Aye, the ale-house. I thought so!
Tony Lumpkin is in his element. He’s singing, laughing and getting uproariously drunk with the local villagers in the bar of The Three Pigeons.
We learn that Tony, when of age, will come into a fortune of £1500 a year, (a considerable fortune in 1773, when She Stoops was written!) Once the money is his, his ambitions do not go any further than buying the miller’s grey mare and marrying Bet Bouncer …
… but in the meantime, there is much ale to be drunk and many songs to be sung.
The landlord informs Tony that there are two gentlemen in a post-chaise at the door. It appears that they are looking for Squire Hardcastle’s house but have lost their way in the forest.
Tony is aware that his step-father is expecting a visit from the son of his old friend Sir Charles and further questions the landlord. “As sure as can be, one of them must be the gentleman that’s coming down to court my sister. Do they seem to be Londoners?”
The landlord’s reply is one of the many barbed comments in this play aimed at our European cousins on the other side of the English Channel.
“I believe they may,” says he. “They look woundingly like Frenchmen.”
Tony sees an opportunity to play a trick on Squire Hardcastle. “Father-in-law has been calling me whelp and hound this half year. Now if I pleased, I could be so avenged on the old grumbletonian!” (Editor’s note: In modern English, ‘father-in-law’ suggests a relationship by marriage. In Georgian English, it just meant a relationship recognised by the law.)
He tells the young gentlemen that they will not reach Mr Hardcastle’s house that night. “It’s a damned, dark, boggy, dirty, dangerous way,” he tells them. He suggests they go a mile further up the road to the Old Buck’s Head on the hill, one of the best inn’s in the whole country.
This is, of course, Mr Hardcastle’s house, but Tony deepens the deception by warning Marlow and Hastings that “The landlord is rich and going to leave off business, so he wants to be thought a Gentleman. He’ll be for giving you his company and, if you mind him, he’ll persuade you that his mother was an alderman and his aunt a justice of the peace.. A troublesome old blade to be sure, but he keeps as good wines and beds as any in the whole country.”
And so the scene is set for a litany of misunderstanding, misdirection, insolence and social gaffes that keep the comedy rolling along at a pace for the next three acts.