Mrs. Warren’s Profession

By George Bernard Shaw


Welcome to the fascinating world of George Bernard Shaw and one of his most provocative plays, “Mrs. Warren’s Profession”! 🎭✨ First penned in 1893, this play wasn’t performed in London until 1902, due to its controversial subject matter. Shaw, a playwright known for his sharp wit and critical eye on society’s mores, dives into the complex discussions of morality, societal hypocrisy, and the economic necessities that drive individuals into professions deemed immoral by the Victorian society.

“Mrs. Warren’s Profession” falls into the genre of drama and social critique, showcasing Shaw’s commitment to discussing social issues through his work. At a time when discussing prostitution was taboo, Shaw boldly brought the conversation to the public stage, inviting audiences to question the socio-economic forces behind such choices. This play is a brilliant example of Shaw’s genius in using theatre as a mirror to society, reflecting the complexities and contradictions of the human condition.

Plot Summary

“Mrs. Warren’s Profession” by George Bernard Shaw is a compelling narrative that delves deep into the societal norms and economic pressures of the late 19th century. Let’s break down the main events:

Exposition β€” The play introduces Vivie Warren, a highly educated and independent young woman, and her mother, Mrs. Kitty Warren, whose profession is initially a mystery. Vivie spends her life in the countryside, focusing on her studies and career aspirations, largely detached from her mother’s world.

Rising Action β€” As Vivie learns more about her mother, she discovers Mrs. Warren’s profession: she is a madam of a string of brothels. This revelation comes as a shock to Vivie, sparking a conflict between mother and daughter over morality, societal norms, and economic survival. The dialogue reveals Mrs. Warren’s justifications for her choices, driven by poverty and lack of opportunities, contrasted with Vivie’s idealistic views on life and work.

Climax β€” The tension reaches its peak when Vivie decides to break away from her mother’s financial support, seeking to live a life aligned with her own values. This decision is not just a rejection of her mother’s money but also an assertion of her independence and moral standpoint.

Falling Action β€” Following the confrontation, Vivie distances herself from her mother and the past. She also ends her romantic engagements and friendships connected to her mother’s world, choosing to pursue a career in law, a field she believes allows her to maintain her integrity.

Resolution β€” The play concludes with Vivie severing ties with her mother and her past completely, symbolizing her full embrace of independence and her rejection of societal hypocrisy. Mrs. Warren, on the other hand, is left to confront the realities of her life and choices alone, as the play ends with a poignant reflection on the societal conditions that dictate the boundaries of morality and survival.

Through these events, Shaw critiques the societal norms that push individuals towards certain professions and questions the moral high ground held by society.

Character Analysis

In “Mrs. Warren’s Profession,” George Bernard Shaw presents a cast of complex characters, each embodying different facets of Victorian society and its hypocrisies. Here’s a closer look at the main characters:

  • Vivie Warren β€” Vivie is a strong-willed, intelligent, and pragmatic young woman. Educated at Cambridge, she embodies the New Woman of the late 19th century, valuing independence and intellectual pursuits over marriage and traditional female roles. Throughout the play, Vivie’s character develops from being somewhat naive about her family’s wealth source to taking a firm moral stance against her mother’s profession, prioritizing her integrity and principles over comfort and financial security.
  • Mrs. Kitty Warren β€” Mrs. Warren is Vivie’s mother, whose profession as the owner of a string of brothels is the play’s central conflict. Despite societal judgement, Mrs. Warren defends her choices as necessary for survival and success in a male-dominated society that offers few opportunities to women. Her character reveals the complexity of moral choices when faced with economic hardship, and she embodies the conflict between societal norms and the harsh realities of life.
  • Sir George Crofts β€” A wealthy, unscrupulous businessman and Mrs. Warren’s business partner. Crofts represents the exploitative upper class that profits from the very vices it publicly condemns. He proposes marriage to Vivie, seeing her as another asset to acquire, which ultimately contributes to Vivie’s disillusionment with the hypocrisy of her mother’s world.
  • Frank Gardner β€” The charming yet aimless son of a clergyman, Frank proposes to Vivie but is more interested in her wealth than in a true partnership. His character highlights the idle lifestyle of the upper-class youth and their detachment from the realities of the working class.
  • Rev. Samuel Gardner β€” Frank’s father, a clergyman who once had relations with Mrs. Warren, symbolizing the moral hypocrisy of society’s leaders. His past with Mrs. Warren adds to the play’s critique of societal double standards.
  • Praed β€” An old friend of Mrs. Warren, Praed is a kind-hearted, naive artist who represents the more innocent side of society. He is unaware of the true nature of Mrs. Warren’s profession and serves as a contrast to the more cynical characters.

