Plot Construction Of The Play “She Stoops To Conquer”

It appears to be a very complicated play, but it is very skillfully constructed. Goldsmith attends carefully to the matter of exposition. The play opens with Mr. Hardcastle and Mrs. Hardcastle. There is Tony Lumpkin. Mrs. Hardcastle’s son by her former husband, and he seems to have been spoilt by her mother. Tony Lumpkin has fifteen hundred pounds a year, which will be his when he is of age and the mother thinks that he can do without learning. Hardcastle is quite tolerant of Tony’s tricks and mischief, which the mother takes as his humour. She seems to be a bit concerned about her son being consumptive, while Hardcastle finds him growing fat daily. which he cannot take as a symptom of consumption. Tony too is immediately introduced. And he is going to The Three Pigeons where he has congenial company. We meet Miss Hardcastle also in this scene. Hardcastle is expecting Marlow that very evening, and frankly tells his daughter that he has chosen the young man to be her husband. Marlow’s father is to follow him soon. Hardcastle speaks of Marlow as the son of his friend, Sir Charles Marlow, recommending the young man as a scholar, intelligent, handsome, brave and generous. But when Miss Hardcastle hears that he is one of the most bashful and reserved young fellows in all the world, she is a little upset. She is however confident that she will win his fancy, and her father is satisfied to hear that. So Marlow is coming to pay his addresses to Miss Hardcastle, and it is on this that the play turns. Miss Neville is also introduced in the First Act. Miss Neville tells Miss Hardcastle more about Marlow-that among women of reputation and virtue he is the modest man, but shows himself of a different stuff in low company. We learn that Hastings is a great friend of Marlow. As Miss Neville says, they are never asunder. And we may expect that Hastings will be in the company of Marlow. Hastings is an admirer of Miss Neville. But Mrs. Hardcastle is courting Miss Neville for her son, Tony. She is in love with Hastings while she lets Mrs. Hardcastle think that she is in love with her son. There is a chance for Miss Neville because Tony is not at all interested in her. At the opening of the play we now see how the situation is developing. The issue of love is made an important element in the development of the action. Marlow is coming with his friend Hastings. Hastings will meet Miss Neville in the house of Hardcastle. And he will plan elopement with Miss Neville. It is a side issue, but it will bring in some application in the end. Marlow’s courting of Miss Hardcastle, who plays the role of a Harmaid, is the central action of the play and it is very ingeniously managed and the denouement depends on it. All the important characters are introduced in the First Act: there are Marlow and his friend, Hastings, who arrives at The Three Pigeons on their way to Hardcastle’s house, and there they meet Tony. And Tony’s love of mischief in directing Marlow and Hastings to Hardcastle’s old house as an inn gives a comic turn to the play.

Hardcastle prepares to receive Marlow, and instructs his servants accordingly. It has a comic purpose too. Then Marlow and Hastings are conducted to the house. Marlow makes no secret of his problem. There is some self-revelation here. He confesses to Hastings why he has so little of assurance. It is the Englishman’s malady. He has mostly spent his life in a college or an inn, and has had very little to do with modest women except his mother. He can be impudent enough among women of a lower standing. He is after all modest by nature, and a modest man cannot counterfeit impudence That is his trouble. Hastings says that he has found him saying quite fine things to a barmaid and college bed-maker. It is just looking forward to the part that Miss Hardcastle is going to play. He should prefer to get married by proxy, if that were possible. Courtship is a veritable terror to him. So when he is going to meet Miss Hardcastle all that he can do is to how very low to her. and say yes or no to her demands. If he can do nothing for himself. he will do what he can in forwarding his friend’s suit with Miss Neville Hardcastle then appears, and Marlow is rather surprised that Hardcastle should know his name. and welcomes him by his name. The two friends go on talking to themselves, taking little notice of Hardcastle. who tells them his favourite story of the Duke of Marlborough. They are rather getting impatient with the presence of Hardcastle. Why should an, inn-keeper thrust himself upon them? They seem to be a little mystified by the behaviour of the inn-keeper, but they have little suspicion as yet. Marlow demands of Hardcastle that he must look about his supper, for that is the way with him. Marlow has been recommended as a modest young man to him, and he begins to doubt whether modern modesty is old-fashioned impudence and Marlow goes with Hardcastle to look about the supper.

