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Shaw, George Bernard. Mrs Warren's Profession.


The author professes that the play was written "to draw attention to the truth that prostitution is caused, not by female depravity and male licentiousness, but simply by underpaying, undervaluing, and overworking women so shamefully that the poorest of them are forced to resort to prostitution to keep body and soul together" (p. 181). The author adds that prostitution, or the White Slave Traffic, is an organized business from which capitalists derive a part of their wealth.

The play was banned by Lord Chamberlain and produced privately by the Stage Society, a club giving private performances, eight years after the play was written.

The Author's Apology

The Moral Purpose of the Play: The author describes the shocked reactions of theatre critics on the first performance of the play. He explains that prostitution is a larger social evil which cannot be effectively coped with individual alms and shelter provided by the Salvation Army. He himself chooses to fight with his plays, which he considers the best method second only to a personal example. He explains that he deliberately presents the less favourable aspects of Mrs Warren's profession, despite the protests of Lord Chamberlain's censorship. He claims that the portrayal of unflattering reality is necessary in order to fulfil the moral purpose of the play.

The Self-Contradictory Nature of Censorship: The author continues to contemplate the office of the Examiner who licenses plays. He considers the current practice of licensing a compromise: whereas plays for entertainment including such scenes as rape are licensed, those that deal seriously with prostitution and similar social problems are censored. He challenges not the individual person of the Examiner but the nature of censorship as such. He keeps on paying tribute to his favourites Ibsen and Tolstoy and uses them to illustrate how censorship destroys the free expression of art. He argues for abolishing all censorship and offers free competition as an alternative, the similar principle which works with music-halls. The expected effect will be that "plays which treat sex questions as problems for thought instead of as aphrodisiacs will be freely performed" (p. 195).

A Challenge to Conventional Morality: The author emphasizes that his play does not follow theatrical conventions of a popular sentimental play but rather reality of life itself. The play was written and is performed primarily for women, the author dismisses the pretentious chivalry of those male spectators who claim such issues should not be mentioned in the presence of ladies. The character of Mrs Warren is in no way exceptional, she is no more wicked than her respectable daughter. Mrs Warren's choice of profession does not derive from wickedness but from necessity. The author argues that Mrs Warren's choice is between two evils, between prostitution and starvation, and claims that it is "infamous of society to offer such alternatives" (p. 202).

The Misunderstood New York Performance: The author describes the outrageous reactions that followed the New York performance of the play by Mr Arnold Daly in 1905. Critics considered the play indecent and pursued Mr Daly but the play, which has been in circulation in a book form for eight years unchallenged, was eventually found not to be immoral. Mr Daly together with the author of the play however suffered much abuse, as well as the actress who impersonated Mrs Warren on the stage. The author wonders that plays that portray sexuality as an aphrodisiac are tolerated, but those that show the shadowy aspects of prostitution in order to warn against it are censored. He believes that prostitution is a profitable business for landlords who hire the houses for prostitutes, for newspapers that advertise them, for restaurants that provide them, and for many other respectable trades. It is exactly these people that protests again the play. Piccard's Cottage, January 1902 [revised 1930].

P.S. (1930), Postscript 1933

Cinema Censorship: The author records an incident in which he personally took part. A lady who devoted all her life to charitable work had a cinema film produced which showed the evils of prostitution in order to warn young country men and women against its snares. The film was censored similarly as Shaw's play some three decades earlier. Shaw draws a parallel and concludes that the state of society has not improved during the years.


Mrs Warren's Profession: A Play

Act I

Miss Vivie Warren: A cottage garden south of Haslemere in Surrey, the property of one Mrs Alison. Miss Vivie Warren is lying in a hammock, occupied with study. Vivie, aged twenty-two, is a highly educated middle-class Englishwoman, strong, confident, and self-possessed. Vivie came to the cottage to pursue her studies peacefully. She has never lived with her mother but for few-day visits. Otherwise she was boarded in school, college, or with a family paid for taking charge of her. Her mother has lived in Brussels or Vienna while Vivie stayed back in England. Vivie excels in mathematics and plans to set up her own office in London. Meanwhile she privately studies law and keeps one eye on the stock exchange. She is not fond of holidays, theatre, or gallery visits. She likes working and getting paid for it. She has man-like rather than feminine qualities, she has a strong, pressing handshake, and a liking for cigars, whiskey, and detective novels.

