Tom Davis's introduction to Oliver Goldsmith's play (E. Benn / Norton, 1979)
Oliver Goldsmith was born an Irishman, the second son of a not very affluent clergyman, probably in the village of Pallas, County Westmeath, probably in 1730. Soon afterwards the family moved to the village of Lissoy, one of the candidates for the role of Auburn in Goldmith's famous pastoral The Deserted Village. The intensity of the longing for the idealized village of the poem is mirrored by the intensity with which Goldsmith attempted to desert his own village background: as an entrant to Trinity College, Dublin (1745); in two attempts to emigrate to America; in a flight to Dublin, intending to study law in London (both in 1750-52); finally, and successfully, as a medical student at the university of Edinburgh (1752). He stayed there two years, in considerable poverty—his extravagance not being met by his only source of income, a small allowance from his uncle—before the urge to travel took him, without a degree and after what can only have been a superficial education in medicine, for a by no means grand tour of Europe. Not much is known of his travels, except for the probably rather fictitious accounts given by Goldsmith himself; he seems to have visited Flanders, France, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, living (as he was always to do) on the edge of destitution. He survived, to emerge in London in 1756, trying one job after another to subsist. Apothecary's assistant, unsuccessful (and unqualified) physician, possibly proof-reader, certainly an usher in a boy's school.
Gradually, however, he felt his way into the literary life. In 1757 he was writing articles on a regular basis for the Monthly Review, and earning a steady and reasonable income from it; by 1762 he had established himself as a writer worth respecting, with a wide set of friends in the literary world, including Samuel Johnson, whose career had run somewhat parallel to his. Although in 1760 he was earning the comfortable salary of £100 a year for writing two articles a week for John Newbery, these being the letters of a fictitious Chinaman reporting his amusing and penetratingly naïve impressions of England, he remained constatnly in debt, his money draining away on gambling (which he was very bad at), elaborate and rather tasteless clothes, and other extravagances. In 1762 Newbery became his patron, landlord, and banker, and made him a strict allowance, to be debited against the credit earned by work done. This action explicitly acknowledged him to be the foremost journalistic talent in the stable of one of the most prominent publishers of the day, and worth the investment of a shrewd businessman. He took at this point another crucial step: he signed a contract for a Survey of Experimental Philosophy; that is, in order to make immediate money he was prepared to use the distinctive assurance and clarity of his prose style in producing compilations, translations, and other hack productions on matters of popular interest: a History of England (1764), a Roman History (1769), another History of England (1771), and the posthumously published Grecian History and History of the Earth and Animated Nature (1774). His life was to be bedevilled by debt, squandered advances, deadlines, and undone work; this is why, out of the voluminous quantity of his writings, relatively little is read now.
In 1764, however, he produced a major poem: The Traveller, or a Prospect of Society, a meditative account of his own wanderings in Europe. This piece was, remarkably, the first he had published under his own name, and it brought him fame, respect, and adulation. He was an eminent man; a founder-member, for instance, of what is still one of the most exclusive clubs in London: Dr Johnson's Club, whose membership has included most of the most eminent, witty, and talented people of their day. Reynolds (who became Goldsmith's closest friend), Sheridan, Gibbon, Burke, Fox, Garrick, Boswell, and so on for a long list.
In 1766 The Vicar of Wakefield was published. This wry, charming, and subtle tale, the Book of Job absurdly retold as comedy, whose sale had been used by Johnson to rescue the author from the bailiffs, was eventually to achieve an international fame, in spite of its authror's lack of confidence in it and its hasty and patched-on ending; but not the kind of immediate pre-eeminence and financial security that Goldsmith required.
The other route to such quick returns was through the theatre. Goldsmith's career as a playwright began with the first performance of The Good Natured Man early in 1768. The death of Newbery the previous December had made the need for wealth more pressing, but this rather feeble and ungainly comedy was a disappointingly moderate success.
In the last six years of his life he produced three important works of literature. The first was the nostalgic and rather sentimental pastoral The Deserted Village (1770); it is his most famous poem, but its value has slackened as the romanticism that brought it forth has ebbed and been replaced. The last was his Retaliation, written about two months before his death and posthumously published in 1774. To my mind it is his best poem: a satire on the set of literary friends to which he belonged, remarkable, like all of his best work, for its amalgam of kindness and telling, perceptive irony. And, thirdly, a year before he died, his best work and his only other play: the unique comedy, She Stoops to Conquer.