When Hastings is left alone there, Miss Neville comes along. They are both surprised. Miss Neville undeceives him at once; it is not an inn, but Mr. Hardcastle’s house, and she is living there with her aunt. So he also knows that Mrs. Hardcastle is after her for her son, Tony Lumpkin. Miss Neville understands that Tony himself is responsible for the mistake that they have come to an inn. She assures him that he has nothing to fear from Tony, for Tony heartily despises her, and Mrs. Hardcastle, aware of this, is just courting her for her son. Hastings is ready to elope with her to Paris at once. But Neville cannot make up her mind. She would not like to leave her jewels with Mrs. Hardcastle but she hopes she will soon he able to get possession of them Hastings is least interested in her fortune. They are, however, not going to enlighten Marlow as yet, Marlow now rejoins them, and Miss Neville is introduced to him. The situation is explained to him: Miss Neville and Miss Hardcastle have come to the inn to change horses after they have dined in the neighbourhood. Marlow is how flattering that he cannot avoid meeting Miss Hardcastle there. He wants to run away. It is too late, for Miss Hardcastle soon appears. Hastings introduces her to Marlow. Miss Hardcastle addresses Marlow first, and so long as Hastings is with him, he answers sensibly all that Miss Hardcastle asks him. He runs away from her soon after Hastings leaves them. Miss Hardcastle finds that he is very bashful, but has good sense. She wishes that she could teach him a little confidence.

Then there appears Tony and Miss Neville. Miss Neville makes a show of chasing Tony about, while Tony would have nothing to do with her. Mrs. Hardcastle watches it, and Hastings is with her. So Miss Neville is playing game for the benefit of both Mrs. Hardcastle and Hastings. Incidentally, here Mrs. Hardcastle’s character is revealed in her talk with Hastings. She is one dissatisfied with country life and country manners. She studies the fashion magazines of the town, and models herself upon these. Hastings seems to humour her. She complains that her husband is so old-fashioned that she can make nothing of him. Hastings tells her that the most fashionable age for woman about town was late forties, and that now it is going to be fifty, and also that jewels are going out of fashion. And she tells Hastings that her niece (Miss Neville) is still fond of jewels. He is told too that Miss Neville and Tony are engaged to marry. She now addresses Tony. Tony complains to her that he is being chased about by Miss Neville. Tony seems to be disgusted. and demands his fortune. Mother and son make a scene-the mother declaring that she has been lavishing all her affection upon him, and has done all she can to give him good education, to make him genteel, and to keep him in good health by prescribing medicines for him and the son retorting that he will no longer be made a fool of. The mother calls him a viper, and that in the presence of Hastings. Hastings has to take a part; he desires Mrs. Hardcastle to leave the young fellow to him. Mrs. Hardcastle and Miss Neville now withdraw. To Hastings Tony runs down Miss Neville, while Hastings praises her for her modesty and beauty. Tony seems to be in love with Bet Bouncer who is indeed a beauty, as Tony thinks. Hastings makes a pact with Tony. If Tony will help him, he can relieve him of Miss Neville. Tony is at once ready to drive them in a chaise if he wants to carry the lady off to France: he will also help him in getting hold of her jewels. So there is a hint now how the action of the play is going to develop. Hardcastle’s house is mistaken for an inn: Marlow is not going to be undeceived as yet. It makes it very convenient for the two issues Marlow’s courting of Miss Hardcastle and Hasting’s elopement with Miss Neville to be handled. There is a hint already that Marlow can well take care of himself in the company of a barmaid. Marlow is staying at an inn. and he may have a chance with a barmaid there. And we may anticipate Miss Hardcastle playing the role of a barmaid. The notable point is that Goldsmith gives hints of what is coming throughout the play. The construction of the play is marked by cogency and consistency, while the situation is developed so to afford full scope for fun, humour and portrayal of character.