Mr Praed: Vivie is interrupted in her study by the arrival of Mr Praed, a middle-aged artist, a would-be libertine, a friend of Mrs Warren. He came from Horsham to be introduced to Vivie by her mother who is about to come from London. Vivie and Praed engage in conversation and Praed is shocked by Vivie's attitudes. Vivie knows very little about her mother but Praed refuses to satisfy her curiosity. Vivie concludes that her mother must have a secret and she intents to use it against her mother to be allowed to set herself up in London. Praed is shocked by Vivie's methods.

Mrs Kitty Warren and Sir George Crofts: Mrs Kitty Warren arrives in the company of her long-time friend Sir George Crofts. Mrs Warren is between forty and fifty, a former beauty, showy in dress and vulgar in manners. Sir Crofts is about fifty, trying to look younger than he is and give the impression of a fashionable cosmopolitan gentleman. Vivie and her mother retire to make some tea and the two men remain alone in the garden. Crofts professes an interest in Vivie but fears that he might her own father. He tries to learn from Praed who her father is but Praed does not know.

Frank Gardner and Reverend Samuel Gardner: The young beau Frank Gardner arrives and soon also his father, Reverend Samuel Gardner, appears. Frank is convinced that Vivie, whom he teaches shooting, is in love with him. His father pretends self-importance but actually he is the fool of the family who got rid of him by placing him on the shoulders of the church. In conversation with his son, Reverend Samuel reveals that he once offered fifty pounds to a woman from whom he wanted to get back his letters. The woman refused the money, preferring to exercise power over him. Mrs Warren appears in the door, recognizes Reverend Samuel, and recalls the letters she still has from him, and so the audience knows that Reverend Samuel is the father of Vivie.

Act II

An Argument for Vivie's Hand: Evening inside the cottage. Mrs Warren and Frank return from a walk, the former is exhausted and bored by the country. She likes Frank who resembles his father and kisses the young man. Then she calls herself wicked and resists further temptation. Sir Crofts and Reverend Samuel return from the walk and now the company discusses who will be put where for the night. Revered Samuel hesitates to provide Praed with shelter but accepts him when he is assured of his respectable social position and his acquaintances. The men proceed to argue who of them will marry Vivie. Mrs Warren and Reverend Samuel claim it is impossible for Frank to do so but they would not tell their reason. Crofts is annoyed by the competition and offers Mrs Warren to provide for her and her daughter in exchange for marriage to Vivie.

Vivie's Suitors at Dinner: Vivie and Praed return from the walk refreshed. The cottage is too small to provide table enough for six people, so the practical Vivie immediately arranges who will eat first and who will wait. Nobody likes the arrangement but nobody finds a way how to protest against it. Vivie and Frank are the two who wait while others eat in the other room. Vivie watches the company eating and hopes she will never become one those useless people. Frank woos Vivie, calling her Vivvums, and Vivie encourages him, though she behaves as a whimsical lover enjoying her mastery over the tortured man. Meanwhile the company at the table continues in the argument who will marry Vivie but Mrs Warren concludes that none of them has any chance with Vivie. Vivie later confirms her mother's opinion and claims she intends to get rid of Frank.

Mrs Warren's Self-Defence: Vivie and Mrs Warren remain finally alone in the cottage. Vivie sits at the table with her books and is annoyed with her mother who claims her right to behave like a mother to her. Vivie seems to think that her own position of a respectable woman with a social standing is superior to that of her mother. Vivie seeks to know who her father was but her mother refuses to tell. She only claims that it was nobody from the company they had that day. Vivie reproaches her mother for her profession, her mother breaks down but then she goes on to defend herself. Vivie at first remains hard, claiming: "I dont believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they cant find them, make them" (p. 246).

Mother-Daughter Reconciliation: As her mother proceeds to tell her life story, Vivie gradually softens and understands her mother's arguments. Her mother explains that one of her two half-sisters died of poisoning from working in a whitelead factory. Her sister Liz turned to prostitution, married well, and became one of the most respectable women in Winchester. She herself had no talents for anything, but her beauty, and realized that: "The only way for a woman to provide for herself decently is for her to be good to some man that can afford to be good to her" (p. 251). Mrs Warren manages to defend herself with logical arguments and the mother and the daughter reconcile.


