Trickery and Mockery
Appearance vs. reality; openness and truth vs. deception; fine speeches vs. hypocritical actions
We laugh at Marlow being duped yet it is through this mocking that Goldsmith more easily drives home his criticisms of society and its views on, for example, fathers and mothers, masculinity, femininity, love and marriage.
In Act IV, Hastings’ letter to Tony acts as a metaphor for the play’s theme of deception and disguise, with the refined handwriting perhaps making it indecipherable, much as the surface refinements of “genteel life” hide the “true” person underneath.
Example exam question: Early in Goldsmith’s play “She Stoops to Conquer”, Tony Lumpkin tricks Marlow into thinking that Hardcastle’s house is an inn. Consider this trickery along with any of the other “mistakes of the night” to show how Goldsmith makes his audience laugh.
Class, Power and Social Status
Class, power and social status: men vs. women; parents vs. children; rich vs. poor; young vs. old
Whilst our sex is decided at birth, our gender is much more about society’s views of masculinity and femininity. In the play, Goldsmith makes us laugh at the way men and women, as fathers, mothers, lovers, young and old, rich and poor behave but in doing so he also raises important questions about society. Consider the presentation of the differing relationships between Kate and her father and Tony and his mother; consider the powerlessness of women and their consequent need for men with money; and just why does Mrs. Hardcastle feel the need to keep hold of the jewels? In Act II, Mrs. Hardcastle fakes sophistication with Hastings but, through Goldsmith’s use of dramatic irony, we recognise her falseness.
Example exam question: How does Goldsmith present middle-class social attitudes in the play? Focus on the presentation of at least two characters in your answer and be sure to refer in detail to Goldsmith’s uses of language, literary and dramatic devices and stage action (this is more likely an A-level question)
Culture: old vs. new; age vs. youth; country vs. city.
Goldsmith creates a clash of cultures between country and city. We laugh at the reactionary nature of Hardcastle but also at the empty superficiality of Marlow: neither way of life is presented as ideal. Goldsmith undercuts the surface sophistication of city types by contrasting them with Tony Lumpkin, a man often of blunt and unsophisticated common sense.
This is evident from the very first scene, where Hardcastle presents himself as old in age and manner in contrast to the youth of his daughter and city ideals embraced by Mrs Hardcastle.
Example exam question: Compare one of the younger characters in the play with one of the older characters to show what Goldsmith achieves by creating such a contrast (GCSE).