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Hardcastle is disappointed in that he finds Marlow anything but modest, so contrary to what his father led him to expect. His daughter appears before him in very plain clothes. She has a better impression of Marlow than her father, and tries to defend him against the charge of impudence, as she finds him very bashful. She hopes that their impressions will soon be reversed.

We may note here that the action is being speed up. Miss Hardcastle. though she gives no hint to her father, has made a plan to tackle Marlow as a barmaid. And in the meantime Tony steals Miss Neville’s casket of jewels from his mother, and hands it to Hastings. Miss Neville begs Mrs. Hardcastle to give her jewels which she wants to wear and Mrs. Hardcastle finds it little use in telling her that jewels are now out of fashion and at last says that her jewels may be missing and Tony who is there backs her up. Mrs. Hardcastle will not hear of it even when Miss Neville desires her jewels for a day only. Mrs. Hardcastle repeats that they are missing and Tony is ready to swear to the truth. Mrs. Hardcastle is willing to lend Miss Neville her own garnets, but Miss Neville will have none of them. Immediately after this Mrs. Hardcastle discovers the theft of the jewels, and makes a row over it, and it is a scene made all the more comical by Tony nagging at his mother.

Next we have Miss Hardcastle playing the Harmaid’s role. She immediately catches Marlow’s fancy. He has little of his bashfulness now. He has a full look at her, and begins to admire her beauty and simplicity. He pleads for the nectar of her lips, and finally seizes her hand and drags her about when Hardcastle appears there and Marlow runs away. He is none too satisfied to see what happens. He tells his daughter about her idea of a modest lover. In any case he is not going to change his opinion of Marlow. His daughter is still prepared to prove that he is wrong, and begs a little more time. The father will give her but an hour or so to show that he is wrong in his impression about Marlow. It means that there will be another test of Marlow. It marks the sub- climax of the play.

Miss Neville meets Hastings again and tells him that Sir Charles Marlow will be here soon. Hastings does not like that Sir Charles should find him here. He has got her jewels, and has sent them to Marrow. Tony has promised to help him, and he tells Miss Neville that she must be ready to elope with him. When Hastings meets Marlow again, he learns that Marlow has deposited the jewels with the landlady. Marlow appears to be in high spirits. The Harmaid is running in his head. “She’s mine, she must be mine, or I’m greatly mistaken.” Hastings’s plan may be upset; and this means more complication. He leaves Marlow when Hardcastle Comes up there. He seems to have lost all patience with Marlow. Marlow is encouraging his servants to get drunk in his house, and actually one of Marlow’s servants, Jeremy, appears there at the moment. Hardcastle demands that Marlow should leave his house, and Marlow gets all the more cheeky. Marlow calls for the bill. At this moment Hardcastle refers to his father’s letter, leading him to expect a well-bred, modest young man when he finds in his place a coxcomb, and goes away. Now a doubt crosses Marlow’s mind. It is an inn, or is it the house of Mr. Hardcastle?

Marlow now meets Miss Hardcastle again, and learns that it is really the house of Mr. Hardcastle, and that she is not a barmaid, but a poor relation of the family. He wants to run away from the house, but Miss Hardcastle begs him to stay on a little longer. She is afraid that she may be the cause of his going away, and she begins to weep-and Marlow is deeply moved. He makes his confession of love, but regrets the difference in their social position which stands in the way of their being united. She replies that her family is as good as Mr. Hardcastle’s and that till now she has not considered poverty as a misfortune. He wishes that he were free, and could make his own choice. He bids her farewell. Miss Hardcastle, however, will not let him go, if she can She has stooped to conquer, and she will still preserve the character of a barmaid and in the meantime she will enlighten her father.

