She Stoops to Conquer
Representation of Women in Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer and Chaucer’s the Merchant’s Tale
“Women are the subtler sex: more varied in their attractions, more ingenious in their stratagems”
In She Stoops To Conquer and The Merchant’s Tale, women and presented in various ways, both in positive and negatives lights.
One major way women are presented is as the property of men. In The Merchant’s Tale, Januarie (the protagonist) wants to get a wife for his own personal gain, believing that only in marriage will he have a “blisful lyf” in his old age. The adjective ‘blisful’ connotes to ‘peaceful’ and ‘serene’, and tells the reader that Januarie has a grand and somewhat utopian idea of what life with a wife can offer. As he talks to his friends, he notes the characteristics he wants in his ideal wife. One major one is obedience, remarking, “For who kan be so buxom as a wyf?” – ‘buxom’, meaning obedient, shows that he wants someone who will follow his commands and act according to his wishes. His ideal woman is someone who when told, “Do this” she replies “Al redy sire”. To unpack this deeply misogynistic outlook on women, one must understand the context in which it was written. At the time of Chaucer’s writing, women were indeed second class citizens that men basically had ownership of, to some extent. For Januarie, a “worthy knighte”, he would have been in a high enough status as to pick a wife of his choosing, though with mutual consent, of course. Nevertheless, in Januarie’s world he wants a wife that will remain obedient to the extent she will even call him ‘sire’, a very formal title used to address someone of a much higher status. In She Stoops To Conquer, the times are much more liberal in comparison; Mr Hardcastle assures his daughter Kate that “I’ll never control your choice” when it comes to marriage. While he may be insisting on the appropriate match between Marlow and Kate, he never outright forces her into it and would respect her decision if she were to turn him down. ‘Control’ is not in Mr Hardcastle’s intended purview as he respects Kate too much for that. Kate is not his property, and he would never give her away to another man for her to be his unhappy but obedient wife.
Another one of Januarie’s criteria for the perfect wife is “mayde fair and tendre of age”, someone young and fair, in stark contrast to his old age and “slakke skyn”. He also claims that “bet than old boef is the tendre veel” – this disgusting metaphor talks about women in terms of ‘boef’ and ‘veel’, of mere pieces of meat. Januarie is comparing his ideal wife to ‘tendre veel’, young and fresh and just to his liking. It’s an insulting view of women’s beauty. On the other hand, in the second act of She Stoops To Conquer, one of the protagonists, Marlow states, “A modest woman, dressed out in all her finery, is the most tremendous object of the whole creation”. The adjective ‘tremendous’ is flattering and positive, and to put it in the context women being the greatest “of all creation” shows that he has a much greater respect for women than Januarie. However, that sentiment is undercut by the use of ‘object’, demeaning women back to a mere noun. While the good intentions might have been there, the choice of vocabulary prevents the sentiment from being realized in full.
On the other hand, women are also presented as cunning, more deceptive and more intelligent than they first appear. May, who on most accounts is ironically described as ‘fresshe’, sneaks around behind her husband’s back to have an affair with Januarie’s squire, Damyan. While she may not even speak for the majority of the poem, she has a deeper and darker side to her than first thought. For example, she doesn’t love Januarie – that much is clear – but she puts on a façade. For example, in regards to their sex, “she preyseth nat his pleying worth a bene”, yet she hides that fact from Januarie as it benefits her more to be dishonest. Under Januarie, she has security, an inheritance after his death, and later on, the chance to spend time with Damyan. It is wiser for her to be deceptive. Likewise with Kate in She Stoops To Conquer, she treats her match with Marlow as a conquest, knowing she has to help him overcome his insecurities if they are ever to be together. She states, “my chief aim is, to take my gentleman off his guard, and, like an invisible champion of romance, examine the giant’s force before I offer to combat”. This line sounds like she’s proposing a battle strategy, proving she is more ingenious in her stratagems, yet more subtle in her planning and execution. She calls herself “an invisible champion of romance”, and grandiose title that sums up her quest to ‘conquer’ Marlow, as per the plays title. The adjective ‘invisible’ is a particularly revealing word, showing that she values subtlety and secrecy in her conquest over, knowing that she will get further that way.
