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She Stoops to Conquer

A CRITIQUE | NOTABLE LINES

She Stoops to Conquer, 1786 edition1786 edition
Publication details ▽ Publication details △

First performance
1766

Literature form
Play

Genres
Comedy

Writing language
English

Author's country
England

Length
Five acts, approx. 22,500 words

Better seen than read?

Two things keep me from dismissing the drama She Stoops to Conquer as severely overrated.

One: I don't recall seeing it performed. Live on stage it may be hilarious for all I know.

And two: if it's overrated, it's been long overrated. For two and a half centuries it has seemingly been appreciated in both print and performance.

She Stoops to Conquer is the kind of comedy in which if anyone acted as real people do, there would be no play. An improbable set of circumstances, starting with travellers mistaking a house for an inn, is allowed to continue and to develop ridiculous—and supposedly humorous—complications by the playwright ensuring no character makes the kind of comments that would normally be made and would immediately dispel the misunderstandings.

But that in itself is okay. If plays stuck exactly to everyday life and dialogue, they wouldn't interest audiences. A certain heightened reality is expected—required—in theatrical productions.

And to be fair to Goldsmith, She Stoops to Conquer is notable for being based in real life more than most previous dramatic presentations of its day. That's part of what makes it a low comedy or farce. As I understand it, the playwright was purposely offering a laugh-out-loud comedy in a common milieu—in opposition to the sophisticated, overly mannered and sentimental comedy that had dominated British theatre for a century. Many of the satirical comments in She Stoops to Conquer are on that very point, showing up the hypocrisy that underlies polite society.

But the characters are too shallow, compared to, say, the greatest characters in works by Molière who had similar goals of satirizing the uppercrust with his seemingly light comedies.

She Stoops to Conquer may be a hoot in a fast-paced stage production when you don't have time to reflect on what's happening—like, say, a modern Noel Coward play. But in logical print, it's all too flimsy.

That's not to deny it's a great piece of theatre. It might be. But it is a silly book.

— Eric

 

A CRITIQUE | NOTABLE LINES