She Stoops to Conquer

She Stoops to Conquer Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Explain the meaning and significance of the title She Stoops to Conquer.

    Even without reading the play, the irony of the title is obvious, since the "she" in question is lowering herself in order to prove herself superior. In context of the play, the title could be argued to refer both to Kate's plan to trap Marlow and to Goldsmith's purpose of using “low comedy” to convince his audience to embrace it. The former is a good description of the irony of Kate's plan: in order to convince herself she is a worthy match for Marlow, she has to first convince him she is of a low class. However, the title also describes Goldsmith's purpose: he wishes to convince an audience to embrace this “low” or “laughing” comedy, and by indulging in it, he might convince them that it is superior to “sentimental” comedy. Regardless of which description one uses, the irony of the title expresses Goldsmith's view of humanity: while we pretend to be of impeachable high class, we all have a “low,” base side that we should celebrate rather than try to ignore.

  2. 2

    How is Kate an example of moderation? Explain how her personality stands as the way of life Goldsmith most recommends.

    The play is organized into a series of conflicting philosophies: high-bred aristocrats vs. low-bred common folk; city life vs. country life; wealth vs. poverty, etc. Much of the absurdity that fuels Goldsmith's comedy comes from exploiting the way most people engage in contradictions even when they pretend to be examples of virtue. The best example is Marlow, and his bizarre contradictory attitudes towards women depending on their class. Kate stands at the center of most of these, and as such is the best depiction of Goldsmith's message. As a country girl who has spent time in town, she is an example of what Marlow calls "refined simplicity," and knowing as much as she does about humanity, is able to also enjoy and be amused by the contradictions rather than disgusted by them (as most of the elder characters are).

  3. 3

    In what ways is Tony Lumpkin a hero in the play? Use historical/social detail to explain why this heroism is unconventional.

    Tony Lumpkin would traditionally have been considered nothing but comic relief. Consider most Shakespeare plays, where the poor, common characters might have wisdom, but are primarily used to comedic effect, and are rarely engaged in the main plots. Tony is presented this way initially in She Stoops to Conquer, but we quickly see that there is a great wisdom to his lifestyle, which prizes enjoyment of life over heavy considerations of it. When his parents discuss the way to live in Act I, Tony takes off quickly for the Three Pigeons, where he sings a song that expresses a desire for true life rather than the hypocrisy of overly-educated or overly-religious lifestyles. Tony perhaps has more agency than any other character in the play, setting in motion the confusions that ultimately allow everyone to be happy. The message, of which Tony is the best representative, is that by engaging in the confusions and contradictions of human nature, we can find our best happiness.

  4. 4

    For a comedy, She Stoops to Conquer has a serious vein of commentary of class. Explain.

    In a traditional sentimental comedy, money would ultimately be shown to be irrelevant in the face of true love, so as to stress the characters’ virtue. Of course, the characters would have almost all been high-bred and money not a serious issue in their lives. In this play, there are characters, like Tony or Constance, who really do need money if they want a strong future. Even in what is perhaps the most cliché romantic subplot – that between Constance and Hastings – money becomes an inescapable force, and in the end they turn to the virtue of asking Hardcastle's permission not because of some innate virtue, but because they acknowledge that they will need money. In another way, Marlow's class contradictions are certainly meant to be amusing, but there is a serious criticism in the way that a class system has led him to despise what he enjoys. He considers himself inferior for his love of unpretentious women, and assumes that he ought to love a “modest” woman. Part of the lesson Kate teaches him is that the substance of a person is what matters, and not the way one gauges her behavior as high or low class.

  5. 5

    How does the device of dramatic irony facilitate the play's major themes and comedy?

    The play is a masterpiece of dramatic irony, which is a device where the audience has information and knowledge that the characters do not. From the moment Tony plays the practical joke on Marlow and Hastings, the audience learns secrets that will grow more complicated and hence create confusion that leads to hilarious situations. The best example is perhaps the way Marlow and Hastings treat Hardcastle, because they think him a landlord. Because we understand the details of the confusions, we understand the jokes whereas the characters only grow more offended. However, the behavior wrought by the dramatic irony reveals much of Goldsmith's view on humanity and class. The same example listed above is funny, but also shows the cruelty that comes from a rich man's entitlement. Throughout the play, much of the class commentary derives from the behaviors people show when they don’t' realize they are being judged. Kate exploits this to try and find out what kind of person Marlow actually is.

  6. 6

    In what ways are the characters of the play comic archetypes? How does Goldsmith deepen these stock characters?

