Kitchener-Waterloo

She Stoops To Conquer takes on 18th century 'feminism'

Stratford Festival's She Stoops to Conquer is essentially the 18th-century equivalent to a modern-day farce, but the Oliver Goldsmith classic is also shaped by complex class and gender dynamics that speak to that era, and ours.
Maev Beaty as Miss Kate Hardcastle. Dressed as a barmaid she finally catches the eye of her new beau Charles Marlow, played by Brad Hodder in She Stoops to Conquer. (David Hou/Stratford Festival)

With characters in disguise, mistaken identity gags that run through most of the play and countless curly wigs, Stratford Festival's She Stoops to Conquer is essentially the 18th-century equivalent to a modern-day farce. 

But the Oliver Goldsmith classic is also shaped by complex class and gender dynamics that speak to that era — and ours. 

The story centres on Kate Hardcastle and her family, who are eagerly anticipating the arrival of her new suitor, Charles Marlow. 

"He has a strange affliction," explains actress Maev Beaty, who portrays Hardcastle.

"With upper-class women, he is absolutely frozen stiff with fear. He is intimidated, he stutters — can barely look at them. But when it comes to barmaids and friendly lower-class ladies, he feels very much at home and, in fact, rather lascivious."

Hardcastle decides to disguise herself as a barmaid, hoping to break down the barriers between herself and her new beau. 

Thus, "stooping" to "conquer" him and his fears. 

"It's probably a very mild form of Sex and the City; she sees a man and she goes after him," says Eleanor Ty, an english professor who specializes in 18th century literature at Wilfrid Laurier University.  

"It does say a lot about what men fear then — and perhaps now."

So is Kate Hardcastle a trailblazer for her time, overcoming class conflicts? Or is she just re-enforcing the gender norms of her day?

For the full discussion with Beaty and Ty, listen to the audio below. 

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