Character Analysis Summary:

Vivie WarrenIndependent, intelligent, moralTo live a life of integrity and independenceMoves from naivety to moral decisiveness
Mrs. Kitty WarrenResilient, pragmatic, defensiveTo secure a better life for herself and VivieFaces the consequences of her choices
Sir George CroftsPredatory, cynical, wealthyTo maintain his wealth and societal positionRemains largely unchanged, representing societal vice
Frank GardnerCharming, aimless, superficialTo secure financial stability through marriageRevealed as superficial and self-serving
Rev. Samuel GardnerHypocritical, self-righteous, weakTo maintain his social and moral standingExposed for past indiscretions, highlighting hypocrisy
PraedInnocent, artistic, naiveTo appreciate beauty and artRemains largely the same, symbolizing innocence in a corrupt world

This analysis underscores Shaw’s exploration of characters as embodiments of societal attitudes, moral dilemmas, and the quest for personal integrity against the backdrop of Victorian hypocrisy.

Themes and Symbols

“Mrs. Warren’s Profession” by George Bernard Shaw is rich with themes and symbols that critique Victorian society’s morals, economic pressures, and gender roles. Let’s delve into some of the major themes and symbols presented in the play:

  • Societal Hypocrisy and Morality β€” Shaw exposes the hypocrisy of Victorian society, which publicly condemns certain professions while privately enabling or even exploiting them. The play questions the basis of moral judgments, especially when such judgments ignore the economic necessities that drive people into professions deemed immoral.
  • Economic Exploitation β€” The economic theme is central to understanding the characters’ motivations. Shaw highlights the lack of viable economic opportunities for women, which forces characters like Mrs. Warren into prostitution. The play critiques the capitalist system that benefits from exploitation while morally condemning those it exploits.
  • Independence vs. Social Conformity β€” Vivie Warren’s character embodies the struggle between personal independence and societal expectations. Her decision to reject her mother’s money and live according to her own principles challenges the traditional roles and expectations of women in her era.
  • The New Woman β€” Vivie represents the “New Woman” of the late 19th century: educated, independent, and career-oriented. This theme contrasts with the limited roles available to women of the time and highlights the changing attitudes towards women’s rights and roles in society.
  • Education as Liberation β€” Education is portrayed as a means of liberation and empowerment, particularly for women. Vivie’s education allows her to question and ultimately reject the moral hypocrisy of her society, illustrating Shaw’s belief in the power of knowledge to challenge and change societal norms.


  • Mrs. Warren’s Profession β€” The profession itself symbolizes the hidden underside of Victorian society, revealing the economic desperation and societal constraints that lead women into prostitution.
  • Cambridge University β€” Vivie’s education at Cambridge serves as a symbol of intellectual freedom and the New Woman’s emergence, representing a departure from traditional female roles towards a future of greater equality and self-determination.
  • The Actuarial Tables β€” Vivie’s work with actuarial tables represents her rational, analytical approach to life, contrasting with the emotional and moral complexities of her mother’s world. It symbolizes Vivie’s attempt to live a life governed by logic and integrity rather than societal hypocrisy.

Through these themes and symbols, Shaw invites the audience to reflect on the moral judgments, economic structures, and gender roles that define society, encouraging a critical examination of the values and norms we inherit and perpetuate.

