Life and Art in Georgian England

She Stoops to Conquer was written and performed for the first time in 1773, during George III’s rule in England—the same period when the American Revolution was fought.  Britain was about to be transformed by the Industrial Revolution, and a rapidly growing network of roads and canals were connecting rural areas and allowing the upper classes to travel more easily between their homes in the city and their estates in the country.

London at the time considered itself the center of the Western world; it was a city where both commerce and culture ruled.  She Stoops to Conquer playwright Oliver Goldsmith was a member of the Literary Club, formed by Dr. Samuel Johnson in 1763.  Among other members were James Boswell, Johnson’s biographer; Sir Joshua Reynolds, the painter; Adam Smith, the economist; Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the playwright; David Garrick, the actor; and Edmund Burke, the politician.  Historian F.E. Halliday says, “It was the climax of the classical age in England, an elegant age that seemed to be so firmly established that there was no reason why it should ever end.”  Yet this age bore within itself the seeds of its own demise. There were great dichotomies: extreme wealth lived alongside severe poverty, and manners and taste went hand in hand with vulgarity.   

The world that Goldsmith and his contemporaries wrote about was a world with great mixing of socioeconomic classes.   This democratization was reflected throughout the arts of the period as well.  The cutting edge of artistic innovation moved away from the Court—where it had been during the Restoration—and toward the public.  Popular styles began to be named not after monarchs but after craftsmen and designers—such as Sheraton, Heppelwhite, and Chippendale.  The theater became more commercial than it had been during the Restoration and more frequented by a general public.  Theaters themselves became much bigger—in 1777, the Drury Lane Theatre would have held about 2,300 patrons.  This larger, more commercial theater responded to more popular tastes, which demanded “star” performances, such as those given by David Garrick (1716-1779), John Philip Kemble (1757-1823), and his sister, Sarah Siddons (1755-1831).

(Adapted from McCarter Theatre’s The School for Scandal Audience Resource Guide)