Restoration comedy (named for the restoration of the monarchy in England after Parliament beheaded a king), strangely enough, has yet to have enjoyed a prominent following in the United States. Restoration comedy encompasses all things Americans love but hate to talk about; sex, class struggle, gender and pay inequality. “She Stoops to Conquer”, however, is a restoration comedy that has enjoyed a delightful revival in Cleveland.
First performed in 1773, “She Stoops to Conquer” is a play that encompasses a lifetime of family drama in one day.
The action is focused on Kate Hardcastle, whose father hopes she will marry Charles Marlow, the son of a rich friend living in London. The only problem is that Marlow prefers women of a lower class, because women of high society frighten him. After their first interaction, Hardcastle realizes this and devises a plan to disguise herself as a kitchen maid to win Marlow’s affections, his hand in marriage and his estate.
While the play adequately explores class struggle, the inherent manipulations of dating in modern times and antiquity and the struggles of women navigating their independence in patriarchal societies, “She Stoops to Conquer” has one downfall. It fails to address the human need for comfort as the world population feels the soul-crushing pressure of its imperial march toward the void.
“She Stoops to Conquer” delicately (and at times, masterfully) interweaves comedy with societal woes, but it does not offer the audience any comfort for existing under the all-seeing eye of Death. Instead, we are made to sit in fine velvet seats, in our sacks of flesh and fat and bone, slowly congealing into a form ready for the Death’s gaping maw while the light, bubbly comedy drones on. And on. And on.
Hardcastle’s journey toward marrying Marlow can be readily fit into a metaphor for finding a degree of solace within the void’s relentless jaw while it sucks in all human experience and spits it back out, newly disoriented and in a purely absurd world. However, such an interpretation would be hamfisted at best and untrue to the playwright’s wishes at worst. Instead, the play offers no comfort whatsoever. When she disguises herself to please her prospective partner, Hardcastle denies herself her birthright to sincere, authentic living, and thus cements herself in a world that only sees her worth as a potential factory for excess human beings.
So, if you’re looking for an introduction into a world of comedy that the U.S. hasn’t had time for since the election, “She Stoops to Conquer” is the perfect date night play. If you’re looking for a measure of comfort in a world that steadily denies you the right to existence, watch television instead.
She Stoops to Conquer – ?/5