Style and Tone

George Bernard Shaw’s writing style in “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” is distinguished by its wit, incisiveness, and the ability to weave complex social critiques into engaging drama. Let’s explore some key aspects of Shaw’s style and tone in this play:

  • Intellectual and Witty Dialogue β€” Shaw’s characters engage in sharp, intelligent banter that reflects the playwright’s own wit and intellectual vigor. This dialogue serves not only to entertain but also to articulate the play’s themes and character motivations, encouraging the audience to think critically about the issues presented.
  • Realism β€” Shaw employs a realistic style to depict the characters and settings of his play, grounding the narrative in the social realities of the time. This realism helps to underscore the seriousness of the play’s themes, particularly the economic and social forces that drive individuals into professions deemed immoral by society.
  • Social Critique β€” A hallmark of Shaw’s style is his use of drama as a platform for social critique. Through character interactions and conflicts, Shaw examines societal norms, moral hypocrisy, and economic exploitation, exposing the complexities and contradictions of Victorian society.
  • Moral Ambiguity β€” Rather than presenting characters as purely good or evil, Shaw offers nuanced portrayals that reflect the moral ambiguity of real life. This approach invites audiences to empathize with characters’ predicaments and question their own moral assumptions.
  • Didactic Tone β€” While Shaw’s tone can be entertaining and witty, there is also a didactic element to his writing. He aims to educate and provoke thought among his audience, challenging them to reconsider their views on morality, economics, and gender roles.

Bullet Points Highlighting Shaw’s Techniques:

  • Uses intellectual and witty dialogue to engage and challenge the audience.
  • Employs realism to accurately reflect and critique societal norms.
  • Delivers social critique through character dynamics and plot conflicts.
  • Explores moral ambiguity to present complex character motivations and societal dilemmas.
  • Incorporates a didactic tone to encourage reflection and debate on key issues.

Through his distinctive style and tone, Shaw crafts a compelling narrative that not only entertains but also challenges audiences to reflect on the social issues of their time, a testament to the enduring relevance of his work.

Literary Devices used in Mrs. Warren’s Profession

George Bernard Shaw’s “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” skillfully employs various literary devices to enhance the narrative, develop characters, and underscore its themes. Here’s an examination of the top 10 literary devices used in the play:

  1. Irony β€” Shaw frequently uses irony to highlight the contradictions within Victorian society, especially regarding moral standards and economic realities. For instance, the societal condemnation of Mrs. Warren’s profession is ironic given the societal conditions that make such a profession one of the few available avenues for women’s financial independence.
  2. Satire — The play serves as a satirical critique of the hypocrisy and moral pretensions of the time. Shaw satirizes societal norms that uphold appearances over genuine morality, as seen in the characters who would rather maintain a façade of respectability than address the underlying issues of poverty and exploitation.
  3. Symbolism β€” Symbols are used to represent larger concepts; for example, Mrs. Warren’s profession symbolizes the hidden, often ignored, realities of economic desperation and societal constraints on women.
  4. Foreshadowing β€” Shaw uses foreshadowing to hint at future revelations and conflicts. Early mentions of Mrs. Warren’s mysterious wealth and absence foreshadow the later revelation about her profession and its impact on her relationship with Vivie.
  5. Metaphor β€” The play is rich in metaphors that compare the societal roles and expectations of women to economic transactions and property, highlighting the commodification of women’s lives and choices.
  6. Allusion β€” Shaw alludes to contemporary social theories and economic conditions, including references to Darwinism and capitalism, to frame the characters’ choices and societal critiques.
  7. Parallelism β€” The play draws parallels between characters and situations to reinforce its themes, such as comparing Vivie’s independence and moral resolve with her mother’s pragmatic survival strategies, illustrating different responses to societal constraints.
  8. Juxtaposition β€” Shaw juxtaposes the characters of Vivie and Mrs. Warren to explore the generational and ideological divides between them, emphasizing the clash between old and new values regarding women’s autonomy and moral standards.
  9. Pathos β€” Shaw evokes sympathy for his characters, especially Mrs. Warren, by portraying the emotional and moral dilemmas they face. This use of pathos invites the audience to empathize with characters who are often judged by society.
  10. Hyperbole β€” Exaggeration is used for comedic effect and to critique societal norms, such as the characters’ dramatic reactions to the revelation of Mrs. Warren’s profession, which satirizes the moral panic of the Victorian era.