In conclusion, I believe that women are indeed presented as the subtler sex who are much more varied in their attractions and ingenious in their stratagems. May and Kate, in particular, use these qualities to their advantage in getting the men they desire.
She Stoops to Conquer. Treatment of Women Regarding Courtship
Ever since woman was created by God in the Garden of Eden, she has been through adventures, solved problems, and broken barriers. However, since woman was created to be man’s helper, she has always been inferior to man in that way. During the 18th century, women were treated differently depending on their class; for instance, a woman in the middle class was treated with more respect than a woman in the lower class. There are many instances where women of different classes are treated differently, one of which being the ordeal of courtship. In “She Stoops to Conquer” by Oliver Goldsmith, the author portrays through a main character how women were treated differently when it came to courtship.
Young Charles Marlow was known among his friends and peers as a ladies’ man. Called simply ‘Marlow’ by his friends, this young gentleman enjoyed merry-making with the girls he met at a local tavern. Marlow’s father, Sir Charles Marlow, decided that it was time for Marlow to get married. Sir Charles arranged an engagement with Mr. Hardcastle, and old friend. The two men agreed that Marlow would marry Miss Katherine Hardcastle, and they set a date for the two young adults to meet. When Marlow did meet Kate, he believed that he was staying at an inn. He treated Kate with the utmost respect- he kept his eyes fixed on the floor, stuttered through sentences he never completed, and politely agreed with everything Kate said. He never looked at her face or tried to correct her, acting the gentleman he was raised to be. In reality, Marlow was staying at the Hardcastle estate. Kate was appalled by Marlow, having heard he was smooth with the ladies and disappointed in their meeting. She didn’t want to trifle with a man who could not show her love and affection, even if her fiancé was rich and handsome.
Kate’s father despised the finery of London’s newest fashions, while Kate loved dressing up. Father and daughter came to a mutual agreement- Kate could wear whatever she wanted during the day as long as she wore plain clothes in the evenings and to dinner. The evening that Marlow was at the Hardcastle residence, he encountered Kate again, who was now dressed in plain clothes. He mistook her for a barmaid, a position in an inn held by a low-class woman. Marlow approached Kate as he would approach any low-class woman, not recognizing his host’s daughter. Marlow was bold with Kate now, and he spoke many words of love and admiration for Kate. He even tried to kiss her hand. Kate enjoyed the attention, but realized that Marlow mistook her for a barmaid and her house for an inn. She used this error to her advantage, and proved to her father that Marlow was the gentleman he claimed to be.
Marlow’s two very different treatments of Kate are perfect examples of how women of different classes were treated in the 18th century. Everyone seemed to think that taking a woman’s virginity and pride was perfectly respectable as long as the woman wasn’t in the middle or upper class. Women who were in the middle and upper classes were treated as all women should be treated- courted with respect and seen as untouchable until marriage. Now, all women are given the opportunity to be treated as equals. Sadly, some of them are taken advantage of, and mankind has moved in a direction where women are free to be seized and controlled, rather than be respected and untouched. Women too do not live lives that demand respect and do things that are destructive to themselves on their own. Thankfully, there are men who abstain from that beastly behavior, and there are women who see value in themselves. They treat each other with respect, honor, and follow Christ’s rules about sex and marriage.
The Theme of Travel in Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer
The Notion of Travel in She Stoops to Conquer
Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer is a brilliant comedy that not only entertains but it also delivers moral messages that people lacked at the time. The play is known for the various themes it tackles, and one of its major themes is that appearance versus reality, besides the theme of travel. However, it takes place in a country where it unfolds events of only one day. Moreover, the theme of travel in She Stoops to Conquer is not about tackling or depicting the travels of the characters, as it is about how the lack of traveling influenced the characters along with their morals and behavior.
