ring Popularity?She Stoops to Conquer is a comedy play written by Oliver Goldsmith. It has been loved since it was written. When it was first performed, some people did not approve of it as it attacked the normal sort of play style at the time, which was sentimental comedy. Personally I think the play is very whimsical and funny both on stage acted and just the words used. Sentimental comedy involved characters to be very typical, for example, the heroine was shy and romantic, the hero was brave and bold, and romance and love was above everything else.
In She Stoops to Conquer Miss Neville and Hastings are in love, and they planned to elope to France, yet their plans are foiled. While Hastings wants them to get married anyway, Miss Neville is sensible and does the exact opposite of a sentimental comedy heroine, and puts money and her father’s wishes first, by saying:”MISS NEVILLE: In a moment of passion, fortune may be despised, but it ever produces a lasting repentance.
”Servants were not allowed to be centre stage, but in She Stoops to Conquer a whole scene is dedicated to the servants and their incapability of being servant-like. In sentimental comedy plays, when something unhappy happened, the general idea was to be sad, yet Marlow in She stoops to Conquer attacks this idea by commenting:”MARLOW: Pardon me, madam. I was always willing to be amused. The folly of most people is rather an object of mirth than uneasiness.”When Hastings finally declares his love for Miss Neville to her uncle, Mr Hardcastle, Mrs Hardcastle can’t take such romantic talk:”MRS HARDCASTLE: Pshaw, pshaw, this is all but the whining end of a modern novel,” modern novels were of course written in sentimental style. She is complaining about this, even though this is one of the only cases of sentimental comedy creeping into the play. This new style of play was very different to the old style, so once people got used to it they began to enjoy the more funny and light-hearted parts. These days we are used to it, but it would have been a much more boring play if there was sentimental comedy involved.
The basic plot of the play is about everyone being confused and tricked. Marlow is very shy and timid around women of the same and upper class to him, yet when talking to lower classes he is loud and often rude. Tony, Mrs Hardcastle’s son, tricks Marlow and Hastings into believing that the house they were going to visit is actually a pub. They treat Mr Hardcastle like a landlord, and they wonder why he is so talkative:”MARLOW: Well, this is the first time I ever heard of an innkeeper’s philosophy.”Mr Hardcastle wants Marlow to court his daughter Kate Hardcastle. Yet when Marlow meets Kate he cannot get his words out:”MARLOW: (Relapsing into timidity) Pardon me, madam, I-I-I-“Kate decides to trick Marlow and dresses up like a barmaid. Suddenly, without realising she is the same person, he gets very bold:”MARLOW: Suppose I should call for a taste, just by way of trial, of the nectar of your lips…”She pretends to not understand he wants a kiss, and answers that they don’t have any wine of that type, and then says: “MISS HARDCASTLE: Pray, sir, keep your distance. One would think you wanted to know one’s age as they do horses, by mark of mouth.”The confusion of Mr Hardcastle and Marlow is entertaining on stage, as neither knows what is going on. Marlow is totally unaware that Kate and the barmaid are the same, and Mr Hardcastle is very confused by the rudeness of Marlow and Hastings. Mrs Hardcastle was also tricked during the play, as she had always thought that Miss Neville and her son Tony were in love. Yet at the end he tells her he will not marry Miss Neville. Everyone praises him, but she ends the play with:”MRS HARDCASTLE: My undutiful offspring,” which is funny as it is the opposite of everyone else’s comments. The actual characters of She Stoops to Conquer are cleverly done and have a lot of personality. Mrs. Hardcastle thinks she is very beautiful, and follows all the latest fashions from London. Marlow and Hastings enjoy teasing her about her clothes, yet she thinks they are serious:”MRS HARDCASTLE: Seriously? Then I shall be too young for the fashion.”She also thinks she is still young, and can’t admit to her age:”HARDCASTLE: Let me see, twenty and twenty, makes just fifty and seven.”This is funny, as most women today don’t like saying their age and can relate to her feelings. Mr Hardcastle tells her he likes an old wife, which is one of the worst things he could say to her, as she thinks she is not old:”HARDCASTLE: …and I believe Dorothy, (taking her hand) you’ll own I have been pretty fond of