels in the care of her aunt. Her aunt wishes her to marry Tony Lumpkin, but Constance wants to marry Hastings.
Kate's servant. The woman who tells her that Marlow believed Kate to be a barmaid, which leads Kate towards her plan to stoop and conquer.
Landlord of the Three Pigeons, who welcomes Marlow and Hastings, and helps Tony to play his trick on them.
Marlow's drunken servant. His drunken impertinence offends Hardcastle, which leads Hardcastle to order Marlow to leave
About the Author
Oliver Goldsmith was born on November 10, 1730 in Kilkenny West, Ireland. After unsuccessfully studying medicine and traveling through Europe, Goldsmith arrived without money in London. He took odd jobs and also began to write. He became famous for his readable style and believable characters. His works include The Citizen of the World, or, Letters from a Chinese Philosopher (1762), a poem The Deserted Village (1770), a novel The Vicar of Wakefield (1766), and a play She Stoops to Conquer (1773).
He died on April 4, 1774.