She Stoops to Conquer | Complete Summary (Act-Wise)

She Stoops to Conquer | Complete Summary

She Stoops to Conquer Summary


Next to Sheridan’s The School for Scandal, Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer is the most popular comedy of the eighteenth century, and it has been maintaining its popularity till today. Referring to its place in the history of English drama, Gosse has observed in his book. Eighteenth Century Literature: one swallow could make a summer, She Stoops to Conquer would make the eighteenth century a period of genuine dramatic vitality, for it is one of the great comedies of the world. It lives mainly by the vigour of its broad humour . This inimitable comedy, with all its innocent wit and frank good nature, was put on the stage, after extraordinary objection on Colman’s part, in March 1773. just a year before the author’s death, and brought Oliver Goldsmith considerable pecuniary profit and endless personal distress.”

The main title of She Stoops to Conquer is an adaptation of a line from Dryden, and the subtitle, The Mistakes of a Night, was one of the various early suggestions for naming the play. A few days before its production, Doctor Johnson wrote to Boswell:

“The chief diversion arises from a stratagem by which a lover is made to mistake his future father-in-law’s house for an inn. This, you see, borders on farce.”

The play consists of a Prologue followed by five acts and two epilogues. One of the epilogues is spoken by the playwright himself and the other spoken in the character of Tony Lumpkin.

Subtitle: The Mistakes of a Night

Originally the title of the play was The Mistakes of a Night which later became the alternative sub-title of the play. It is practical joke of Tony Lumpkin that leads Marlow and Hasting to mistake the old rambling house of Mr. Hardcastle as an inn. Marlow mistook Miss Kate Hardcastle as a barmaid. Mistake sets the ball rolling and a series of mistakes follow.


The prologue is a burlesque of the sentimental comedy in vogue at the time. It is a mock elegy on the impending death of comedy echoing sentimental stage. The speaker gives up, unable to sustain the sentimental mode. He enthusiastically informs the audience of a doctor who has prepared a medicine to be taken in five doses (each of the five acts of the play is a dose). It is a magic potion which is intended to revive comedy

She Stoops to Conquer Summary


The play begins in an old-fashioned house, the home of Mr. Hardcastle and his family. Mr. Hardcastle is a middle-aged man who delights in old friends, old times, old manners, old books and old wine”. He is perfectly happy with his quiet rural existence. Mrs. Hardcastle on the other hand, longs for the town and the latest fashions. She is impatient with her husband’s conservatism and dislike for the fashionable the new. Another cause of disagreement between them is Mrs. Harcastle’s son by her first marriage, Tony Lumpkin who according to his mother is a frail, consumptive youth, not likely to live long and hence to be indulged in everything. On the other hand, Mr. Hardcastle finds Tony to be a spoiled young man who takes a perverse delight in baiting his step-father.

The subject of their conversation enters into a tearing hurry to go to The Three Pigeons and roister there with his companion, Dick Muggins, the excise man, Jack Slang, the horse-doctor, little Aminadet who grinds the music box and Tom Twist who spins the pewter platter. The robust Tony resists his mother’s fond appeals to him to stay indoors and exits dragging her along with him. Mr. Hardcastle’s daughter Kate now comes in. From their conversation we learn that Kate who is fond of fashionable behaviour and stylish dresses has an argument with her father whereby in the morning she dresses well and discharges her social functions. In the evening she puts on a simple dress to please her father. She is informed by her father that young Mr. Marlow, the son of Mrs. Hardcastle’s old friend Sir Charles Marlow is to come there that evening. He has been chosen by her father to be Kate’s husband, Marlow is young, handsome, learned and reserved This quality disappoints Kate.

Mr. Hardcastle leaves to prepare the servants to receive the honoured guest. Constance Neville the ward of Mrs. Hardcastle, comes in and the two young ladies discuss Marlow who is not only the intimate of Miss Neville’s beau, Mr. Hastings, but also a man who is bashful in the company of well-born ladies but a bold lover in the presence of women of lesser birth, Miss Neville is sought to be married to Tony Lumpkin by Mrs. Hardcastle, a prospect cordially resented by both principals. The two young ladies now prepare for the arrival of Mr. Marlow.

The opening scene is a masterly exposition of the setting of the play and the complicated plot.

Briefly summarized, the house is found to resemble an inn. Mr. Hardcastle is the perfect old. fashioned gentleman. Mrs. Hardcastle who pampers her spoilt son is planning to marry him off to Constance who is in love with Hastings, Tony Lumpkin is an over-grown, mischievous boy who is preoccupied with having a gay time unmindful of his responsibilities, Kate has two personalities, that of a fashionable young lady in the morning and a simple country maid in the evening. The absent Marlow also has two personalities the shy gentleman and the bold man-about-town.

