She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I listened to an audio performance of this play, knowing very little about it or the author going in. It was a pleasant surprise. She Stoops to Conquer has aged well, and, I feel, should be studied alongside Austen.
The play predates Austen by about 30 years, but it fills in a lot of the gaps in Austen's work. She rarely acknowledges servants or employees of any kind, while this play highlights, if not the people themselves, how the gentry treated them.
Marlow is a painfully shy young man, off to meet Kate Hardcastle, the girl his father hopes he'll marry. He's accompanied by his friend Hastings, who's in love with Constance Neville, a ward of the Hardcastle family. On their way to the house, Marlow and Hastings get lost, and Tony, the stepson of Mr. Hardcastle, tells them the house is really an inn. Marlow is much more comfortable talking to servants and barmaids, but his behavior is baffling to Mr. Hardcastle. It allows Kate to see another side of her suitor, though, and she keeps up the pretense to draw him out.
Marlow's behavior toward the Hardcastle family is truly appalling, but all is forgiven when the mistake is uncovered. It goes to show how differently servants were treated in so-called polite society. Anyone who wants to resurrect the Napoleonic attitudes needs to realize the vast majority of us are people who work for a living, and are therefore subject to being treated like we're subhuman. The scandals in Austen's work where people fall in love with those below their station is much more easily understood, in this context.
Marlow, who's considered the very model of a gentleman, tries to proposition Kate as a prostitute, and is confused to be rebuffed. Her distance and objections are seen as flirtation, and he assumes she can't possibly mean "no" when she says it. It simply doesn't occur to him that a simple barmaid wouldn't want to sleep around.
L.A. Theatre Works, who recorded this production, includes the sounds of an audience. Though the audience often found remarks uproarious, I found very little to laugh about in this play. It's sharply satirical, and a comedy in the classical sense, in that nobody dies and there's a happily ever after. But, I found the play more eye-opening than funny. Maybe if I were more familiar with the context, as audiences of the time would've been, I would've laughed more.
The performance was a good one. It sounded like a stage production, well-acted by professionals. The inclusion of James Marsters in the cast certainly added to my decision to pick this up, but the others were also excellent.
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