Goldsmith wrote the play in the summer of 1771, again under the pressure of debt, again attempting to catch at the golden and instantaneous rewards of a successful play. He had great difficulty in getting it staged, largely owing to the resistance of Colman and Garrick, the managers of London's two principal theatres. They thought that the play's overt attack on prevailing theatrical fashions made it too much of a risk. Garrick 'bought himself off by a poor prologue' (1) and Colman, eventually, reluctantly, put it on, at Covent Garden. The first night was at the tag-end of the season (15 March); leading actors had refused parts in it; the props and costumes were second-rate; and Colman had made no secret of his expectation that it would be damned. It was not. The first night audience was ecstatic, and audiences ever since have continued to laugh. The play has appeared in some three hundred different editions since 1773 and, since then, has been revived in the West End approximately once every three years, and almost constantly in provincial theatres (2). It must be the most popular play outside Shakespeare.
Goldsmith, though temporarily exhilarated by its success, and the five hundred pounds that came with it, had no idea what he had created. He was soon submerged again in debt and depression, which did not leave him until his death in April 1774, This was tinged, like his life, with farce: his last act as a 'Doctor' was to poison himself, inadvertently, by persistent use of the wrong medicine. He left debts of £2,000.
Goldsmith's sources for She Stoops to Conquer were absurdly numerous. He was throughout his life an unscrupulous 'borrower' of other people's writings, and it is clear that his imagination needeed the stimulus of raw material for re-working. For instance Marivaux's Le Jeu de l'Amour et du Hasard (1730), besides several explicit verbal parallels, has the heroine change places with her maid in order to assess her intended husband without him knowing it. Farquhar's The Beaux' Stratagem (1707) also has a number of textual similarities, and (among other, larger, parallels) , the wooing of the barmaid Cherry by the gentleman-in-disguise Archer is strikingly similar. Ginger (3), Goldmith's latest and best biographer, thinks (wrongly, I believe) that the play was based so closely on Bickerstaffe's recent and successful opera Love in a Village (1762) as to amount to evident and obvious plagiarism. And so on; Hamlyn (She Stoops to Conquer: The Making of a Popular Success, pp. 1-54) lists (selectively) over forty sources that have been suggested for lines, scenes, incidents, characters, or the entire structure. The proliferation of sources devalues the enterprise of discovering them. None of these candidates comes very near suggesting Goldsmith's unique play.
She Stoops to Conquer was, however, and in a rather different way, dependent on other plays. It was written as an attack on an important eighteenth-century theatrical movement: that known as Sentimental Comedy. This aspect of the play is important, and has never been treated in sufficient detail.
She Stoops to Conquer is outstandingly a play that has survived and cast off its context. It is extraordinarily accessible, and has been popular for this (and other) reasons for 200 years. But the prologue, dedication, and epilogues proclaim that it was written as an attack on a specific and allegedly predominant theatrical genre; and its contemporary reception gives ample support for this view. Moreover, the text of the play contains specific parodies of this genre, and while these parodies remain marvellously and independently absurd for the vast majority of readers and audiences who have never read the minor comedy of the eighteenth century that is under attack, it is worth re-locating this play in this context, if only because such a comparison leads in to a more general consideration of the play's structure and chief concerns.
The genre under attack is that of Sentimental Comedy. What does this mean? From the play and its prologues and epilogues we can gather what Goldsmith and Garrick thought it meant, at least:
1. It is moral comedy: it tends to rejoice in moral statements or 'sentiments' (Prologue, lines 25-30).
2. It is non-naturalistic ('Faces are blocks, in sentimental scenes') Prologue, line 24.
3. It relies upon 'high-life scenes' and titled characters (Second Rejected Epilogue, ll. 33-6).
4. It is genteel comedy, without recourse to depicting 'low' characters or situations (I.ii, 35-45).
Goldsmith's short 'Essay on the Theatre; or, a Comparison between Laughing and Sentimental Comedy' (4), which was published two monthes before She Stoops to Conquer and was clearly intended to prepare the way for that play, adds the following:
5. insipid dialogue
6. 'pathetic' scenes, in which we are invited to weep, rather than laugh.