We are thus prepared for the hilarious consequences of their coming together.


Mr. Hardcastle prepares his clumsy domestic servants Diggory Roger and two others to receive Marlow and his friend. The nervous servants disperse to make arrangements.

Marlow and Hastings, under the impression that they are at an inn enter the Hardcastle’s home. From their conversation we understand that Marlow is shy and respectful and in the company of women of inferior rank he is bold and flirtatious. When Hastings taunts him about his bashfulness standing in the way of Marlow paying court to Kate Hardcastle, the young man reveals he has come not on his own behalf but to further Hastings courtship of Miss Constance Neville. When Mr. Hardcastle bustles in to welcome his old friend’s son Charles and his companion George Hastings, we find him treated in a cavalier manner by the two young men who mistake him for the host of the “inn”. Mr. Hardcastle who attempts to crack one of his jokes is at first ignored and then rudely rebuffed. When he offers them punch and joins them in a glass they consider him an impudent innkeeper. Marlow treats him superciliously (assuming an air of contemptuous indifference of superiority), making mocking reference to the innkeeper’s polities and philosophy. He cuts short Mr. Hardcastle’s anecdote and brusquely gives instructions about supper. Mr. Hardcastle amazed at the way in which he is treated in his own home nevertheless observes the rules of hospitality and tolerates his quests inexplicably arrogant behaviour. Marlow peruses the bill of fare criticizing everything in it. He is joined by Hastings who reveals a fastidious palate. Having insulted the host, Marlow adds injury by insisting on going up with him and supervising the making of his bed.

Left alone downstairs, Hastings meets Miss Neville who informs him that the building is not an inn but Mr. Hardcastle’s home. They decide not to let Marlow in on the trick played on the two young men by Tony Lumpkin as it would suddenly transform him into his usual shy self. They decide to elope after Constance takes possession of her jewels which are held in trust by Mrs. Hardcastle. Hastings tells Marlow that by a fortunate accident Kate Hardcastle and Constance Neville are also at the “in”, Marlow tries to avoid a meeting with the lady he has come to woo but it is too late. Kate Hardcastle, dressed in formal finery. is introduced to Marlow by Hastings who adjourns to an adjoining room to have a private conversation of his own with Constance. Under the gentle prompting of Kate who completes many sentences for him and makes up many more which he did not intend to utter (but with which he immediately agrees), Marlow makes bashful and uncomfortable conservation with her. At last, seizing the earliest opportunity, Marlow escapes leaving Kate to muse over the possibilities of injecting some boldness into him to make him more attractive.

In order to camouflage her romance with Hastings, Constance pretends to be in pursuit of the violently unwilling Tony Lumpkin. Hastings meanwhile compliments Mrs. Hardcastle on her dress, her hair style, and her elegant town-manners. The highly gratified lady takes him into her confidence and assures him that Tony and Constance are intended for each other. Tony resolutely denies his mother’s words while Constance pretends to coax him into falling in love with her. Beaten in an argument with her darling offspring, Mrs. Hardcastle retires with Constance for company. Hasting artfully sounds out Tony and finds him opposed strongly to the idea of marrying Constance whom he considers to be far inferior to the local beauty, But Bouncer offers to take the troublesome Constance of the young man’s hands by marrying her himself. The delighted Tony offers not only good fast horses for an elopement but also plans to abstract Constance’s jewels from his mother’s safe and give them to the lovers.


Mr. Hardcastle and Kate discuss their amazing young visitor. The father finds Marlow to be rough, rude and immodest. The daughter finds him painfully shy and embarrassed. Each is convinced that his or her impression of Marlow (however contradictory they may be to each other) is the right one.

After comparing notes, they have determined to find out more about this intriguing young suitor.

Tony Lumpkin, in the mean time, steals from his mother the jewels belonging to Constance and hands them over to Hastings who is making preparations for the elopement. Unaware of Tony’s burglarious success, Constance tries to coax Mrs. Hardcastle to give her jewels. Tony suggests to his mother that she could pretend that the jewels have been stolen. Mrs. Hardcastle dutifully keeps up the pretence and departs to fetch some inferior jewels of her own to give Constance by way of compensation. In her absence Tony informs Constance of what he had done and sends her to join Hastings. Mrs. Hardcastle who has discovered the theft returns in great agitation. Tony, pretending to firmly believe that she is play-acting infuriates her further by obstinately refusing to acknowledge the genuineness of her outcry. The nettled mother runs in pursuit of the provoking Tony, Kate is let into the secret of Marlow’s rude behaviour to her father. Dressed into her plain clothes of a maid servant, she determines to keep up the joke with Marlow who thinks that she is the barmaid. Marlow, who at his first meeting with her had not dared to look at the will-dressed Kate in the face, is now ravished by the “barmaid”. He attempts to force his attentions on her but she is forced to leave when he sees Mrs. Hardcastle approaching. In reply to her father’s indignant decision to turn out young Marlow, Kate persuades him to give her some more time to prove that her suitor is intrinsically a gentleman who will shed the impetuousness of youth and cultivate virtue inherent in them.