Mrs. Hardcastle has got back Miss Neville’s jewels. She seems to be pleased when she finds now Miss Neville and Tony fondling together. Then a letter is delivered to Tony by a servant. Miss Neville sees th.x it is a letter from Hastings, and takes it from Tony and reads out all that she can make up at the moment and not what has been written by Hastings. Tony gives the letter to his mother, and then the truth comes out-the plan of elopement in which Tony is aiding. Mrs. Hardcastle at once decides to take Miss Neville to her aunt, Pedigree. It is the final climax of the play. Marlow has discovered that it is the house of Mr. Hardcastle. Hastings and Miss Neville make Tony responsible for all that has happened. Tony gives his word to get Hastings out of the scrape. Marlow is in a very unhappy state of mind over his mistake in treating Hardcastle as an innkeeper. Miss Neville is hustled off by Mrs. Hardcastle. It is Tony who is responsible for Marlow’s mistake, but Marlow takes him to be a half-witted fellow, and blames Hastings for keeping him ignorant. Hastings in his turn blames Marlow for handing over Miss Neville’s casket of jewels to Mrs. Hardcastle. Miss Neville appeals to Marlow against. Tony who has bungled the whole situation by letting his mother read Hastings’ letter. Marlow begs forgiveness of Miss Neville and Hastings. Tony now rises to the occasion. There is something fine in Tony, however we may think of him as a disreputable young man with his love of low company and tavern life, his self-indulgence and his fondness for mischief. Marlow appeals to his good sense: “You see now, young gentleman, the effects of your folly. What might be amusement to you, is here disappointment, and even-distress.” Tony after all is not so bad. To take an unbiased view of the matter. Marlow is first responsible for sending the casket to Mrs. Hardcastle and Hastings is next responsible for writing the letter which falls into the hands of Mrs. Hardcastle and the result is the fiasco which inflicts punishment upon Miss Neville. Tony is now ready to make up for it. He gives his solemn pledge to Hastings. Hastings is to meet him two hours hence at the bottom of the garden. If he cannot extricate Hastings and Miss Neville from the predicament, he will give over his best horse and Bet Bouncer into the bargain.

Now let us see how Tony carries out his plan to rescue Miss Neville, for if he can hand over Neville to the safe custody of Hastings, Hastings will be satisfied. Sir Charles is now down at the house of Hardcastle, and they are laughing over Marlow’s mistake. Hastings keeps out of their way. In the meantime Mrs. Hardcastle and Miss Neville have departed. Marlow comes round to beg pardon of Hardcastle, and Hardcastle seems to be quite pleased that it has turned out to be so: “An hour or two’s laughing with my daughter will set all to rights again.” He tells him that he already enjoys the esteem of his daughter. Marlow has a different report, however, he certainly met Miss Hardcastle, but nothing passed between them except profound respect on one side and distant reserve on the other. Hardcastle cannot, of course, forget what he saw with his own eyes-Marlow dragging his daughter by the hand and his daughter struggling to get free. He wants Marlow to be a little more frank with him, and confess all that has passed between them. Marlow protests that he did not make love to Miss Hardcastle. His father now asks him whether he did not grasp her hand, or make any protestation of love. Marlow denies it most solemnly. After Marlow leaves them, there comes Miss Hardcastle. Her father puts to her whether Marlow did not make any profession of love to her. She admits that he had. To Sir Charles she admits that she had more than one interview with Marlow, and that he professed lasting love to her. She tells Sir Charles also that Marlow has been quite forward in making love to her. Sir Charles cannot believe this to be possible with his son. Then Miss Hardcastle proposes that they should watch unseen and overhear them while they meet again. Sir Charles agrees to it.

Tony keeps his appointment to meet Hastings. He wants to prove that he has been Hasting’s best friend. He tells Hastings that he has taken his mother and Miss Neville round in a post chaise, and at last landed them by the horse pond at the bottom of the garden. And his mother thinks that she is forty miles away from the house and is very shaken and exhausted by the long journey. It is now the chance for Hastings to run off with Miss Neville with no one to give them the chase. So Hastings goes to rescue Miss Neville. And Tony keeps Mrs. Hardcastle engaged. He tells her that she is far away from home- some forty miles or so: they must be upon Crack skull Common, notorious for bandits. Who knows that some-body is not galloping behind them.? Tony seeks to frighten his mother. Then actually there appears a figure. Tony at once makes it out to be his step-father, but he tells his mother that it might be a highwayman. Hardcastle comes up to Tony and Mrs. Hardcastle watches from behind a tree, and she is under the impression that it is a highwayman. Hardcastle heard two voices, and he comes up there, but Tony tells him that he was talking to himself, and wants to take his step-father into the house.

