"Let school-masters puzzle their brain, With grammar, and nonsense, and learning; Good liquor, I stoutly maintain, Gives genius a better discerning."
This opening to Tony's song helps to establish one of Goldsmith's aims – to properly appreciate “low” behavior. Here, Tony sets two different lifestyles in opposition: proper life versus base life. While the play has a conservative streak that keeps it from entirely embracing baseness as the key to life, it does propose that moderation ought accept that a life of “good liquor” can grant us a perspective into human absurdity and folly, whereas a life solely dedicated to proper education would not provide such insight.
"So I find this fellow's civilities begin to grow troublesome. But who can be angry at those assiduities which are meant to please him!"
Hastings speaks this to himself about Hardcastle, whom Hastings still thinks is the landlord. Hardcastle's attempts to speak with Hastings and Marlow are annoying the latter two. To some extent, the quote is a great indication of the dramatic irony that gives most of the weight to the play's comedy. However, it also touches on the confusion of class, behavior, and expectation that is central to the play's themes. What Hastings asks could be argued to be true of all aristocratic folk who are particular and picky about what is “acceptable” to their standard of living. Goldsmith suggests a view of humanity that is far more complex, contradictory, and nuanced, and finds amusing and absurd the nature of humankind that leads high-class folk to look down upon the fun part of life that is meant to please them.
"Pardon me madam. I was always willing to be amused. The folly of most people is rather an object of mirth than uneasiness."
Marlow speaks this in his first meeting with Kate, the conversation in which he cannot look her in the eye. This quote is very much a statement of Goldsmith's perspective on the world, and a defense of his purpose in vaulting “laughing comedy” above “sentimental comedy.” Part of what both defines Goldsmith's perspective and marks Kate as the heroine is the ability to laugh at folly, rather than judging harshly a person's lapse from virtue.
"True madam; those who have most virtue in their mouths, have least of it in their bosom."
Marlow speaks this in his first meeting with Kate, the conversation in which he cannot look her in the eye. It is a straightforward yet profound declaration about the hypocrisy and contradictions of people. While Goldsmith finds these contradictions and the absurdity engendered by them amusing (consider Marlow's different behaviors and how so much comedy comes from them), he equally finds the hypocrisy of sanctimony unattractive. It is this sanctimony that offends him about sentimental comedy, and which also infects his “high”' characters. The truth is that Marlow and Hastings love pub food over more refined fare, or that Mrs. Hardcastle's virtue hides greed for her son.
"It's very odd, I can read the outside of my letters, where my own name is, well enough. But when I come to open it, it's all – buzz. That's hard, very hard; for the inside of the letter is always the cream of the correspondence."
Tony cannot read the letter that arrives from Hastings (bearing the news that Hastings is waiting for him in the garden). However, this quote produces a great symbol for one the play's themes: the absurd contradictions that truly define people. Where high-minded folks (and the sentimental comedy Goldsmith believes they prefer) tries to praise their superficial virtue, he believes that people deep down are actually full of contradictions and attractions to more “low” interests. In the same way that the outside of the letter is recognizable and suggests an easy identity, while the inside is more complicated and harder to read, so it is that the characters in Goldsmith's play are recognizable comic types at first but far more complex when investigated.
"Ha, ha, ha, I understand; you took them in a round, while they supposed themselves going forward. And so you have at last brought them home again."
Literally, the quote concerns the way Tony drove Mrs. Hardcastle and Constance around haphazardly so that they wouldn't be too far from the Hardcastle home. However, it is a great symbol for the structure of the play as well. At the beginning, everyone's goal is clear: Marlow and Kate are meeting to judge each other as potential mates; Hastings wants to see his beloved; and the parents are interested in securing favorable matches for their children. The one exception is Tony, whose conception of life is that fun and liveliness are the guiding principles. However, Goldsmith wishes us to see that such a philosophy is more than just hedonism, but rather can lead to greater happiness and truth. Because of Tony's tricks (the biggest of which is that which he plays on Marlow and Hastings), everyone has a crazy night of mistakes but ends up “home” again, grounded and happier than they otherwise would have been.
"Prudence once more comes to my relief, and I will obey its dictates. In the moment of passion, fortune may be despised, but it ever produces a lasting repentance. I'm resolved to apply to Mr. Hardcastle's compassion and justice for redress."
In Constance's idea of how she and her beloved should proceed, we get a glimpse of the pragmatism that keeps Goldsmith's play from ever veering into cliché sentimental territory even if the ending is somewhat a conventional “happy ending.” The truth is that, while in plays and entertainments lovers will happily choose one another at the expense of money, Goldsmith wishes us to see that in real life, fortune cannot be so easily written off for those who lack sufficient income. Constance cannot run off into the sunset with Hastings – life requires money – and so she must apply to Hardcastle for help. It's a pragmatic truth that colors and deepens the play.
"I have lived, indeed, in the world, madam; but I have kept little company. I have been but an observer upon life, madam, while others were enjoying it."
Marlow speaks this in his first meeting with Kate, the conversation in which he cannot look her in the eye. Though Marlow is stammering, he touches upon one of the central questions of the play: whether it is better to stay removed from life, judging it, or to live in all of its complexity and absurdity? Obviously, Goldsmith answers with the latter option, though his full response values moderation more than a simple choice. The best option is to live life but also to be able to judge and laugh at it. Kate is able to do this because she appreciates both the country and the city way of life, whereas most other characters pay for veering too strongly in one or the other direction.
"Ask me no questions, and I'll tell you no fibs. I procured them by the rule of thumb. If I had not a key to every drawer in mother's bureau, how could I go to the alehouse so often as I do? An honest man may rob himself of his own at any time."
Literally, Tony is explaining to Hastings how he was able to steal the jewels he passes on to them. But this quote further illustrates his philosophy of life, which espouses a more complex idea of virtue and vice than that assumed by the high-class characters. For Tony, a man is allowed to “rob himself,” which could mean more than just taking money or jewels, but also engaging in baseness for oneself (such as he does at the alehouse). In fact, to engage in our baser nature is not only acceptable but preferable since it acknowledges a truth of who we are. He would not go so far as to harm or “rob” others, as he says, meaning he engages in such behavior not to harm anyone else, but just to enjoy his own life. Many of the characters play around with this theme, in coming towards their acceptance of their real human, base natures. Tony stands as the central proponent of this philosophy.
"Pshaw, pshaw! This is all but the whining end of a modern novel."
Mrs. Hardcastle snidely makes this observation as both couples are arranging their happiness in the play's final moments. It is a useful observation to consider, since it also serves as a bit of commentary on the play itself, perhaps sculpted by Goldsmith to provide awareness that his play is veering into the very territory he professed it would eschew: that of the sentimental comedy that praises virtue rather than mocking folly. Whether or not his play is guilty of the trespasses it seeks to condemn is open to interpretation, but the fact that Goldsmith is deliberately confronting these questions of how to craft an entertaining, satisfying work while trying not to undercut his message and theme is undeniable, as this quote shows. He is aware that the end could be construed that way, and is attempting to address it. Having this complaint come from the least discerning character in the play shows that Goldsmith might believe a more discerning audience would see his ending is not quite so sentimental.
She Stoops to Conquer Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for She Stoops to Conquer is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.