Shaw's Mrs. Warrens Profession

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In 1894, Socialist playwright, George Bernard Shaw wrote the highly controversial play, Mrs. Warren's Profession. The play was censored and it would take eight years, before it was finally produced in London in 1902 for private performance. The production survived a mere two performances as an irate audience condemned the play, protesting that the content was immoral for its themes involving both prostitution and incest. Mrs. Warren's Profession however, presented both an argument and counter-argument. First, Shaw makes an influential case that it was poverty, not immorality that led the young Mrs. Warren into prostitution. He then counters the argument, suggesting that she has become a willing active participant in a capitalist society. Shaw's refusal to moralize about the sex trade, only about the system that supports it created a play that was clearly before its time allowing for poignancy over a century later. In the play, Vivie Warren, an intelligent and independent Cambridge graduate, learns that her mother, Mrs. Warren, has risen from poverty to her present wealth through prostitution. As the play unfolds, Vivie is forced to come to terms with her mother's secret and that she is a direct beneficiary of a chain of European brothels by allowing her mother to fund her education and life of comfort. Shaw's clever dialogue, embedded with his bright wit keeps an audience's intrigue, as the bleak questions about social justice, sexual relationships, and mother and daughter conflicts, posed by the play, lead the characters to find a sense of resolve and persuade the audience to examine their own attitudes toward women and the capitalist machine. Eugene Scribe's "well-made" play was the typical form employed by playwrights in the second half of the nineteenth century. The plot dominated the "well-made" play format, often eclipsing any characterization. The realization scene, where the characters learn the truth occurs at the end of the "well-made" play which...
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