George Bernard Shaw’s play Mrs. Warren’s Profession
begins with Vivie Warren in Haslemere, a country town, following her graduation from Cambridge University. Act I opens with a conversation between Vivie and Praed—an anarchist and friend of her mother’s—in which he praises Vivie’s unconventional character. They discuss the difference between a life devoted to study versus one devoted to culture and the arts. Their conversation then turns to Mrs. Warren, Vivie’s mother, as Vivie reveals that they have seen little of one another Vivie’s whole life. Finally, Praed’s reticence regarding Mrs. Warren’s profession leads Vivie to determine it is some great secret that she can later use against her mother.
Mrs. Warren and Sir George Crofts arrive, and when Mrs. Warren and Vivie go inside, the two men try to determine who is Vivie’s father. They both claim that it is neither of them, and Crofts tells Praed that he is attracted to Vivie, but both men agree that he is too old to gain Mrs. Warren’s approval of Crofts’ desire to marry Vivie. As they go inside for tea, Frank Gardner, a friend of Vivie’s and the son of the local reverend, approaches and Praed welcomes Frank to join them. Frank confides in Praed that he loves Vivie. Before they can go into the cottage, Frank’s father approaches and determines that due to her lack of wealth, Vivie would not be a good wife for Frank, who has no income. When they join the others for tea, the Reverend
Act II begins with Mrs. Warren and Frank, who engage in a flirtation and a kiss. Mrs. Warren tells Frank that he should pursue Vivie, and Frank shocks her by telling her that he has already made love to Vivie. The others arrive then, and conversation turns toward Vivie’s prospects for marriage. Once more, Frank declares that he would like to marry Vivie, despite his father’s insistence that it would be unwise. Vivie and Frank are then left alone, and Frank makes an unsuccessful attempt at flirting with her. Meanwhile, Crofts suggests to Mrs. Warren that he marry Vivie, because he has the money to ensure both of their comfort. Mrs. Warren refutes his suggestion, and he leaves in anger.
The men leave with plans to sleep at the Reverend’s house, and Vivie and her mother argue about where Vivie should live before she is married. Vivie uses this moment to try to persuade
Mrs. Warren to discuss the nature of her profession and who her father is. Mrs. Warren becomes upset, and reveals that Vivie has never met her father. Mrs. Warren tells Vivie about her childhood and how it led to her becoming a prostitute, and how the money she earned paid for Vivie’s education. This act closes out with both women making peace with one another and Vivie finding respect for her mother.
Moving on to Act III, Frank and his father have words yet again and, after the Reverend leaves the scene, Praed arrives to scold Frank for treating his father with disrespect. Vivie and Mrs. Warren arrive, the latter going on a tour of the church grounds with Crofts and the Reverend. Vivie and Frank are alone together again. They argue about Mrs. Warren, and Vivie’s attitude toward her. Their conversation turns flirtatious, at least until they are interrupted by Crofts, who proposes to Vivie, who says no because she doesn’t want to get married at all. Crofts reveals that he and Mrs. Warren run a brothel together, and the two argue. Frank attempts to shoot Crofts, who reveals that Vivie and Frank are half-siblings. Frank attempts to flirt with Vivie despite this, but she leaves in disgust.
In Act IV, Vivie has returned to work, where she refuses to go out with Frank, who has followed her to the city. He insists that they cannot be half-siblings, citing the nature of his feelings toward her and his father’s denial. To Vivie, flirtation with Frank is still distasteful as their childhood together causes her to think of him as a sibling regardless. Praed arrives and he and Vivie argue about his upcoming trip to Italy before Vivie reveals to them both that her mother is a prostitute, and then leaves. Frank confides in Praed again, this time telling him that he no longer wishes to marry Vivie.
Mrs. Warren arrives, but Frank tells her she should leave instead of waiting for Vivie, causing her to cry. Vivie does return, and Frank and Praed leave. Vivie then tells her mother that she doesn’t want any money from her and confesses that Crofts told her of Mrs. Warren’s and his business relationship. They cut ties and Mrs. Warren leaves after expressing regrets that Vivie is educated and independent. Vivie returns to work.
There are a number of themes at work in Shaw’s play, including identification of female roles in society and morality. These themes are important to consider because they relate to Shaw’s interest in socialism which in turn reflect contemporary changes in society.