7. 'good, and exceedingly generous' characters (p. 212).
Finally, we can add two more general characteristics that this list doesn't specify:
8. Sentimental Comedy is benevolent; its laughter is sympathetic rather than satiric, it depends on the notion that human nature is fundamentally good, or at least easily corrigible. Its villains are few, and the end of the play brings them (sometimes with alarming suddenness) to reform.
9. Finally, it is the comedy of sensibility; it rejoices in exhibiting in its characters a noble delicacy of sentiment, an emotional refinement often close to the modern pejorative use of 'sentimentality'.
This, then, is how people viewed the genre in 1773. It is easy to see these categories as a reaction against Restoration Comedy, conceived of as licentious, satiric, amoral, witty, often cruel, explicitly sexual, and, primarily, very funny. The problem, however, is that these categories do not hold as a simple binary opposition to characterize the plays of the 1760s and 1770s; on the one hand, Sentimental Comedy, on the other, Laughing Comedy, as exemplified by Goldsmith's play (5). She Stoops to Conquer, for instance, simply does not embody solely a set of oppositions to these categories. Marlow, when he is reduced to inarticulacy by talking to Kate, produces a parody of moral 'sentiments' (no. 1): for instance, 'The folly of most people is rather an object of mirth than uneasiness' (II.i, 418-19). But he is also capable of saying, as Kate is making the transition from barmaid to her own natural character,
I can never harbour a thought of seducing simplicity that trusted in my honour, or bringing ruin upon one, whose only fault was being too lovely . . . I owe too much to the opinion of the world, too much to the authority of a father, so that—I can scarcely speak it—it affects me (IV.i, 226-9, 242-4)
—thus giving voice to 'sentiments' (no. 1), the pathetic (no. 6), a rather mawkish goodness and generosity (no. 7), a certain insipidity (no. 5) and artificiality (no. 2), 'benevolent' corrigibility (no. 8), and, above all, sensibility (no. 9). A number of the scenes with Hastings and Miss Neville, particularly their reform, apparently exhibit most of these characteristics. If we add to this the fact that Marlow's father is titled (no. 3) and that most of the characters are genteel, and belong to the leisured gentry (no. 4), we have (by a process of ruthlessly partial selection) found all of the 'Sentimental' characteristics in this 'Laughing' comedy.
What sense, then, can we make of the distinction? Firstly, there was inded a looser genre called Sentimental Comedy, that gave birth to a number of plays throughout the eighteenth century, though not a predominant number, and which was characterised by some or most of the eight characteristics (except, curiously, the reliance on titled characters [no. 6], which Goldsmith seems to have been deceived about). Its leading exponents were Cibber, Woodfall, and Kelly; no one but specialists now reads these plays. Goldsmith was reacting against something. Secondly, while the play evinces these characteristics to some extent, it also contains reactions against them; it operates, not only by parody, but by self-parody. It is as if Goldsmith sets up an opposition within the play between sentimentalism (as defined above) and its opposites: Restoration comedy, satire, and farce. From the clash between the two he effects a synthesis, that we can identify as a comedy that both contains and transcends the limitations of these genres.
The farcical element has always hindered the appreciation and understanding of She Stoops to Conquer. Is its continued popularity solely because it is a very funny play, or is there more to it than that? Literary criticism, which is not designed to cope with humour, has largely ignored it (6), thus assenting to the former view. This, too, was the reaction of the play's contemporary audience. 'The audience are kept in a continual roar' said the Morning Chronicle (7); and Samuel Johnson said that he knew not any 'comedy for many years, that has answered so much the great end of comedy—making an audience merry' (8). But comedy is not solely defined by laughter; if this is all, then Horace Walpole's savage comments have some force: 'What play makes you laugh very much, and yet is a very wretched comedy? . . . the drift tends to no moral, no edification of any kind' (9). In other words, as the March issue of the London Magazine remarked, since 'consistency is repeatedly violated for the sake of humour . . . in lieu of comedy he has sometimes presented us with farce'. And this, in general, is the view that has prevailed ever since: enshrined in the critics' silence and the audience's laughter, the suspicion that the play is nothing but a highly successful farce.