Perhaps, when the characters, Marlowe and Hastings are introduced to the audience in their first appearance of being Londoners and get tricked by a country resident, Toney, it protrudes the contrast between city and country. There is this contrast in fashion, traditions, even in behavior and that might be a reason why the country’s gentleman has this persona of being an inn keeper in Marlowe’s eyes. It is obvious how the country is rudimentary in comparison with the city.
It is not only about the journey which Marlowe and his friend take from London to the country; Goldsmith weaved Marlowe as a fashion and travel obsessed where he only speaks about fashion, and his lack of modesty is clear when mistaken the house for being an inn and that is when his true personality is revealed. However, being able to only communicate with women of low-class, and his overwhelming shyness when it comes to women of his own class might be a proof that travel has influenced Marlowe negatively, he is more likely to be morally blind.
On the other hand, there are these characters that have never been to any cities but instead drown themselves in fashion magazines and the desire to travel. Accordingly, they are too are influenced by the idea of travel, where its notion here works as an obstructive for their core reality, as it was the case for Mrs. Hardcastle and Miss Neville.
However, Miss Neville aims high. She wants her jewels to be able to travel. Somehow she breaks those country ties out of her mind and knows that money is essential to leave the country life behind. Tricks being played upon Mrs. Hardcastle in order for Miss. Neville to be able to take her heritage marry Hastings and travel away where she believes her happiness would be waiting. On the contrary, Mr. Hardcastle is too old-fashioned, and he is indeed influenced by the lack of travel where he is kept as his own old memories’ captive and does not look forward. His behavior, the way of thinking and being antique mirrors the case of the country itself.
The notion of travel shows this huge conflict between the city and the country, and how the country in She Stoops to Conquer works as a barrier from the outer world. However, when Sir Charles Marlowe sends his son a letter from London, the influence of the city or precisely speaking; the outer world shows its influence once again, where Marlowe is no longer blind folded to the truth. Throughout the play, the country is reflected as an old-fashioned, not only concerning fashion, and the way of style, but the way of living in general. There is this lack of renewability in their lives, unlike those of the city.
The influence of travel could be seen in other literary works where it is the central theme. For example, Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift tackles a succession of travels and adventures. It shows how one’s horizons can be widened and be able to take in whatever it is ahead of him, to explore and discover. Aside from the novel being mostly about grotesque figures, however, it compares different lives, and outlines different manners, traditions, and cultures. Moreover, the influence could be seen upon Gulliver himself and how it affected him in many ways.
In a nut shell, traveling is influential, it could change one’s character from being a saint to morally corrupt and the equation is reciprocal. One can travel and when retuning back to his home, everything seems unfamiliar and changed. However, the traveler is the one who changes, for his eyes witness a lot and his/her mind takes in new cultures, ideas, lives, etc, which affects one’s soul before affecting his/her mind. “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” (Augustine of Hippo).
Tony’s Character in She Stoops in Vanity
As for disappointing them, I should not mind much; but I can’t abide to disappoint myself!
Thus speaks Tony Lumpkin in the first scene of Oliver Goldsmith’s eighteenth-century comedy of errors She Stoops to Conquer. It is a rather inconsequential moment with the ostensible purpose of introducing Tony as willful and impetuous, further exemplified by his subsequent slapstick exit (made while comically tethered by his less-muscled if equally willful mother). Tony, in conjunction with his mother, is to be viewed as having a self-indulgent temperament distinct from the rest of the more refined ensemble. However, this moment of Tony’s expression of self-interest represents the driving force behind the entire play: a solipsistic selfishness seems to motivate everyone’s actions throughout the mistakes of a night. Not all of the characters are as blunt about their egotism as Tony, and sometimes they try to mask it behind other supposed stimuli. Nonetheless, it becomes apparent that every major plot development and calculable confusion is the result of a willed expression of egotism by one or more of the characters with little real concern for anyone else.
The disinterested veils behind which the characters attempt to hide their egocentrism have varying degrees of translucence. Tony, as mentioned, is quite transparent, having never hung his veil. His mother, Mrs. Hardcastle, is only slightly less obvious in her “unseemly vanity and affectation” (Danziger, 53). She very much pushes for the marriage of her son to her niece, Constance, out of an expressed belief that they love each other, despite Tony’s contrary protestations. This is all an endeavor, as she herself admits, to continue to keep the fortune in jewels that belongs to her niece in her immediate family. She has little or no concern for her niece, and while she loves her son very much, she is more ardently interested in the jewelry.