    At the beginning of the play, it seems as though all the characters fall into traditional comic patterns. Hardcastle is the old curmudgeon who hates modern life, Mrs. Hardcastle a vain old lady, the young men are handsome heroes, Kate is the pretty young heroine, and Tony is the comic drunkard. Very quickly, Goldsmith explores the depth of class, money and human contradictions by putting those qualities in broader contexts. Hardcastle turns out to be not entirely incorrect about the impertinence of the young (which he discovers because of Tony's trick), but turns out to be forgiving. Mrs. Hardcastle is frankly never deepened, and stays who she is throughout. Hastings remains a valiant young man, but Marlow is obviously full of absurd contradictions very much connected to the very aristocratic virtue that seems to define him in the beginning. And Kate, of course, is perhaps the deepest and fullest character of all, not a simple heroine to be won by the young man.

  7. 7

    Does the play's ending undercut Goldsmith's attempt to write a "low" and not "sentimental" comedy? Explain.

    Mrs. Hardcastle perhaps speaks to Goldsmith's own concern over the ending when she remarks that "this is all but the whining end of a modern novel." It is clear from both the prologue and his "Essay on the Theatre" that he wishes to write a play that mocks vice rather than praises virtue. And yet the ending of the play finds not only all the characters ending up happy, but happy because of very clear-cut lessons. In a way, even the most grievous characters (like Marlow, whose contradictions lead him to some rather unsavory behavior) are forgiven for their vices. However, one can argue that Goldsmith provides an entertaining end for his audience while not diving fully into the conventions. For one, Constance and Hastings's realization about the necessity of money adds a pragmatic reality to the otherwise sentimental end. Further, the play's end does not suggest that the absurd contradictions of humanity will go away, which could lead to the belief that such problems will never go away, even if the play wraps up nicely within its five acts.

  8. 8

    Define what "town" and "country" mean in the context of this play, using characters as examples.

    There is a strong conflict between town and country set up from the very opening of the play, when Mr. and Mrs. Hardcastle argue about the virtues and vices of town and country. The town is associated with several elements: wealth and pretension, education, style, and in the broadest sense, living life for itself. The country is associated with simplicity and a slower, more considered way of life. The characters who come from town are certainly to be admired, and would be by Goldsmith's audience. And yet they are shown to have serious faults, particularly in terms of their pretensions and cruelty towards Hardcastle when they think he is a landlord and not their host. Likewise, while the theatre audience at the time would probably consider the country characters to be overly simple, there is a great kindness revealed in the way Hardcastle is willing to forgive everyone despite how he is treated. The best character overall is Kate, who shows a moderation in her way to find "refined simplicity" by embracing the best of both worlds.

  9. 9

    Explain how much of Goldsmith's comedy relies on his ability to set-up a joke.

    Most of the comedy in She Stoops to Conquer comes from the deep dramatic irony wherein characters do not realize quite who one another are. However, for the audience to clearly understand all the complications, Goldsmith has to set up the details of the jokes to come. He does this masterfully in Act I. For instance, it is set up that the old Hardcastle home resembles an inn, important so that we believe Marlow and Hastings could believe as much. Further, the strange behavior whereby Kate dresses plainly in the evenings is important so as to understand Marlow's confusion over her class standing. Throughout the play, elements are introduced, or "set-up," so that our expectations can be manipulated later. The use of the jewels, of Tony and his mother's relationship, and of who is lying to whom are all examples of set-ups that produce great comic dividends.

  10. 10

    How can one make a Freudian analysis of this play?

    Though it is folly to suggest an explicitly Freudian intent in this play (since it was written so much earlier than Freud's day), the same could be said about Oedipus Rex or Hamlet, both of which stand as seminal texts in Freud's theories. There are definitely Freudian undercurrents in the Oedipal complex suggested as existing between Tony and Mrs. Hardcastle, and more implicitly between Marlow and his mother. The former is expressed in Tony's professed hatred of his mother, though it is a hatred that makes him insistent on constantly waging war with her. If he truly despised her, he could simply blow her off, but he takes too much pleasure in wickedly tormenting her through his tricks and behavior. Many characters remark on how they spoil one another, which parallels a sort of destructive romantic relationship, all of which can be interpreted through a Freudian lens. In terms of Marlow, his strange behavior can be linked to a self-hatred, an inability to appreciate his own love of "immodest" woman and inability to speak to "modest" woman whom he feels he ought to appreciate. At one point, he mentions that his mother was the only "modest" woman he could ever speak to, which could suggest that their relationship has polluted him somewhat, led him to compare other women to her and hence to grow into a bumbler when attempting to woo them romantically.