Each of these literary devices plays a crucial role in deepening the audience’s understanding of the play’s themes and characters, demonstrating Shaw’s mastery in using the tools of drama to provoke thought and challenge societal norms.

Literary Devices Examples

Let’s explore examples and explanations for each of the top 10 literary devices used in “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” by George Bernard Shaw, presented in a table format for clarity.


Mrs. Warren’s profession is deemed immoral by society, yet society itself creates the conditions that drive women to such professions.This situation highlights the irony of Victorian society’s moral pretensions, criticizing its failure to provide viable economic opportunities for women.


The character of Sir George Crofts, who profits from Mrs. Warren’s business while maintaining a respectable social standing, is a satirical portrayal of hypocritical Victorian gentlemen.Shaw uses Crofts to mock the duplicity of the upper class, which publicly upholds morality while privately engaging in or benefiting from immoral activities.


Mrs. Warren’s profession symbolizes the dark underbelly of Victorian society, hidden beneath a veneer of respectability.This profession serves as a symbol for the economic desperation and limited choices available to women, critiquing societal hypocrisy and moral judgment.


Early discussions of Mrs. Warren’s absence and mysterious wealth hint at the later revelation of her profession.This foreshadowing builds suspense and curiosity about Mrs. Warren’s background, preparing the audience for the central conflict of the play.


Vivie’s profession in actuarial science and her interest in calculating risks and outcomes is a metaphor for her analytical approach to life’s moral and ethical dilemmas.This metaphor contrasts with the emotional and morally complex decisions her mother makes, highlighting the different ways individuals navigate societal constraints.


References to Darwin’s theories of evolution and survival suggest a parallel between the struggle for survival in the natural world and the economic struggles faced by characters like Mrs. Warren.These allusions frame the characters’ actions within a broader context of survival and adaptation, emphasizing the play’s critique of economic and social Darwinism.


The parallel development of Vivie’s independence and her rejection of her mother’s lifestyle mirrors the broader societal shift towards questioning traditional morals and roles.This parallelism highlights the generational divide and the changing attitudes toward morality and independence, reinforcing the play’s themes of progress and societal critique.


Vivie’s desire for independence and a career is juxtaposed with her mother’s pragmatic approach to survival through her profession.This juxtaposition explores the conflict between idealism and pragmatism, challenging the audience to consider the complexities of moral judgment in the face of economic necessity.


Mrs. Warren’s emotional defense of her choices, based on her desire to escape poverty and provide for her daughter, evokes sympathy.Shaw uses pathos to humanize Mrs. Warren, inviting the audience to empathize with her predicaments rather than judge her by societal standards.


Characters’ exaggerated reactions to the revelation of Mrs. Warren’s profession satirize societal panic and moral outrage over issues of sexuality and morality.This hyperbole critiques the disproportionate moral hysteria of the time, highlighting the absurdity of societal reactions to matters of personal and economic survival.

Through these examples, Shaw deftly employs literary devices to enrich the narrative, develop character depth, and engage with the societal issues at the heart of “Mrs. Warren’s Profession.”

Mrs. Warren’s Profession – FAQs

Q: What is the main theme of “Mrs. Warren’s Profession”?
A: The main theme revolves around societal hypocrisy, especially regarding morality and economic necessity. Shaw critically examines the limited economic opportunities for women and the societal norms that judge individuals based on their professions, rather than acknowledging the systemic issues that lead to such choices.

Q: Why was “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” controversial?
A: The play was controversial for its candid discussion of prostitution and the economic factors driving women into such professions. At a time when such topics were taboo, Shaw’s frank portrayal of these issues challenged societal norms and sparked debate about morality, economics, and women’s rights.

