illustration of a woman standing in a corset with a large scarf wrapped around her neck

Mrs. Warren's Profession

by George Bernard Shaw

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Critical Overview

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Shaw completed Mrs. Warren’s Profession in 1893, but Lord Chamberlain, the Censor of Plays, would not license it, due to its subject matter. When it was finally produced in 1902, the Victorian public was shocked, at least those who understood what Mrs. Warren’s profession actually was. Censors would not allow him to include the word prostitution in the production.

Audiences in New York, where the members of the cast were arrested, were just as outraged by the play’s content. George E. Wellwarth notes in his article on the play that early reviewers overwhelming condemned it, deeming it ‘‘illuminated gangrene,’’ ‘‘gross sensation,’’ and ‘‘wholly immoral and degenerate.’’ Shaw notes in his ‘‘The Author’s Apology’’ that the play sent the press ‘‘into an hysterical tumult of protest, of moral panic, of involuntary and frantic confession of sin’’ and insisted that they could not distinguish between art and real life.

As the Victorian age ended, however, critics gained a different perspective on the play’s themes, arguing that they in fact promote moral behavior and condemn a corrupt and hypocritical society. Many modern scholars now echo Charles A. Berst, writing in his article ‘‘Propaganda and Art in Mrs. Warren’s Profession, who considers the play to reflect ‘‘the scope and depth of Shaw’s artistic achievement.’’

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