Hardcastle introduces the theme of old vs. new but with his typical warmth and good humour: “I love everything that’s old: old friends, old times, old manners, old books, old wine…” Think about the comfortable warmth of this character and how this might hide about the reality of Hardcastle.
His comments concerning London introduce the theme of country vs. city: “In my time, the follies of the town crept slowly among us, but now they travel faster than a stage-coach.”
Kate and her father – the young vs. the old – differ on what makes a good husband: “Young, handsome: these he put last; but I put them foremost” thus beginning the theme of appearance vs. reality.
Marlow’s double nature introduces the theme of social status: “Among women of reputation and virtue he is the modestest man alive; but his acquaintance give him a very different character among creatures of another stamp: you understand me.”
Notice the openness and straightforwardness shown by the friends in the tavern and contrast this with the boorish attitude of Marlow and Hastings towards them.
Tony “the awkward booby” tricks Marlow and Hastings into believing that Hardcastle’s home is an inn: the theme of deception and the first of many “mistakes of the night”.
Marlow’s tongue-tied shyness towards Kate, having explained earlier to Hastings, “Why, George, I can’t say fine things to them; they freeze, they petrify me.”, suggests the constricting nature of wanting to be and coping with an “ideal”.
Mrs. Hardcastle fakes sophistication with Hastings but, through Goldsmith’s use of dramatic irony, we recognise her falseness: “I dressed it myself from a print in the Ladies’ Memorandum-book for the last year”.
Mrs. Hardcastle treats Tony like a spoilt child creating a contrast with Hardcastle’s treatment of Kate, thus exploring the theme of parenthood.
Kate wonders if Marlow has “many good qualities under that first appearance”
Kate the “Barmaid” sees a very different side of Marlow contrasting with his earlier shyness: “This is the Barmaid …she’s mine; she must be mine…”; “…We all know the honour of a Barmaid”. Consider themes of male power and class.
Fatherly concern and a greater degree of openness mark out Kate’s father’s relationship with her; contrast this with Mrs. Hardcastle’s treatment of Tony.
Marlow discovers [some of…] the truth about Kate and we perhaps see a somewhat better side to him. We might also consider his words: “…this is the first mark of tenderness I ever had from a modest woman…” and begin to recognise just how repressed this society is. We also need to ask if this new found “respect” and kindness is based on the same kind of social prejudice as his previous lecherous behaviour.
The “damned, cramped… penmanship” of Hastings’ letter to Tony acts as a metaphor for the play’s theme of deception and disguise: “…when I come to open it, it’s all... buzz. That’s hard, very hard; for the inside of the letter is always the cream of the correspondence.” The refined handwriting – the calligraphy – perhaps makes the message of the letter indecipherable much as the surface refinements of “genteel life” hide the “true” person underneath.
A time to consider Tony Lumpkin, “the awkward booby”: despite his lack of education he is the character that has shown resourcefulness and common sense throughout. What point might Goldsmith be making?
The trickery and the “mistakes of the night” come to a conclusion and all live happily ever after... except perhaps poor Mrs Hardcastle!