Throughout the entire first scene, my head was filled with memories from my youth of watching re-runs of British classics like Benny Hill and Monty Python. The way the characters seemed to effortlessly flow and play off of each other, while still maintaining that dry, somewhat cheeky, undercurrent, was echoed by many British sitcoms for the latter part of the 20th century. As often times happened in the Monty Python skits, the characters of She Stoops to Conquer seem to dance around questions only to reach an anticlimactic end. Throughout lines 104-125 of the first scene for example, couldn’t you just picture John Cleese as the role of Tony, bickering in this narcissistic way:
Pray, gentlemen, is not this same Hardcastle a cross-grained, oldfashioned, whimsical fellow, with an ugly face, a daughter, and a pretty son?…The daughter, a tall, trapesing, trolloping, talkative maypole; the son, a pretty, well-bred, agreeable youth, that everybody is fond of….
And then quickly snapping on his antagonist (who’d obviously be played by Eric Idle- he’d be a great Marlow), when informed they’d received some very different intel. I guess what I’m getting at here is that the formula for a comedy really hasn’t changed all that much throughout the past 300 or so years. Which means that the culture behind the comedy really hasn’t changed all too much, either. Like the issues of social class and socio-economic standing that arise in the play, modern Americans are finding themselves faced with many similar problems.
The food-service industry is one issue in particular. As the servants were preparing for their guests to arrive at the beginning of act 2, it struck me interesting that the servants all appeared to be Scottish, or at least Northern English. The English have been stigmatizing and tormenting the Scottish for centuries- evident when Mr. Hardcastle informs the servant, “You must hear us talk, and not think of talking; you must see us drink, and not think of drinking; you must see us eat, and not think of eating.” But is this really any different than the way we treat immigrant fast food workers and caterers?
I don’t know how everyone else feels, but personally I’ve always had an impossible time imagining how things used to be. Things are so immensely different in the 21st century that history just appears so distant and irrelevant. It’s interesting to see though that when given a shared component of the times, i.e. food or comedy, one starts making a great deal of connections to the modern world.