I believe, and hope to show, that this is not so. It is easy to see why it came about. Goldsmith—and his audience—were reacting against self-consciously moral comedy, and the opposite of that is farce, which we can define as a mixture of ludicrous improbabilities and (as far as possible) a lack of moral concerns. The audience, and critics since, reacted too far, and identified the play with farce (10), but Goldsmith did not (11). The play does borrow from this genre, and continually flirts with it; its prime achievement as theatre is its energy, its pace; the action, and the laughter, never let up, and the play's timing in this respect is superb. It is the timing of good farce. But consider, for instance, the most nearly farcical moment in it, when Tony Lumpkin has persuaded his mother (soaked up to her waist in mud) to hide at the bottom of her own garden from her own husband as a highwayman. This, we may note, is the classical stratagem of farce, much of whose comic tension is in the tricks to get people out of the way so that the subterfuges are not brought to light. The urgent absurdity of the action hurries the audience past this in a gale of laughter, and thus it is easy to miss one crucial and rather poignant point: Mrs Hardcastle is the only unsympathetic character in the play—resolutely so, and irredeemably; she will not reform at the end. This is appropriately unsentimental; but nonetheless this absurd 'humours' character is given depth. She is prepared, with some heroism, to give up her life for her son. 'Take my money, my life, but spare that young gentleman; spare my child' (V.ii, 113-14), she screams, and the audience laughs at the farcical release of tension as the subterfuge is discovered; thus we miss her moment of grace. The most apparently farcical moment in the play also reveals a disturbing moral ambiguity: this overpoweringly selfish and vain woman has a completely selfless love for her 'graceless varlet' of a son. Goldsmith's joke is at the expense of those who cannot perceive it.
Another way in which the play contains Sentimentalism but expands beyond it is in its attitude to 'sentiments', the sententious sayings identified with Sentimental Comedy. As we have seen, Marlow has a rather tedious tendency towards them; Hardcastle, too, is prone to such attitudes: 'I could never teach the fools of this day, that the indigent world could be clothed out of the trimmings of the vain' (I.i, 92-4) and again 'modesty seldom resides in a breast that is not enriched with nobler virtues' (I.i, 134-5). But, as we have already seen with Mrs. Hardcastle, it is important to the play's method to induce a double attitude towards its characters: neither the simplicities of farce nor the banalities of moralizing, but the reflexive subtleties of comedy. Hardcastle is a sympathetic character, as we see in the loving mutual mockery and mutual respect of his conversations with his daughter (e.g. I.i, 90-146), and his resigned affection for his appalling wife. But he is also absurdly pompous and complacent. He is punished for it by being roundly put down by Marlow, but the seeds of this comic retribution are already present in these two tendentious 'sentiments'. After all, it is his peculiar insistence on Kate waring a plain dress that furthers the illusion that his house is an inn—to his discomfort (and, by another twist, to the play's happy resolution); and his remarking that modesty necessarily involves nobler virtues becomes a resounding dramatic irony at his expense when we consider what terrible things the undeniably modest Marlow is about to say and do to him.
Even Hastings and Miss Neville are, finally, subject to this ironic double perception. They are the weakest part of the play; they only seem to come alive as foils, Hastings to Marlow, Neville to Kate, and both (their main purpose) as pawns to be shoved enthusiastically around by Tony Lumpkin; Hastings's (sentimental) remark 'Perish the baubles! Your person is all I desire' (II.i, 345) is one of the very few unspeakable lines in the entire play. Their sub-plot is the essence of sentimental fiction, and so is their language. Miss Neville refuses to elope, for two reasons; one is realistic: 'My spirits are so sunk with the agitations I have suffered, that I am unable to face any new danger' (V.ii, 145-7). Considering that she has undergone precisely the same torments which Lumpkin has put his mother through—which Hastings, incidentally, seems to find rather funny (V.ii, 28)—this is understandable. However, the second reason is what the audience should be paying attention to: 'No, Mr Hastings; no. Prudence once more comes to my relief, and I will obey its dictates. In the moment of passion, fortune may be despised, but it ever produces a lasting repentance' (V.ii, 154-7). This curious mixture of moralizing and prudentiality is precisely the material of Sentimental Comedy, and the unpleasantly tatctical humility is continued in their repentance speeches to the assembled elders. It is clear that Goldsmith is being (not uncharacteristically) careless about the peripheral details of his plot; one recalls his remark in his 'Comparison between Laughing and Sentimental Comedy', that the latter is 'of all others, the most easily written' (12). However, the play, almost at the last minute, redeems itself, with an extraordinary wrench. Mrs Hardcastle's comment on this is 'Pshaw, pshaw, this is all but the whining end of a modern novel' (V.iii, 129-30). The play is avowedly against the sentimentality that Hastings and Neville represent but the criticism, which specifically refers their behaviour to the literary genre, is put into the mouth of the play's only villain. Again, and this time with startling abruptness, the play turns on itself, its apparent simplicities becoming duplicity. it is, after all, a play about disguises; every important character in it at some point tells lies. The play also disguises itself, retreating behind these masks, leading us, as Marlow is led, by lies towards a recognition of our own complacencies.
