She Stoops to Conquer

She Stoops to Conquer Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Oliver Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Oliver Goldsmith

Born in Ireland to Anglo-Irish parents, Oliver Goldsmith rose from obscurity to join the ranks of the most prominent literary figures of his time in London. After graduating from college in Dublin, he dropped out of medical school and travelled around Europe on foot with little money before settling in London in 1756. There he first worked as an apothecary’s assistant before turning to work as a writer for the daily papers. He wrote poems, plays, short stories, and novels. His lively, readable style earned him the respect of more prominent writers, including the philosopher Edmund Burke and Samuel Johnson, the essayist who composed the English language’s first high-quality dictionary. Despite his acceptance into these high circles, Goldsmith was known to be deeply envious of his friends, awkward, ashamed of his physical appearance, a drunk, a gambler, and an extremely bad manager of his own money. His friends often remarked on the contrast between his disorderly personal life and his clear, well-organized, and stylistically beautiful writing. Goldsmith died in 1774 after failing to seek medical care for a treatable kidney infection.
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Historical Context of She Stoops to Conquer

The play takes place during the long and relatively peaceful reign of King George III, a time of social metamorphosis for Britain. The Agricultural Revolution had and led to an unprecedented increase in agricultural production and a massive consolidation of farmland, which in turn sent many of Britain’s rural-dwellers into the city looking for work. Class divisions were slowly but surely becoming more pronounced as the Industrial Revolution, in its very early years, was creating a new class of working poor in the increasingly populous cities. Simultaneously, as a new sense of cosmopolitanism began to develop among these cities’ wealthy urban elite, they began to see themselves as superior—more cultured and worldly—than people of the same class who lived in the countryside (the landed gentry). This social dynamic sets the stage for many of the interactions in She Stoops, as Marlow and Hastings (two young “city slickers”) have journeyed to the countryside to visit the Hardcastles. Marlow’s condescension toward Hardcastle, for example—even though it is the result of his mistaken belief that Hardcastle is an innkeeper—draws laughs because it plays on Hardcastle’s sensitivity to this newly emergent hierarchy between the cultured city-dweller and the country bumpkin.

Other Books Related to She Stoops to Conquer

Goldsmith’s first play, A Good-Natur’d Man, received negative reviews from critics, who found his depiction of rude, lower-class characters vulgar. Goldsmith understood the important role critics played in ensuring the success of his next play, so he laid out his reasons for depicting characters the way he did; in the same year that he wrote She Stoops to Conquer, Goldsmith produced an essay, “A Comparison Between Laughing and Sentimental Comedy,” in which he argued that comedies should return to focusing on humanity’s follies rather than its calamities. This effort to influence the critical reception of his play by framing it conceptually was a success, and She Stoops to Conquer became an instant hit. It resurrected some of the conventions of Restoration Theatre, the dramatic period during which William Congreve and Aphra Behn wrote their bawdy comedies of manner. These plays poked fun at the pretentions of the upper class, showing them in funny and sometimes farcical situation. Later in the 1770s, plays like The Rivals and A School for Scandal by Richard Brinsley Sheriden would follow the example of the “laughing comedy” that Goldsmith created with She Stoops to Conquer.
Key Facts about She Stoops to Conquer
  • Full Title: She Stoops to Conquer
  • When Written: 1771
  • Where Written: London, England
  • When Published: 1773
  • Literary Period: Georgian comedy; “new” Comedy of Manners; Laughing Comedy
  • Genre: Laughing Comedy; Comedy of Manners
  • Setting: A small town in the English countryside during the Georgian era (18th century)
  • Climax: Sir Charles and Hardcastle burst from behind the screen during Marlow’s proposal to Kate.
  • Antagonist: Mrs. Hardcastle

Extra Credit for She Stoops to Conquer

Writer’s writer. Goldsmith was beloved and admired by fellow writers, who loved his writing style and pitied his many foibles. Samuel Johnson and Washington Irving, among others, both wrote tender biographies of Goldsmith.

Copyright Mistake. Goldsmith was often deep in debt. He signed the copyright for She Stoops to Conquer over to his publisher, John Newbery, to repay a debt. Sales of the book brought Newbery profits that far exceeded Goldsmith’s original debt, but Goldsmith received none of this money. Other works that Newbery claimed to have written himself, like the popular children’s book The Story of Little Goody Two Shoes, may also have been written by Johnson to repay debts.