Character of Tony Lumpkin in Oliver Goldsmith's "She stoops to Conquer": A Comedy of Intrigue

“Let schoolmasters puzzle their brain,
With grammar, and nonsense, and learning,
Good liquor, I stoutly maintain,
Gives genius a better discerning.” Tony At
The Three Pigeon

If Oliver Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer is a comedy of intrigue, it is so mainly for Tony Lumpkin, who seemingly a booby, turns out to be a ready-wit, a master of pranks. The play is set in motion with a trick that Tony plays on two town guys, Marlow and Hastings. How is it that he misdirects the two youths which had them to harassment? Tony does it for its own shake .It is his humour to make fun at the cost of others. Had Tony played no trick on Marlow and Hastings, there would have no comedy concerning ‘mistakes of a night.’ Hence the importance of Tony in the play can hardly be underrated.

It is reported that Tony is virtually a chip off the old block. His father was country Squire who lived in past, indulging in wine and gambling. Now that the Squire is dead,   it is time for the young one, Tony, to inherit everything of his father. His mother, an aged woman, is now Mrs. Hardcastle, having a daughter, Kate, by her second husband. It is the excessive indulgence on her part that is supposed to have spoiled Tony. Tony himself believes that he has gone astray because of his mother.

She Stoops to Conquer 

at Williamstown Theatre Festival

As it has been already pointed out that Tony enjoys leading one to discomfiture, so he burns the shoes of a foot-man, frightens the maids of the locality, teases the kittens. The other day he fastened Mr. Hardcastle’s wig to his chair. The result was that when Mr. Hardcastle was about to make a bow, he popped his bald head in the presence of a female guest. On a close analysis, it comes out that though Tony has the look of a booby, a slow-witted fellow; in reality he is possessed of keen shrewdness, a kind of tricky mischievousness. One may ascribe his impish nature to the heredity he trails. He is said to have a physical appearance which is a carbon copy of his father’s. While he resembles his father outwardly, the inner closeness between the two is equally discernible. Though he has already come of age, his mother keeps the matter concealed. This is obviously an explanation for Tony’s untoward and pampered behavior.

Mrs. Hardcastle wants Constance, her niece to marry Tony. Her intention is to keep the jewels of Constance well within her control. It is to hoodwink Mrs. Hardcastle that Constance plays a trick on her, and in her project she is ably assisted by Tony who demonstrates a theatrical gesture of love making, sending Mrs.Hardcastle to the impression that her son is really “determined” to marry Constance. On other occasion, Tony makes use of a duplicate key and manages to take way Constance’s gavels from Mrs.Hardcastle’s drawer.
Almost all the intrigues in the play are directly or indirectly connected with Tony who thus distinguishes himself as the pivot of the total ‘mechanism’ of action in the play. Take away Tony from the play, and what remains is a balloon entirely deflated. Of course, he is not the hero of the play. Marlow is the hero and it is affair of love with Kate that makes the main plot of the play. However, the final word about Tony is that though he is an imp, he is not without goodness. He is above cruelty. All his lapses notwithstanding, he lays claim to out indulgent love and affection.    

Ref:1. The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature
       2. Wikipedia