TYPE OF COMEDY
The type of comedy which She Stoops to Conquer represents has been much disputed. However, there is a consensus amongst audiences and critics that the play is a comedy of manners (see below for details). It can also be seen as one of the following comedy types:
Laughing comedy or sentimental comedy
When the play was first produced, it was discussed as an example of the revival of laughing comedy over the sentimental comedy seen as dominant on the English stage since the success of The Conscious Lovers, written by Sir Richard Steele in 1722. In the same year, an essay in a London magazine, entitled “An Essay on the Theatre; Or, A Co Laughing And Sentimental Comedy”, suggested that sentimental comedy, a false form of comedy, had taken over the boards from the older and more truly comic laughing comedy.
Some theatre historians believe that the essay was written by Goldsmith as a puff piece for She Stoops to Conquer as an exemplar of the laughing comedy which Goldsmith (perhaps) had touted. Goldsmith’s name was linked with that of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, author of The Rivals and The School for Scandal, as standard-bearers for the resurgent laughing comedy.
Comedy of manners
The play can also be seen as a comedy of manners, in which, in a polite society setting, the comedy arises from the gap between the characters’ attempts to preserve standards of polite behaviour, that contrasts to their true behaviour.
It also seen by some critics as a romantic comedy, which depicts how seriously young people take love, and how foolishly it makes them behave, (similar to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream); in She Stoops to Conquer, Kate’s stooping and Marlow’s nervousness are good examples of romantic comedy.
Alternatively, it can be seen as a satire, where characters are presented as either ludicrous or eccentric. Such a comedy might leave the impression that the characters are either too foolish or corrupt to ever reform, hence Mrs. Hardcastle.
Farce or comedy of errors
The play is sometimes described as a farce and a comedy of errors, because it is based on multiple misunderstandings, hence Marlow and Hastings believing the Hardcastles’ house is an inn.
The Three Unities
The dramatic technique of Classical unities is employed by Goldsmith to some extent in She Stoops to Conquer.
The Unity of Action – This is the one Unity that Goldsmith does not rigorously follow; the inclusion of the subplot of Constance-Hastings eloping distracts from the main narrative of the play. However, it shares similar themes of relationships and what makes the best kind (mutual attraction or the arrangement of a parent or guardian). Furthermore, the subplot interweaves with the main plot, for example when Hastings and Marlow confront Tony regarding his mischief making.
The Unity of Time – The alternative title of Mistakes of the Night illustrates that the Unity of Time is carefully observed. With all of the events occurring in a single night, the plot becomes more stimulating as well as lending more plausibility to the series of unlucky coincidences that conspire against the visitors.
The Unity of Place – While some may question whether She Stoops to Conquer contains the Unity of Place – after all, the scene at the “The Three Pigeons” is set apart from the house – but the similarity between the alehouse and the “old rumbling mansion, that looks all the world like an inn” is one of close resemblance; enough that in past performances, the scenes have often doubled up the use of the same set backdrop. Also, there is some debate as to whether the excursion to “Crackskull common” counts as a separate setting, but since the truth is that the travellers do not leave the mansion gardens, the Unity of Place is not violated.
Type of Play
She Stoops to Conquer is a stage play in the form of a comedy of manners, which ridicules the manners (way of life, social customs, etc.) of a certain segment of society, in this case the upper class. The play is also sometimes termed a drawing-room comedy. The play uses farce (including many mix-ups) and satire to poke fun at the class-consciousness of eighteenth-century Englishmen and to satirize what Goldsmith called the “weeping sentimental comedy so much in fashion at present.”
Style and Structure
Goldsmith’s style is wry, witty, and simple but graceful. From beginning to end, the play is both entertaining and easy to understand, presenting few words and idioms that modern audiences would not understand. It is also well constructed and moves along rapidly, the events of the first act—in particular, references to Tony Lumpkin’s childhood propensity for working mischief and playing practical jokes—foreshadowing the events of the following acts.
There are frequent scene changes, punctuated by an occasional appearance of a character alone on the stage (solus in the stage directions) reciting a brief account of his feelings. In modern terms, the play is a page-turner for readers. Goldsmith observed the classical unities of time and place, for the action of the play takes place in single locale (the English countryside) on a single day
The title refers to Kate’s ruse of pretending to be a barmaid to reach her goal. It originates in the poetry of Dryden, which Goldsmith may have seen misquoted by Lord Chesterfield. In Chesterfield’s version, the lines in question read: “The prostrate lover, when he lowest lies, But stoops to conquer, and but kneels to rise.”
Most of the action takes place in the Hardcastle mansion in the English countryside, about sixty miles from London. The mansion is an old but comfortable dwelling that resembles an inn. A brief episode takes place at a nearby tavern, The Three Pigeons Alehouse. The time is the eighteenth century.