The Warrens Visit the Gardeners: Morning in the rectory garden. Revered Samuel has been drinking and entertaining his guest Sir Crofts into small hours. Frank mocks his morning sickness irreverently. Reverend retires to write his weekly sermon, though Frank claims that he does not write but buys his sermons. Reverend Samuel, when he was drunk, invited Mrs Warren and Vivie for a visit and the two duly arrive. When others retire to see the inside of the reconstructed church, Vivie remains alone with Frank and warns him to behave politely towards her mother. Frank is astonished to find Vivie so sentimental and her attitude to her mother so very different from what it was the day before.

Crofts Proposes to Vivie: Crofts interrupts the conversation of Vivie and Frank. When Crofts remains alone with Vivie, he contrasts his status and wealth to that of the moneyless and professionless Frank and proposes to Vivie. Vivie refuses but despite his claims to the opposite, Crofts resorts to blackmailing her. He reveals to Vivie that he has invested a large sum of money into Mrs Warren's business of running hotels, that is public-houses, in Brussels, Vienna, and elsewhere. That is from where Mrs Warren derived money to provide her daughter with education. Crofts claims he wants to keep the whole thing in the family. He mentions that there are bishops, aristocrats, and politicians involved in the business. Vivie realizes that she takes part in the white slave traffic too by accepting its profits.

Crofts Reveals Vivie's Father: Vivie still refuses Crofts's approaches, which angers him. Vivie rings the bell on the garden gate to call Frank for help. Frank appears immediately with a rifle. He seems to have overheard their conversation. Crofts, hurt and disappointed, reveals that Vivie is Frank's half-sister. Frank wants to ignore the discovery and behave with Vivie as intimately as ever, but Vivie rashly leaves him, professing that she will be from now on always found in her office in London.

Act IV

Vivie Gives up Praed and Frank: Honoria Fraser's chambers in Chancery Lane. The plate at the clerk's office reads "Fraser and Warren". Frank comes to see Vivie, who works in the office as Honoria's business partner, and wants to take her out for the day. Frank professes that his father denied the paternity of Vivie and that he himself believes his father rather than Crofts. He claims he in love with Vivie and wants to act on it. Vivie is however content with her work and wishes for no other relationship than that of a brother and sister, no matter whether they are actually siblings or not. Praed calls to take leave from Vivie before he sets off for Italy and is sorry that Vivie has refused to accompany him on the trip. Vivie is happy with her work, claiming that "there is no beauty and no romance in life for me" (p. 273).

Frank Gives up Vivie: Vivie was bitterly disappointed in her feelings towards her mother and now seeks refuge in work to forget it. She explains what she feels to both Frank and Praed by revealing them her mother's profession and her business partnership with Crofts. Vivie retires to the other room to calm herself down. Frank reveals to the surprised Praed that now he cannot marry Vivie whom he intended to marry but for money which he constantly lacks. Mrs Warren arrives to see her daughter, anxious that Vivie left Haslemere in such a haste without saying anything to her. The men advise Mrs Warren not to wait for Vivie who has expressed her intention never to see her mother again. Mrs Warren does not take the advice. Vivie enters the room and orders the men to leave.

Vivie Gives up Her Mother: Vivie tells her mother that though she accepted the reasons for her mother's choice of profession, she does not accept the fact the business is still going on. She intends to support herself solely on her own and bids her mother goodbye. Her mother tries to lure Vivie on her wealth and explains that this is simply the way of the world. The innocent Vivie prefers to preserve her moral integrity and rejects her mother's arguments. Vivie refuses the superficial enjoyments of rich people because she would hate to become a worthless parasite in the world. Her mother, on the contrary, needs excitement and therefore she continues in the business even though she is well provided now. What the two women share is their desire to make more money than they can spend, though each of them uses a different method. There is an emotionally charged argument in which the mother claims her right for her daughter, but Vivie refuses ever to see her again, so Mrs Warren slams the door and leaves. The conclusion shows Vivie happily absorbed in her work.


  • Author

    Shaw, George Bernard. (1856 - 1950).
  • Full Title

    Mrs Warren's Profession: A Play. 
  • First Published

  • Form


Works Cited

Shaw, George Bernard. Mrs Warren's Profession. 1894. Plays Unpleasant. London: Penguin, 1946.


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