Significance Of The Title Of The Play She Stoops To Conquer

Oliver Goldsmith had to face a great difficulty in finding a suitable title for She Stoops to Conquer. Dr. Johnson informs us of how they were ‘all in labour for a name to Goldy’s play. The playwright thought over three alternatives before deciding in favour of the present title. At first it was called The Old House a New Inn. Sir Joshua Reynolds suggested another title The Belle’s Stratagem. The Mistakes of a Night, the present subtitle, was also an early choice. Goldsmith finally named the play She Stoops to Conquer, taking his cue from Dryden’s line in The Hind and the Panther But kneels to conquer and but stoops to rise. The present title is not merely apt and significant but admittedly better than these which preceded it.

As a title The Old House a New Inn is not significant enough. It just sheds light on the setting-the ‘old rumbling mansion’ of Mr. Hardcastle that looks for all the world like an inn. Sir Reynold’s suggestion The Belle’s Stratagem. was modelled on Farquhar’s The Beaux’ Stratagem. This title does point to the clever maneuverings of Miss Hardcastle, but it does not shed any light on the nature of the tricks she employs to hook her suitor. Moreover, this title fails to epitomize the spirit of the sub-plot. The Mistakes of a Night was not a bad choice, for the action of the play pivots around various mistakes committed by a number of characters.

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By entitling the play She Stoops to Conquer Goldsmith actually wants to highlight the key incident of the play, that is, the stooping of the heroine with a view to conquering her lover. This is of enormous significance for it disproves the romantic notion that in love the fair-sex always plays a passive role. By taking the initiative in her affair with Marlow, Miss Hardcastle pioneers the Shavian heroines who are not meant to be wooed but chase the stemmer sex to woo them. It is remarkable that Goldsmith adequately justifies the stooping on the part of the heroine. This is aesthetically necessary for Marlow as a man of singular character. He freezes and petrifies in the presence of respectable women but among low stationed women he is quite forward. The unaccountable bashfulness of Marlow is evident from his ‘sober sentimental interview with Miss Hardcastle. He meets her with ‘a respectable bow, a stammering voice, and a look fixed on the ground. For this unaccountable reserve of Marlow- ‘that timid look that awkward address’ Miss Hardcastle decides to stoop to conquer. Her chief aim, as she divulges to her maid, is to take my gentleman off his guard. Despite her interview with Marlow she finds a chance to move forward with her project, for Marlow ‘never once looked up’ during the interview. This has been justified by Marlow’s own impression of Miss Hardcastle, “I think she squints.”

No wonder, Marlow mistakes her for a bar-maid and then for a poor relation appointed to keep the keys and attend to the guests. In the final scene Marlow is completely vanquished for now he kneels before her and makes confident addresses of a secure admirer. This proves the suitability and aptness of the present title. There is stooping-even in the subplot. Miss Hardcastle stoops not merely to expose Marlow’s foot of clay but to prove that the faults of her suitor are corrigible faults that will pass off with time and virtues that will improve with age. Miss Neville, however, has been obliged to stoop to ‘dissimulation to avoid oppression. While Kate’s stooping is social, hers is moral. Finally, it is wrong to suggest that the play should have been named after Tony Lumpkin who is ‘the engine of the plot. True, he is the central character of the action, but Goldsmith did not consider his name as the title probably because the focus here is on the mistaken identity and on stooping and not on the character of Tony. This is borne out by the words in the epilogue. ‘Well, having stooped to conquer with success and gained a husband-without aid from dress.”



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