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Ostensibly the hero of a play, Marlow is a respectable fellow who comes to Hardcastle's home to meet Kate Hardcastle. Possessed of a strange contradictory character, wherein he is mortified to speak to any "modest" woman, but is lively and excitable in conversation with barmaids or other low-class women.
In Act I, Marlow exhibits complications. While he would typically be praised by sentimental comedy for his modesty, we learn that such modesty is not a true expression of his character, but rather a front he uses around modest women. In truth, he is a lively fellow more than willing to engage in more lively, baser behaviors around women of less reputation, suggesting a type of hypocrisy that lies behind "refined" behaviors.
In Act II, Hastings and Marlow would be seen as virtuous young men to their audience – especially because of their aristocratic standing and signs of good breeding – we see right away that they are capable of extreme “lowness” and even of meanness. The most explicit example is Marlow's love of common women. Something that would be considered a vice in moral comedy is here matched in Marlow by a sincere desire to be close to a “modest” woman. Goldsmith accomplishes with this contradiction not only a situation rife with comedy derived from dramatic irony, but also creates a fuller human being. Likewise, both men, when operating under the fallacious assumption that Hardcastle's home is an inn, are quite dismissive of and cruel to Hardcastle. Here, Goldsmith employs a subversion of expectation to suggest the cruelty that can be engendered by strict class-ist attitudes, which of course would be an implicit charge against much of his theatre audience. The men assume that Hardcastle cannot be a gentleman because such behaviors must be learned; the irony is that Hardcastle is a gentleman, and has learned as much, but the men are so blinded by their own perspective that they can't see past their assumptions.