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Hastings, coming to learn of the impending visit of Marlow’s father, makes preparations for the elopement. He has sent the casket of jewels to young Marlow for keeping them safe. Marlow meanwhile has deposited the casket with Mrs. Hardcastle, the wife of the “inn keeper”, for safety. When he learns off the return of the casket to Mrs. Hardcastle, Hastings is dismayed. However, he conceals his perturbation, leaving his friend to gloat over his proposed conquest of the barmaid.

Marlow’s pleasurable musings are disturbed by Mr. Hardcastle who, unable to bear Marlow’s proprietary air and arrogant manners, orders him to leave his house immediately with his drunken and disorderly servants. To clear his faint suspicions as to whether he is truly at an inn or not, Marlow accosts Kate who is still dressed as a maid and learns to his utter horror that it is not an inn at all but the home of Mr. Hardcastle. He apologizes to Kate and tells her sincerely that if he were not bound by public opinion and the wishes of a strict father he would most certainly marry her for her beauty. He would never dream of seducing anyone who had such confidence in him. This revelation of the nobility of his character moves Kate who is now determined to marry him.

Constance and Tony pretend to be very much in love with each other. Mrs. Hardcastle, pleased at the turn of events, decides to hand over immediately the jewels to her niece when a servant comes in with a letter for Tony from Hastings Mrs. Hardcastle reads the letter in which Hastings has asked Tony to lend him some horses for the elopement. She furiously orders Constance to get ready to accompany her to her aunt Pedigree’s, where she is to be kept under strict watch. Tony is to escort them.

Constance, Hastings and Marlow blame Tony for the predicament in which they find themselves. Mrs. Hardcastle hurries away Constance. Suddenly Tony has a plan. He asks the two gentlemen to meet him at the bottom of the garden two hours hence and they would find that all their problems have been solved.


Sir Charles Marlow arrives, and on being told of the mistake that has taken place, laughs merrily over it with Mr. Hardcastle who has overlooked his friend’s son’s rudeness and is anxious that Kate and Marlow loved each other soon. Young Marlow who is embarrassed at the recollection of his behaviour previously apologizes to Mr. Hardcastle for having ever taken liberties with his daughter. The perplexed Sir Charles and Mr. Hardcastle ask Kate to clear the confusion. She tells them that Marlow has been both bold and bashful with her, and she would prove it shortly.

Meeting Tony at the bottom of the garden Hastings learns to his delight that the mischievous young man has driven his mother and Constance round and round their own garden making them believe, under cover of darkness, that they are now stranded, after their bone-shaking journey on a lonely highway. Hastings departs in search of Constance, while Mrs. Hardcastle is frightened by Tony’s tales. However, Mr. Hardcastle, who is out taking a walk reveals the truth to the great indignation of Mrs. Hardcastle who has suffered great hardship in the way. Meanwhile, Constance decides that rather than elope she would appeal to Mr. Hardcastle’s generous nature and get his consent to marry Hastings.

Young Marlow meets Kate who is still dressed us a maid and finding himself in love with her overlooking all differences of rank and proposes marriage to her on bent knee. Sir Charles and Mr. Hardcastle who have been observing this scene from behind the curtain confront young Marlow with his “two faced behaviour with Kate. When he is told that Kate Hardcastle and the maid are one and the same person he is amazed and has to submit to the raillery of the two fathers and his future bride. Meanwhile Hastings and Constance return to ask Mr. Hardcastle his permission for their marriage. Mr. Hardcastle who has been told by Sir Charles that Hastings is an honourable man, at once gives his consent. There is a technical difficulty. Mrs Hardcastle refuses to give up the jewels of Constance since under the law Tony should first have refused to marry her to enable her to be free to marry the man of her choice. Mr. Hardcastle reveals that Tony has indeed come of age. Tony promptly refuses to marry Constance. Couching his repudiation in usual jargon of which one would not have thought him capable, the two pairs of lovers, Kate and Marlow, and Constance and Hastings, are now ready to be united in marriage.

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