The clearest instance of this mockery of the (London, sophisticated) audience is in the scene at the Three Jolly Pigeons. The audience, like the two gentlemen down from London, is introduced to the world of pastoral, in its role as mocking mirror of the securities of the metropolis, and both find it to be a world turned upside down. The play has begun with an opposition between town and country, between Hardcastle's attack on the vanity of the town and his wife's longing for its sophistication. But underneath this conventionality there is a dissonance. Marlow is unable to recognize that Tony Lumpkin is the Squire and thus of his own class, and from this his misfortunes (and salvation) arise. But the audience too is presented with an image of itself. Fashionable comedy was genteel; its audience was predominantly middle-class; it damned that which did not correspond to its polite conception of itself with the penetrating shouted monosyllable 'low'. By this means it had caused a scene from Goldsmith's first play to be removed from the stage. On the play's first night the London audience was presented with the sight of 'a low, paltry set of fellows' (I.i, 72) listening to the Squire's song, who suddenly, with marvellous inconsequentiality, start to pretend that they are a fashionable London audience: 'Oh damn anything that's low, I cannot bear it . . . the genteel thing is the genteel thing any time' (I.ii, 38-9). This in its own right was very funny, and the audience of the time, like the modern audience that has lost the specific context, is once more swept past it by laughter. But it is not farce; it is very sharp satire. No wonder George Colman, the theatre's manager, felt during the first performance that he had been sitting on a powder-barrel.
This particular opposition between 'genteel' and 'low', is a local and specific joke, another attack on what is now a dead genre, a dead audience, and their vanished complacencies; but (once more) it expands—this time through the entire play—into a perennial theme. The play is deeply concerned with the concept of social class, and examines it by a whole series of just such reversals. In this distorted pastoral world no one seems to know which class they belong to. The yokels claim with comic pomposity to be gentlemen: 'What though I am obligated to dance a bear, a man may be a gentleman for all that' (I.ii, 41-3) and Tony Lumpkin, with curious seriousness, asks them to go when Marlow and Hastings arrive: 'Gentlemen . . . they mayn't be good enough company for you' (I.ii, 70-1). Tony himself is a kind of yokel, 'a poor contemptible booby' (IV.i, 390), but his is also a member of 'one of the best families in the county' (IV.i, 193-4) and Hardcastle seems to have more in common with his clumsy servants than with his genteel guests. The joke against him is rather sharp, as he later recognizes ('And yet he might have seen something in me above a common inn-keeper' [V.i, 15-16])—for the point is that without foreknowledge his guests cannot recognize him as intrinsically a gentleman; as Hastings remarks, with cruel superciliousness, he 'forgets that he's an inn-keeper, before he has learned to be a gentleman' (II.i, 200-2). And this redounds with equal sharpness on the town 'gentlemen'; is their rudeness to Hardcastle appropriate—'gentlemanly' behaviour towards anyone, whether landlord or landowner? Are they then intrinsically getlemen? Hardcastle's mansion is indeed Liberty-Hall (13), and the results are rather unnerving.
What Goldsmith wanted from comedy was that it should 'perfectly satirical yet perfectly goodnatured' (14) at the same time. This apparently awkward blend of 'Sentimental' benevolence with 'Restoration' satire is precisely what he achieved in She Stoops to Conquer. The satire beneath the kindliness is felt but not perceived; the audience is too busy laughing.