Mrs. Hardcastle now runs forward and kneels before Hardcastle and begs. him to spare her son. Hardcastle hints her up, and then she is surprised to meet her husband in this out-of-the-way place. Hardcastle wonders whether she has not lost her wits when within forty yards of her home she thinks she is so far away. Mrs. Hardcastle blames Tony for landing her in the horse-pond.. Tony’s retort is: “All the parish says that you have spoilt me: and so you may take the fruits don’t.” This is poetic justice, and it seems to be incidentally observed in the play. In the meantime Hastings meets Miss Neville, but cannot persuade her to run off with him. She advises him to wait for two or three years when the trouble will be ended. Hastings appeals to her love in vain. She is not prepared to part with her fortune. Prudence dictates her conduct. She will not do anything in a moment of passion. Rather she will throw herself on Mr. Hardcastle’s compassion and justice. Hastings has to be satisfied with her decision for the moment.

And there is now going to be another interview between Miss Hardcastle and Marlow while Hardcastle and Sir Charles take their place behind a screen Miss Hardcastle begs Marlow to stay a day or two longer by which time he will be able to get over his uneasiness. Marlow is now drawing closer and closer to her. And he confesses to her that he is not going to pay any consideration to the difference of education and fortune, the anger of a parent and to the contempt of his equals. He seems to have made up his mind. She replies that her family is as good as hers whom Marlow has come to visit and neither her education is inferior. Marlow praises again her innocence and virtue, and says that he is determined to stay, trusting that he will be able to persuade his father to approve his love, and he asserts his love now in stronger words in spite of her hinting that it does not look well for him to act imprudently and for her to act as if from a mercenary motive. Marlow now goes down on his knees before her. Sir Charles and Hardcastle enter at this moment. Now Marlow finds that the lady to whom he is addressing his love is none other than Miss Hardcastle-and he is flabbergasted. Miss Hardcastle does not spare bantering him about his dual character. He wants to run away, but Hardcastle would not let him. It was all the result of a mistake. He is ready to forgive him. and assures him that his daughter will forgive him too.

Now we reach the denouement or resolution of the play. Mrs. Hardcastle and Tony enter. Mrs. Hardcastle tells her husband that Miss Neville has run away with Hastings, the gentleman who came down there with Marlow. Sir Charles is happy to hear this, for he thinks that the girl could not have made a better choice. Hardcastle also readily approves it. Mrs. Hardcastle has her triumph in that she has not been able to take away her fortune, which remains in the family and consoles her for her loss. Her husband tells her that if Tony. when of age, refuses to marry Miss Neville she cannot keep the fortune in the family. Then they are joined by Hastings and Miss Neville. Hastings appeals to Hardcastle, and begs to be forgiven for his late attempt to run away with Miss Neville, and tells him that with her father’s consent he first paid addresses to her. Miss Neville confesses that she has practiced dissimulation to avoid oppression, and that in a moment of impulse she was even ready to forgo her fortune-and now she appeals to Hardcastle. Hardcastle turns to Tony and tells him that till now his real age has been concealed from him at the desire of his mother who hoped that in the meantime he might improve in his manners. and asks him whether he refuses to marry Miss Neville if she is offered to him. When Tony hears that he is of age already; he solemnly renounces Miss Neville, whom he does not wish to have for his true and lawful wife. There is a happy ending to the play. Chequered by plenty of fun and humour while proper attention is paid to the development of action and character. It fully satisfies the test of an excellent comedy. Again it is a comedy written with a purpose, and we cannot miss the digs at sentimental comedy in the way the characters are portrayed and sentiments worded, in the avoidance of morbid emotions and melting pity. For example, the way Miss Hardcastle behaves with her father and Marlow-so unconventional and untraditional-is a challenge to sentimental comedy. Tony too would be out of place in a sentimental comedy. Humour which would have little place in sentimental comedy enters largely into the play in the conception and portrayal of Tony’s character, in the portrayal of Marlow’s impudence and Hardcastle’s tolerance. Tony’s tavern life and the tricks he plays would be little congenial to the atmosphere of sentimental comedy. She Stoops to Conquer is a revolt against the manner and tradition of sentimental comedy.



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