She Stoops to Conquer, 1786 edition
1786 edition

She Stoops to Conquer

Play, 1766
Five acts, approx. 22,500 words
On Greatest lists
Notable lines
First line

I vow, Mr. Hardcastle, you're very particular.

Great lines

The genteel thing is the genteel thing at any time; if so be that a gentleman bees in a concatenation accordingly.

Ask me no questions, and I'll tell you no fibs.

I love every thing that is old; old friends, old times, old manners, old books, old wines.

Last line

We know what's damned genteel, as well as they!

Related commentaries
The author

Why Oliver Goldsmith is considered one of the greats of English literature is a mystery to me. His two "masterpieces", The Vicar of Wakefield and She Stoops to Conquer, are mildly entertaining but.... more

She Stoops to Conquer

THE PLAY

Better seen than read?

Two things keep me from dismissing the drama She Stoops to Conquer as 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 people have seemed to enjoy it in print and in performance.

She Stoops to Conquer is the kind of comedy in which if anyone acted like a normal person, there would be no play. The improbable set of circumstances—in this case starting with travellers mistaking a house for an inn—is allowed to continue and to develop ridiculous complications only by the playwright ensuring no one makes the kind of comments that would normally be made and that would immediately dispel the misunderstandings.

But that's okay. I guess that's part of what makes this a low comedy or farce. Goldsmith was purposely offering the common milieu and ha-ha-comedy in opposition to the sophisticated, overly mannered, hmmm-comedy that had dominated British theatre for a century. Many of the most satirical comments in She Stoops to Conquer are on that very point.

But I find everything too unbelievable. The characters are too shallow, compared to, say, the greatest characters in works by Molière who had similar goals of exposing hypocrisy 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 drama—I don't know, it might be—but it is a silly book.

— Eric

THE PLAY