The main way in which this is managed, apart from the kind of implicit undercutting I have tried to elucidate above, is in the curiously triadic structure of the play. There are three central characters, Lumpkin, Marlow, and Kate, and their relationship in the structure is triangular. Marlow is the manipulated focus of two plots, that of Lumpkin, which is satiric, and that of Kate, which is good-natured. Lumpkin's ruse brings out in him the Restoration rake, and Kate's the Sentimental lover. The final synthesis, the comic resolution, lies with Kate.
Let us start as the play does, with Tony Lumpkin, and with two critical comments. Kenrick, Goldsmith's enemy, was testily uncomprehending: 'The squire whom we are told to be a fool, proves the most sensible being of the piece' (15). Not quite—there is Kate Hardcastle; but the paradox is well stated. A more modern is equally bemused, in fact awestruck:
he has persistently reminded readers of such ideal creations of the comic imagination as Shakespeare's Puck. However exquisitely entertaining and flawlessly consistent, Goldsmith's booby is, one feels, not of earth. One wonders at him, as Shelley at the Skylark. (16)
Rather over-stated, but one knows what he means. The reference to Puck is apt. Tony Lumpkin, at once (like the play) laughed at and laughing at us, is, to begin with, the play's author. The plot is his creation; not only the subterfuge, but the liveliness and the timing are what he makes them, and the verbal energy is his language. Whenever the complicated twists of the plot (his plot) are about to founder, Lumpkin, like Puck, arrives, and whips and spurs it into action again, usually by heaping mistake upon mistake. His plot, his satire, the ambiguous Liberty-Hall, is suggested to him by the fact that the two Londoners cannot identify him as well-born, and so tell him exactly what they think of him; his revenge is that this honesty should be forced on them, to their discomfiture. Marlow tells Hardcastle just what he thinks of him. Thus Lumpkin embodies or creates all of the reversals (except Kate's) of 'genteel' and 'low' that the play contains, and his purpose is both farcical (he is a 'mere composition of tricks and mischief' [I.i, 39-40], a practical joker) and moral, an attribute in him that both Hardcastle (V.ii, 140) and Hastings (V.ii, 50) acknowledge. His paradox is therefore the play's: the moral farce. His energy is then deflected into the sub-plot (he is kept quite apart from his half-sister Kate, and never exchanges a word with her, as ife even her integrity might be vulnerable to his wit), and into wickedly inventive tormenting of his mother. His character is completely untouched by the action of the play; benevolist notions of corrigibility cannot contain him. When he gains his birthright, like Caliban, at the end, we feel obscurely that he has earned it; but unlike Caliban (whom he strongly resembles) he is unrepentant.
If Lumpkin is the play, Marlow suffers its action, and learns from it. The paradox of his character, the rake who is paralysed with shyness, can be seen quite easily in terms of literary genres (though of course it transcends these: he is curiiously archetypel). He is at the beginning incapacitated from marriage, which is the golden resolution of comedy, by the fact that he is both too bold and too shy. He cannot love because he cannot talk of love; only either the false language of seduction, of besieging the ladies, of onquest, which is that of Restoration Comedy, or else the false platitudes of Sentimental Comedy. Symbolically, the latter make him dumb. His view of sex is that it can be bought: with noticeable explicitness for the 1770s it is made clear that he visits prostitutes and (ironically) will pay for the favours of the supposed barmaid. He relies on the securities of class-distinction, power, and money; he is, as Hardcastle points out, a bully (IV.i, 176) and thus his cowardice is a natural complement.
Described in this way he seems very unpleasant; of course, and by a remarkable legerdemain, he is not He is saved by his extreme vulnerability, by his comprehensive come-uppance, and by Kate. But it is worth noting that his redemption is not complete; he never quite gets his language right. He cannot stop being literary. His serious wooing is still, as we noticed, tinged with Sentiment, and though Kate rather likes it, she has its number beautifully: He 'said some civil things of my face, talked much of his want of merit, and the greatness of mine; mentioned his heart, gave a short tragedy speech, and ended with pretended ratpure' (V., 106-9). And his last words as he stiffly unbends under her 'tormenting' are not fully redeemed: Kate is his possession, 'my little tyrant' (V.iii, 154). Nice, we may feel, that he is making an effort, but not quite right. The play's attack on the sentimentality of redemptions extends even here.
