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How Does Goldsmith Use Disguise and Deception to Create Comic Situations in ‘She Stoops to Conquer’? to What Extent Can We Sympathize with the Victims of Deceit?


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How does Goldsmith use disguise and deception to create comic situations in ‘She Stoops to Conquer’? To what extent can we sympathise with the victims of deceit?
In ‘She Stoops to Conquer’; Goldsmith uses disguise and deception in order to create comic situations which arise via the use of dramatic irony. Amusement is often gained as a result of the misfortune at others, as they are deceived. There are therefore, victims of deceit within the play, but as they are often victims of their own arrogance, it is difficult to sympathise with the victims in most cases.
In order for the disguise and deception to be believable from the audience’s point of view, Goldsmith uses dialogues between the characters to insert small hints to make credible the acts of disguise and deception. The first use of this seen in the first scene of the first act, where Mrs Hardcastle suggests that their house ‘looks for all the world like an inn.’ This helps to justify the Marlow and Hastings believing that the Hardcastles house is an inn. Comedy arises from this, as due to the fact that Marlow and Hastings Believe Hardcastle’s house to be an inn, when conversing with Him they treat him like an innkeeper of a lower class than them. This is amusing, as the audience knows that he is the man whose daughter Marlow wishes to court, and Marlow is positively rude to him. The first time this is seen to happen is when Marlow and Hasting arrive at Hardcastle’s house, or to their knowledge, an Inn (Dramatic irony is here employed.) In this scene, Harcastle attempts to make light conversation with Marlow and Hasting, but believing that he is a second class citizen, they completely ignore him. Hardcastle directly aims a statement at Marlow ‘You’re talking of a retreat, Mr Marlow’ and Marlow spouts ‘Don’t you think the ventre d’or waistcoat will do with the plain brown?’ to his friend Hastings. So here, Marlow is seen to completely disregard Hardcastle and talk of clothing choices with Hastings. In this case, Marlow asks if his ventre d’or (French for gold belly) waistcoat will match another item of his clothing. This is a very trivial matter of conversation, for which one should not ignore their host. During this conversation, Hardcastle is seen to become increasingly frustrated and angry at Marlow and Hastings causing the audience to laugh at both him, and the Gentlemen. Via this act of deception, an 18th century social commentary arises; as the deception reveals the class prejudices and stereotypes of the period, due to the fact Marlow and Hastings (two self-professed upper class gentlemen) cannot be seen to be socializing with an innkeeper of a lower class. In this situation, the audience may find it difficult to sympathise with Marlow and Hastings (the victims of the deceit), as aforementioned, they are arrogant and rude to Mr Hardcastle, and many members of the audience could believe that retrospectively, they deserved to be deceived.

Throughout the play, Marlow is made a fool of multiple times. Another situation where disguise and deception are employed in order to create comedy, are throughout the scenes where he meets with Kate Hardcastle. In his first meeting with Kate, Marlow acts in a timid fumbling manner, becoming flustered and displaying himself to Kate as a blundering though reserved fool. “(relapsing into timidity) Pardon me, madam, I-I—I— as of yet have studied—only to—deserve them.” In this line from Marlow, the audience can see how you stutters and stammers in the presence of a lady of equal class. Due to Mr Marlow’s manner, Kate does not see a prospective marriage between the two of them, but upon the knowledge that he is a much more cavalier gentleman to women of a “lesser stamp” She Stoops to Conquer him, by disguising herself as a barmaid. In the Third act, we see Kate enter the scene disguised as a barmaid, and attempt to get the attention of Marlow. Upon gaining his attention, Marlow begins to attempt to seduce her, in a completely different manner to how he acted in their first meeting. Believing Kate to be a barmaid of a lower class than him, Marlow is particularly forward with Kate, making statements such as “I vow, child, you are vastly handsome” and “suppose I should call for a taste, just by way of a trial, of the nectar of your lips.” Here the audience may derive much amusement from Kate’s deception of Marlow, as the audience knowing Kate is the Barmaid, would find most amusing the way Marlow acts towards her in contrast to the way he acted upon their first meeting. On a contextual note, an audience of the time would have found this situation amusing, as it would have been unheard of for Marlow, a man of class to behave in such a way towards a barmaid, and also due to the fact that he is actually behaving in this cavalier manner towards a lady of his class. In this situation, one may find it very difficult to sympathise with Marlow, as although due to the use of disguise and deception, Marlow is made a fool of (which one could have little sympathy for) he does largely bring it upon himself, firstly due to the manner in which he acts towards Kate, and secondly due to the fact that he is attempting to seduce a barmaid in the house owned by the father of whom he has come to court.
One of the final acts of deception within the play is the deception of Mrs Hardcastle by Tony Lumpkin. Upon finding out Constance and Hastings’ plan to elope, Mrs Hardcastle attempts to take Constance to stay at her Aunt Pedigree’s, where she will not be able to elope with Hastings. Tony is instructed by his mother to escort her and Constance to Aunt Pedigree’s, but comes up with a plan to do nothing of the sorts. Tony deceives his mother, by simply taking her on a round trip of the area surrounding the Hardcastles house, whilst Mrs Hardcastle believes they are travelling across country to Aunt Pedigrees. The comedy arises from this situation when Tony and Mrs Hardcastle arrive at the end of their garden, Mrs Hardcastle believing they are miles away from home. Firstly, the audience find amusement in Mrs Hardcastles bedraggled appearance as she enters the scene spouting “Oh, Tony, I’m killed! Shook! Battered to death.” The comedy continues, as Tony convinces his mother, they are upon “Crackskull Common”, “the most notorious spot in all the country.” Here, it is Mrs Hardcastle’s melodramatic reaction to believing they are upon “Crackskull Common” which creates the comedy, as she shouts things such as “The fright will certainly kill me” and “oh death.” Finally in this scene, comedy arises, when Mr Hardcastle appears. Mrs Hardcastle thinking that Mr Hardcastle is a highwayman, hides behind a tree. Whilst behind the tree, Mrs Hardcastle once again makes amusingly melodramatic statements such as “Ah death. I find there’s danger.” And “Oh! He’s coming to find me out”, before finally bursting out from behind the tree shouting at her husband whom she believes is a highway man. In this whole situation, the comedy is derived from dramatic irony and melodrama. Here, the audience may find it particularly difficult to sympathise with Mrs Hardcastle, as she is being deceived due to the fact she is eloping with Constance for her own personal gain.
Although, on the most part the audience may find it difficult to sympathise with Mrs Hardcastle, one may sympathise with her a little, as when believing her son to be in some harm she comes to his rescue, revealing herself shouting “Here good gentleman, whet your rage upon me.”

Overall, throughout the play, Goldsmith uses both Disguise and Deception in most cases to create situations in which the audience laugh at the characters being deceived due to the way they are acting towards someone whom they believe to be different people. Disguise and deception also creates comedy, as there is often a comically overdramatic reaction on the part of the character that is being subject to the impudence of those being deceived. Comedy also arises, when characters which may not be all that likeable find themselves in misfortunate situations (due to deception) which the audience can’t help but laugh at, like in the case of Mrs Hardcastle, in her own garden towards the end of the play. The audience may find varying levels of sympathy towards different victims of deceit within the play, as some characters, have qualities redeeming enough for them to be considered a good person, and therefore an unjust target. Most characters however, display behaviour which would have a negative effect on their portrayal, or may bring the deceit upon themselves. Therefore, the audience would find it difficult to wholly sympathise with the victims of deceit.

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