an old wife.”Mrs Hardcastle is very fond of her son Tony Lumpkin. She has a lot of motherly love, and again the audience can relate to this, and they find it amusing as the play is taking the mickey and exaggerating everything: “MRS HARDCASTLE: I’m actually afraid of his lungs,” when really Tony is really fine, his only problem being he drinks too much. At the end of the play, Tony tricks her into thinking they are lost in the middle of nowhere, yet really they are at the bottom of their garden. She is very scared, and mistakes Mr Hardcastle for a highwayman. When all is revealed Mrs Hardcastle is very angry and even though the play is a comedy, it has a moral to the story:”TONY: Ecod mother, all the parish says you have spoiled me, and so you may take the fruits on’t.”Tony plays a key role in She Stoops to Conquer as he leads the plot. Although he looks quite dim he is in fact clever. He is always winding up his mother, like the time they were lost’: “TONY: …Is that a man that’s galloping behind us? No; it’s only a tree. don’t be afraid.”He is scaring her on purpose, and on the stage this is a very funny part, as the audience know they are at the bottom of the garden, and yet Mrs Hardcastle is terrified. Tony steals his mother’s jewels to help Constance and Hastings when they elope, but doesn’t tell them at first. When Constance asks for them, Mrs Hardcastle doesn’t have an excuse, so Tony tells her to say they are stolen. When she finds out they really are stolen, she goes berserk:”MRS HARDCASTLE: We are robbedthe jewels taken out, and I’m undone.
TONY: Oh! Is that all? Ha! Ha! Ha! By the laws, I never saw it better acted in my life.”Tony knows she is telling the truth, but he keeps saying well acted’ to her, making her even more furious! Another scene with Tony is that of him in a pub. He sings, and there are a lot of drunkards. This was redeemed not suitable for plays, and sentimental comedies never had pub scenes. This scene has some funny parts with the drunkards:”THIRD FELLOW: …What though I am obligated to dance a bear, a man may be a gentleman for all that. May this be my poison if my bogie shall ever dance but to the very genteelest of tunes. Water parted’, or the minuet in Adriadne.”The man is saying he would make a bear dance to classical music, which is ridiculous. What helps the audience understand all the mistakes and confusion are the asides. Hardcastle and Marlow talk in asides to show what they really think:”HARDCASTLE: (aside) such a brazen dog sure never my eyes beheld.”This makes the play entertaining as well because no one on stage knows what is going on, and the audience can see the puzzled looks on everyone’s faces.
Part of the humour that comes across to the audience is from the acting. An old woman, covered in mud, down on her knees begging for mercy to a highwayman’:”MRS HARDCASTLE: Take my money, my life, but spare that young gentleman, spare my child, if you have any mercy,” to her husband, whom she has mistaken as the highwayman, is very amusing.
Mrs Hardcastle must look quite silly on stage anyway, dressed in strange, flamboyant clothes, ridiculous costumes and makeup, not to mention her wigs. Tony and Constance look quite funny on stage, as every time they are with Tony’s mother, they are all over each other, yet when she turns away they are fighting and hurting each other. Kate would also look quite strange on stage, as she wears a lot of elaborate clothing:”HARDCASTLE: What a quantity of superfluous silk hast thou got about thee, girl.”Kate is a bold character, unlike the sentimental heroines. The audience find it comical when her father talks to Kate about Marlow:”HARDCASTLE: And very handsome.
MISS HARDCASTLE: My dear papa, say no more. (Kissing his hand), he’s mine, I’ll have him.”She hasn’t even met the man, but just knowing that he is handsome she wants him, which is why she dresses up as a barmaid, and the audience from a hundred years ago though to now can relate to and find funny.
She Stoops to Conquer is very popular because of its humour, both in the acting and the words. The actual plot is quite unrealistic and even a bit daft, but that’s what makes it so comical. Before, you had to be horrified that Tony would trick his mother when Mrs Hardcastle was lost and very scared, and now we can laugh. People getting into strange situations and dealing with them in an amusing way, unlike before when in sentimental comedy you had to be sad instead of laugh, is an asset and makes the play humorous and benevolent; which accounts for the enduring popularity of She Stoops to Conquer.
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