Seminar Paper, 2004
12 Pages, Grade: 2,0
1. The problem of prostitution
1.1 The characters and the issue of prostitution
1.1.1 Mrs. Warren
1.1.2 Vivie Warren
1.2 Circumstances and reasons for prostitution
2. The temptations for Vivie Warren
2.1 The characters and their offers
2.1.1 Reverend Samuel Gardner – Religion and the Church
2.1.2 Sir George Crofts – Money and Social Position
2.1.3 Mr. Praed – Arts and Aesthetics
2.1.4 Frank Gardner – Young Love
2.1.5 Mrs. Warren – Luxury and Materialism
2.2 Vivie’s aim for reality
“Mrs Warren’s Profession was written in 1894 to draw the attention to the truth that prostitution is caused, not by female depravity and male licentiousness, but simply by underpaying, under-valuing and over-working women so shamefully that the poorest of them are forced to resort to prostitution to keep body and soul together.”
(Shaw in his preface to Mrs Warren’s Profession; The Guthrie Theater Study Guide) .
This paper analyzes how George Bernard Shaw explores the problem of prostitution and the temptations that Vivie Warren faces in his play “Mrs Warren’s Profession” written in 1894. Concerning the problem of prostitution, Shaw gives an account of a conflict between individual needs and the morality of Victorian society. Furthermore, Shaw exposes the downsides of the principles and morality of the upper classes at the turn of the century. It was a period of sexual repression, which lasted during the 1890s and into the 20th century. The author claims that the “White Slave Traffic”, which referred to prostitutes as slaves, was a social problem in post-industrial revolution England.
First I will analyze the exploration of the problem of prostitution by looking at the characters and their opinion towards prostition. Then I will focus on the justifications and reasons for prostitution that Shaw provides. In the second half of this paper, I will analyze the temptations Vivie Warren has to face also by looking at the characters and the evolution she goes through. I will finish off with a conclusion in respect to both analyses and by viewing the play as a morality play.
Because of the focus on prostitution and Shaw’s critical view of society’s attitude towards it, the play was censored and wasn’t performed until 1902 in a private club. Public perfomance didn’t take place until 1926 (Norton Topics Online). The censorship shows how controversial the issue of prostitution and how revolutionary Shaw’s play was in the Victorian period.
Mrs. Warren and the problem of prostitution
the temptations of Vivie Warren
in George Bernard Shaw’s
Mrs. Warren’s Profession
I argue that Shaw makes the lack of opportunities for women under capitalism and poverty his main points of criticism against society’s attitude towards prostitution. In my opinion, his arguments are a major step forward in the fight for women’s rights in the Victorian time.
The characters of the play can be seen as largely either prostitutes or their clients and Shaw wants to show us how entangled the whole Victorian society was in the prostitution commerce. He characterizes Sir George Crofts as a big, regular client, who profits from brothels all over Europe; Samuel Gardner has sold himself for his benefit and turned from immorality to self-righteousness; Frank is almost selling himself for marriage because he is broke and last Lizzie, the sister of Mrs. Warren, has slept her way up to become a respectable lady in a cathedral town. Shaw criticizes that especially capitalists like Crofts profited from prostitution: “My mother was a very poor woman who had no reasonable choice but to do as she did. You were a rich gentleman; and you did the same for the sake of 35 per cent. You are a pretty common sort of scoundrel, I think.” (Shaw 1884, p. 1842). These characterizations show us that Shaw makes the point that the whole society was living to a bigger or lesser extent on immoral earnings or prostitution itself, so Crofts states: “If youre going to pick and choose your acquaintances on moral principles, youd better clear out of this country, unless you want to cut yourself off from all decent society.” (Shaw 1884, p. 1842).
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