For Constance’s part, she dismisses her lover Hastings’s desire to forget the jewels and elope. She loves him, but she will not be satisfied until she has procured the jewelry to adorn herself, even to the torture of Hastings. Hastings, for his own part, comes to the country with Marlow under the pretense of companionship. However, at that crucial moment when Marlow needs him — “George, sure you won’t go?” (21) — he abandons his friend to concern himself with the true selfish reason for his visit. Nonetheless, Marlow’s wish for Hastings to stay is driven by an equal concern for himself, and he does not consider Hastings’s and Constance’s yearning to “manage a little tête-à-tête of [their] own” (21).
Marlow has, however, apparently made the trip to the country, in a further complication of the play’s central theme, at the behest of his father. Given his skittishness around women of his class, Marlow’s natural inclination would be to avoid this awkward encounter, but we shouldn’t forget that he is a young man who probably understands the need for a wife to maintain his social status. Furthermore, immediately following his first encounter with Ms. Hardcastle he muses, “I have pleased my father… by coming down, and I’ll tomorrow please myself by returning” (33). Shortly after he falls in love with a woman he believes to be a barmaid, directly contrary to the wishes of his lordly father, and “proudly asserts his superiority over” her (Danziger, 45). So we see that while he puts up the pretense of obeying his father, he is in fact just as prone to caprice as anyone else in the play, or perhaps even more so. And while he is set up as the gentleman to Tony’s bumpkin, their “character and conduct” bear resemblances: “both have to be humoured like spoiled children” (Dixon, 131).
As for Ms. Hardcastle, she succumbs to her father’s wishes to wear plain country clothes, but she does so on her terms, in the afternoon. She agrees to meet the eligible bachelor, Marlow, but only after she is assured that he will satisfy her vanity. Then, when the opportunity arises, she attempts to secure his love in the guise of a barmaid. She is convinced that she can fix him up to her standards and that he can be “taught to be proud of his wife” (4), further revealing her self-infatuation and controlling desires that are her barefaced motives.
Her father, in contrast, claims that he will “never control [her] choice” (4). He says that he is only attempting to please her with a worthy option that simultaneously gratifies an old friend, Marlow’s father. These both seem to be rather unselfish motivations, driven more by a love of family and friends. However, when Marlow, in his confusion, is repeatedly rude to Hardcastle, he determines to throw Marlow out, despite his daughter’s protestations and his promise to her to wait an hour. Also, his devotion to his friend is less than altruism and more an adherence to his own desire to fortify old friendships — as he admits, “this union of our families will make our personal friendships hereditary” (49).
So we see that everyone is caught up with him- or herself (with the odd, notable exception of the late appearance of Sir Charles, who is utterly benevolent and somewhat inexplicably facilitates the conclusion of the play). Returning to the origins of the theme, however, some difficult complications do arise. Tony’s misdirection of Marlow and Hastings early on seems little concerned with himself, but it stems from a devotion to mayhem and also serves as general revenge against his stepfather. It is an “ultimately beneficent falsehood” (Dixon, 129), but one that he almost checks for concern for himself out of fear of Hardcastle. Yet while he helps Hastings and his cousin, allegedly to be rid of any obligation to marry her, he does so with a vigor that seems almost unnecessary and munificent. Finally, the largest cog in the solipsistic wheel that drives this play is his mother’s attempted self-sacrifice at the hands of the “highwaymen.” But is she not driven by a maternal instinct that views her son as a part of herself? I submit that it is, and that the play as a whole is driven by nearly universal egotism from beginning to unfortunate end.
Danziger, Marlies K. Oliver Goldsmith and Richard Brinsley Sheridan. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., Inc., 1978.
Dixon, Peter. Oliver Goldsmith Revisited. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1991.
Goldsmith, Oliver. She Stoops To Conquer. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1991.