Plays

She Stoops to Conquer

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Populated by a sweep of brilliant comic characters, She Stoops to Conquer is a spirited comedy of mischief and misunderstanding, as the gallant Marlow mistakes his intended well-born bride for a barmaid.

Young Marlow is petrified in the presence of women of his own class, but rampantly flirtatious with the serving classes. To his alarm, he has been sent, accompanied by his friend Hastings who has his own agenda, to meet the bride his father has chosen for him: the daughter of a respected gentleman, Mr Hardcastle. They have got lost in the dark country roads, and unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately – the mischievous Tony Lumpkin convinces them that the old country house is an inn, Mr Hardcastle its eccentric innkeeper, and Kate Hardcastle its barmaid.

Kate, enjoying as a consequence Marlow’s palpable ardour, chooses not to undeceive him, until a delightful flurry of trifling confusions and eavesdroppings have made way for a pleasingly neat happy ending.

Goldsmith’s play was first performed in 1773 at the Covent Garden theatre, London, and its well-meaning comic exuberance has made it a favourite on the stage from Goldsmith’s day to ours.

audio She Stoops to Conquer

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

In this classic comedy of manners, two young men set out to woo the alluring and upper-crust Kate and Constance. But is anybody in this rural estate ruly who they seem? Bawdy hijinks and popped pretensions are the hallmarks of this romping frolic that’s kept audiences laughing for over two centuries.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring: Rosalind Ayres as Mrs. Hardcastle Adam Godley as Tony Lumpkin Julian Holloway as Elder Marlow and Stingo James Marsters as Charles Marlow Christopher Neame as Roger Paula Jane Newman as Bet Bouncer and Pimple Ian Ogilvy as Mr. Hardcastle Moira Quirk as Constance Neville Darren Richardson as Diggory and Jeremy Joanne Whalley as Kate Hardcastle Matthew Wolf as George Hastings Directed by Martin Jarvis. Recorded before a live audience at the Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles.

Featuring: Rosalind Ayres, Adam Godley, Julian Holloway, James Marsters, Christopher Neame, Paula Jane Newman, Ian Ogilvy, Moira Quirk, Darren Richardson, Joanne Whalley, Matthew Wolf

In 1784 the philosopher Immanuel Kant penned an essay in response to a question posed in a German periodical of the day (Berlinische Monatsschrift). The question was 'What is Enlightenment?' In his essay, one of many published in response, (including an essay by Moses Mendelssohn) Kant asserted the primacy and power of reason and the necessity for courageous self-determination. 'Dare to know!' – this, Kant declared, was the motto of Enlightenment.

The Age of Enlightenment roughly coincides with what many historians refer to as 'the long eighteenth century' – from the end of the English Restoration to the last cannon fire of the Napoleonic wars and the triumph of Romanticism. It was an age of philosophic exploration and scientific discovery; inspired and shaped by such luminaries as Bayle, Spinoza, Newton and Voltaire. The enthusiasm for knowledge would culminate in the Encyclopédiste movement and the compilation of the Great Encyclopedia. From the salons of Paris to the coffee houses of London and Edinburgh, from the courts of Frederick the Great and Catherine of Russia to Masonic lodges on two continents – rationality, inquiry, conversation and wit were thought to not only to delight, but would, if practiced with tolerance and rigor, make possible the emancipation of mankind from the dark follies of ignorance and superstition. It would set the stage for revolution.

And it was on the stage that the era would find some of its most imaginative expression. The theatre and theatricality were passionately studied and scrutinized; as concepts used to question the nature of reality and illusion, the true (vrai) and that which resembles the true (vraisemblable). Many of the prominent philosophes – Voltaire, Rousseau and Diderot (to name but three of the most famous) – wrote for the theatre. In 1759, Voltaire would take the lead in removing the audience from the stage itself. This ended a long-standing practice of selling seats onstage, which in effect blurred the distinction between performer and audience/reality and illusion. This removal decisively transformed ideas theatrical spectatorship. Rousseau's attack on the theatre in a letter to Jean la Rond D'Alembert questioned the political importance of the art, and arts in general, while at the same time reinforcing its importance. Inspired by George Lillo's seminal play of 1731, The London Merchant, Diderot's own experiments in dramatic form and content (along with the works of the Italian playwright, Carlo Goldoni) would do much to give rise to Naturalism and Realism.

No other theatrical period is so influential and yet so little understood or studied. The salonnières, like Mesdames Geoffrin and d'Épinay, lent a critical ear and monetary support to playwrights. Under their roofs, the works of Voltaire, Marivaux and others were read and debated. In Germany, while aiding in the attempt to create a Hamburg 'National' Theatre, the writer Gotthold Lessing would produce a series of articles, the Hamburgische Dramaturgie. This work would give birth to modern dramaturgy. The English writer Oliver Goldsmith saw the contradiction in an age so committed to reason and yet one so prone to sentimentality and brilliantly sent it up in his comedy, She Stoops to Conquer. Venice was the setting for a great public feud between the playwrights Goldoni and Gozzi. Their vicious battle of egos and Enlightenment philososphy would divide the city, send Goldoni into self-imposed exile, and yet incite both writers to create their greatest works.

For all the plays and playwrights, the eighteenth century is often viewed as being dominated by the actor. David Garrick, Lekain, Talma, Sarah Siddons, and the other members of the Kemble clan, enjoyed a celebrity and social acceptability unknown to previous generations of actors. In mastery and sway, Garrick had no equal in the eighteenth century. He was one of the key figures in the Shakespeare revival and shaping modern attitudes toward the works of the Bard. And Garrick would serve as the example of the quintessential performer in Diderot's profound analysis of the actor's art, Paradoxe sur le comédien, which stated that the actor has the ability to incite and move an audience emotionally, even if that actor, in reality, feels nothing. In fact, the actor should feel nothing. The experience is the audience's. Diderot was aware of the philosophic and political implications of such analysis. For if, by example, a politician could act with the same skill as the best actor, might no that politician be able to touch and play on the people's emotions in the same way that actor does. Can this possibly be the correct use of that power?

The playwright, Jean-François Marmontel, in his entry on 'The Parterre' in the Supplementary Volume Four of the Great Encyclopedia, reflects beautifully on the theatrical experience of his age:

'One cannot calculate what the commonly shared emotions of a crowded multitude adds to each individual's emotional experience. Imagine five hundred mirrors bouncing light back and forth, or five hundred echoes of the same sound; this is the image of a public moved by the ridiculous or the pathetic.'

by Christopher Cartmill, playwright, and Professor of Theatre at Rutgers University and New York University's Gallatin School of Individualized Study