Finding a counterbalance to Tony Lumpkin for the sencon part of the play must have been difficult. It is remarkable that it didn't prove impossible. But Kate Hardcastle is equally Shakespearian in her origins; if Lumpkin is Puck, she reminds everyone of Rosalind in As You Like It. Like Lumpkin she is 'malicious' (III.i, 279), and (rather like Marlow) she has a frank appreciation of the financial aspects of what she is: 'a girl who brings her face to market' (III.i, 242) (17). Of course, she transcends this as well: her wit, resourcefulness, and commonsense are constantly attractive. She is the only character actually and successfully in control of the Mistakes of the Night. She takes over Tony Lumpkin's satirical plot and makes it her won: an ameliorative, educational one. His comedy is destructive, mocking; hers heals, but is saved from sententiousness by her own mocking wit. She in fact appropriates all of the play's themes. She undergoes voluntarily (as no one else does) the reversal of class-roles, and does this in order to create a space for lovers to talk in that is independent of class and of the constrictions that reduce marlow to lies or silence. She tells lies, but in order to force a truth; she turns near-farce into comedy; and she unites town and country in marriage. She is the prime agent of Goldsmith's synthesis of opposed genres. The play's happy ending is hers.
(1). Horace Walpole, Letters, ed. Peter Cunningham, V (Edinburgh, 1906), 453.
(2). Information from Susan Katherine Hamlyn, She Stoops to Conquer: the Making of a Popular Success, MA (unpublished), University of Birmingham, 1975. This thesis contains the best critical work on the play that I have yet seen.
(3) John Ginger, The Notable Man (London, 1977).
(4) Collected Works of Oliver Goldsmith, ed. Arthur Friedman, III (Oxford, 1966), 209-13.
(5) This is the traditional view, as given in such standard works as Allardyce Nicoll's History of English Drama, 1660-1900, III (Cambridge, 1952), 124-54. But recent scholars, particularly Robert D. Hume in his 'Goldsmith and Sheridan and the Supposed Revolution of "Laughing" against "Sentimental" Comedy' (in Studies in Change and Revolution, ed. Paul J. Korshin [Menston, 1972]), have severely criticized the view, even going so far as to suggest that there was no such genre as Sentimental Comedy.
(6) There are, of course, exceptions; for instance, Ginger and Hamlyn (op. cit.) have both written interestingly on the play, and there is an essay by B. Eugene McCarthy which is well worth reading (see Further Reading, p. xxix).
(7) 16 March 1773.
(8) James Boswell, Life of Johnson, ed. G. B. Hill, revised L. F. Powell, II (Oxford, 1934), 233.
(9) op. cit., pp. 453, 467.
(10) For instance, Nicoll, op. cit., p. 159.
(11) That he believed that his play had a moral (but not moralizing) function can be seen in the second rejected epilogue, lines 14-30.
(12) Friedman, op. cit., p. 213.
(13) It is worth pointing out another specifically contemporary reference behind this theme. Goldsmith (a firm Tory) was writing this play while the movement for 'Wilkes and Liberty' was approaching its final flowering, and in a letter of 7 September 1771 that describes the composition of She Stoops to Conquer, he mentions, in passing, that 'the cry of Liberty is still as loud as ever' (quoted in Arthur Lytton Sells, Oliver Goldsmith, 1974, p. 146). Marlow's servant is a Wilkesian ('Though I'm but a servant, I'm as good as another man' [IV.i, 123]). The violently populist and libertarian Wilkes riots, which repeatedly convulsed London, add a curious resonance to the play's genial but ambiguous coinage, 'Liberty-Hall'.
(14) Goldsmith, Monthly Review, May 1773.
(15) London Packet, 24 March 1773.
(16) John Harrington Smith, 'Tony Lumpkin and the Country Booby Type in Antecedent English Comedy', PMLA 58 (1943): 1049.
(17) She was actually felt at the time to be rather shocking: 'the heroine has no more modesty than Lady Bridget', commented the sentimentally inclined Horace Walpole (op. cit., p. 453).