Home  »  Volume XI: English THE PERIOD OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION  »  § 5. Oliver Goldsmith: She Stoops to Conquer

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XI. The Period of the French Revolution.

XII. The Georgian Drama

§ 5. Oliver Goldsmith: She Stoops to Conquer

She Stoops to Conquer (1773) is not original in plot, but the characters are drawn from life, and, touched, as it is, by Goldsmith’s indescribable charm, the play became a revelation. It reminded London how much instruction as well as amusement might still be found in old-fashioned situations despite their dramatic licence, provided only the morals and manners of the characters would conform to the new standard. Sheridan, meanwhile, had achieved his romantic marriage and, being faced by the problem of supporting a wife, decided to devote his literary gifts to the now profitable business of playwriting. Like Goldsmith, he reverted to classical comedy and chose, as the basis of his plot, the marriage conflict between parent and child which had come down from Terence through Italian and French theatres. A father and an aunt arrange a suitable marriage for their respective son and niece, while the young people have already chosen for themselves. Out of this hackneyed situation he extracted the equally hackneyed humours of mistaken identity and of domestic discord, but with a dramatic sense which borders on genius. Miss Lydia Languish and Captain Absolute are the young pair destined for each other. Unknown to their elders, they are already mutually in love; but, as Lydia has fallen a victim to the craze for sentimentality, the wealthy captain pretends to be the penniless ensign Beverley, so that their union may be to her, unquestionably, a marriage of love. This attempt at a double impersonation brings about some brilliant complications. Familiar figures in domestic and social life are thrown off their guard and betrayed, with admirable felicity, into weaknesses and absurdities generally hidden from the public eye, and the enjoyment of the spectators is all the more complete because the characters are working for the same end and frustrate their several efforts through misunderstandings.