Stuff that Happens
Stuff that Happens in the play
- Mr. Hardcastle’s second wife wants her son, Tony Lumpkin, to marry her niece, Constance Neville.
- Mr. Hardcastle makes plans for his daughter, Kate, to meet and marry the son of his old friend, Sir Charles Marlow.
- Kate’s friend, Constance, is secretly pledged to George Hastings, who is traveling from London to the Hardcastle home with his friend, the man Kate’s father wishes her to marry, Young Charles Marlow.
- Tony is drinking and carousing at an inn with some friends when the weary travelers arrive. Tony concocts a plot: he convinces the two gentlemen that they are lost, but that “one of the best inns in the whole county” is very close. He directs them to the Hardcastle house and tells them to pay no mind to the old Landlord.
- Hastings and Young Marlow treat Mr. Hardcastle as an innkeeper; Mr. Hardcastle, unaware of Tony’s trick, is appalled by the behavior of Young Marlow.
- Hastings runs into Constance. They realize Tony’s game, but they agree to pretend that Kate and Constance happen to be other guests at this “inn.”
- Marlow meets Kate, but is too shy and awkward to speak to her properly and he stumbles over his words.
- Marlow encounters a more simply dressed Kate and mistakes her for a barmaid. She discovers that Marlow is witty and charming when he thinks he’s talking to a barmaid, so she encourages the deception.
- Meanwhile, Hastings accepts the “help” of Tony to elope with Constance and her casket of jewels.
- On the way to a happy ending, more deceptions, revelations, and mistakes of a night ensue.
Notes from the Director
comedy to die for
Near the end of Shakespeare’s career, indoor playhouses like the Blackfriars were inundated with entertainments called masques. Writers such as Lily, Beaumont, Fletcher, and Jonson were making a lot of money and pleasing their upper-class friends by producing these shows that combined poetic drama, music, song, dance, elaborate costuming, and stage spectacle. In his final solo work, The Tempest, Shakespeare even mocks this new chic movement by having spirits perform a masque which puts the main character, Prospero, to sleep. After Shakespeare’s death in 1616, his own plays were often performed with min-masques inserted at the top of the show and during several intervals throughout. The lavish style of masques stayed in fashion until 1642, when the Puritans closed the theatres.
The Restoration period began in 1660 when King Charles II was restored to the throne and he reopened the theatres. For the next one hundred years, popular plays bore little resemblance to the kind of robust comedies produced during Shakespeare’s golden age. Picking up where the stylized masques left off and influenced by the heightened society plays of France, comedies of manners that focused on class-consciousness and excessive concern for proper behavior became all the rage in England. The artifice in these comedies of manners became a primary ingredient in the following trend of sentimental comedies: plays in which the heroes overcome a series of moral obstacles and inspire tears more than laughter. Sentimental comedies tell us how to feel more than they actually evoke real emotion.
Oliver Goldsmith, the one-hit playwright, came along during the height of sentimental comedy. He drifted in and out of many professions in relative obscurity, eventually gaining some notoriety as an essayist late in life. His second play, She Stoops to Conquer in 1773, became a huge hit; he promptly died a year later. In spite of being the sole success of an almost unknown playwright, Stoops had an amazing impact on the world of comic theatre. With it, Goldsmith ushered in a new wave of humor that shunned the artificial, heightened, and cold qualities of sentimental comedy in favor of the gentle wisdom and big-hearted warmth of what he called laughing comedy.
Goldsmith’s laughing comedy is aimed at amusing rather than at telling an audience what to feel; it reveals man’s ridiculousness rather than his distresses; it unmasks corruption
rather than displaying righteousness. Most of all, it’s FUNNY. Also, laughing comedy often spoofs and lampoons elements of sentimentalism.
Sentimental comedy usually involves stereotypes: the heroine is reserved and romantic, the hero is bold and brave, and romance/love reigns supreme above all else. In Stoops, Miss Neville and Hastings are in love and they plan to elope to France, yet their plans are foiled. While Hastings wants them to get married anyway, Miss Neville is sensible and does the exact opposite of a sentimental comedy heroine, and puts money and security first. Goldsmith also gives us a three-dimensional throwback to Shakespeare’s comic heroines with the spunky Kate Hardcastle, who masquerades as a bar maid to circumvent the bumbling inhibitions of the hero and liberate him from his inability to relate to women of his own class. Although she disguises herself as a bar maid rather than a man to find “the cure,” Kate’s similarities to Shakespeare’s Rosalind and Viola are unmistakable, as is Goldsmith’s return to the boisterous FUN found in the long-gone Elizabethan comedies.
Audiences reacted enthusiastically to Stoops when it premiered in 1773 and have continued to do so ever since; it remains one of the few 18th century plays regularly performed for modern audiences. Goldsmith shot a much-needed dose of realism into the dull, sentimental plays of the period and his comedy is lively, witty, and imbued with an endearing humanity. Too bad he died before giving us even more at which to laugh.
Goldsmith apparently accepted a Prologue written by the Drury Lane Theatre actor/manager David Garrick to be performed by the actor playing Tony Lumpkin, as an official part of the original script. Dr. Goldsmith himself wrote an Epilogue to be performed by the actor playing Kate after rejecting an Epilogue written by a friend to be performed by the actor playing Tony. With all of these Prologues and Epilogues flying about for the first performances, it’s no wonder that a tradition developed over the years in which many theatres have undertaken the task of writing original Prologues and Epilogues for their productions. In keeping with that tradition, we have created our own Prologue and Epilogue for your enjoyment. Our Epilogue borrows some lines from Dr. Goldsmith, who is, in turn, borrowing from Shakespeare.
Our life is all a play, composed to please,
We have our exits and our entrances.
If you are amused, we thank you. If you are not, we blame Goldsmith and Shakespeare.