Q: How does Shaw portray the relationship between Mrs. Warren and Vivie?
A: Shaw presents a complex relationship between Mrs. Warren and Vivie, marked by tension between Vivie’s desire for independence and her mother’s expectations. Their interactions explore themes of familial duty, economic independence, and moral judgement, ultimately leading to Vivie’s decision to sever ties with her mother in pursuit of her own values.

Q: What does Vivie Warren symbolize in the play?
A: Vivie symbolizes the “New Woman” of the late 19th and early 20th centuriesβ€”educated, independent, and career-oriented. Her character challenges traditional gender roles and societal expectations, representing a shift towards greater autonomy and equality for women.

Q: Can “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” be seen as a feminist play?
A: Yes, the play can be interpreted as feminist in its critique of the economic and social structures that limit women’s choices and agency. Shaw highlights the need for societal change to allow women more autonomy and opportunities, aligning with feminist principles of gender equality and empowerment.

Q: How does Shaw use literary devices in “Mrs. Warren’s Profession”?
A: Shaw employs a variety of literary devices, including irony, satire, symbolism, and juxtaposition, to enhance the play’s themes and character development. These devices serve to critique societal norms, explore moral ambiguity, and provoke thought about the complexities of human behavior and societal judgment.

Q: What is the significance of the ending of “Mrs. Warren’s Profession”?
A: The ending, with Vivie choosing to cut ties with her mother and forge her own path, signifies a rejection of societal hypocrisy and a commitment to personal integrity and independence. It reflects the broader themes of change and progress towards understanding and addressing the root causes of social issues.


QuestionABCDCorrect Answer
What is Mrs. Warren’s profession?TeacherBusinesswomanMadam of a string of brothelsArtistC
Why does Vivie Warren reject her mother’s support?She wants to travel the world.She disagrees with the source of the money.She plans to marry a wealthy man.She is moving to another country.B
What does Vivie value the most?Wealth and comfortIndependence and moral integritySocial statusFamily tiesB
Who proposes marriage to Vivie?Sir George CroftsFrank GardnerBoth A and BNeither A nor BC
What is the main theme of the play?The importance of educationSocietal hypocrisy and moralityRomantic loveThe adventures of the upper classB
Why was the play controversial at its time of release?Its portrayal of a strong female leadThe explicit languageThe discussion of prostitution and societal hypocrisyIts criticism of the governmentC
Which character represents the ‘New Woman’ of the late 19th century?Mrs. WarrenVivie WarrenPraedSir George CroftsB
How does Shaw critique society in his play?Through the use of supernatural elementsBy setting the play in a futuristic societyThrough satirical portrayal of Victorian morals and economic conditionsThrough elaborate costumes and set designsC
What literary device is primarily used to reveal the character of Mrs. Warren?FlashbackIronyMonologueAll of the aboveC
Which character is a clergyman and Frank Gardner’s father?Sir George CroftsRev. Samuel GardnerPraedNone of the aboveB

This quiz is designed to test your comprehension of “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” by George Bernard Shaw, focusing on key plot points, themes, and character dynamics within the play.


Identify the literary devices used in the following paragraph from “Mrs. Warren’s Profession”:

“Vivie’s determination to carve out her own path in life, free from the shadows of her mother’s controversial profession, reflects not just a personal choice but a bold statement against the societal norms that confined women to roles dictated by economic necessity rather than personal ambition. Her resolve is a beacon of hope, illuminating the possibilities that lie beyond the rigid structures of Victorian society.”


  1. Metaphor – Vivie’s determination is described as a “beacon of hope,” metaphorically illuminating possibilities beyond societal structures.
  2. Allusion – The reference to “Victorian society” alludes to the historical context of the play and the specific societal norms and economic conditions of the time.
  3. Personification – The “shadows of her mother’s controversial profession” are personified, suggesting that the reputation and societal judgment attached to Mrs. Warren’s profession loom over Vivie’s life.
  4. Symbolism – Vivie’s resolve symbolizes the broader feminist movement of the time, representing the struggle for women’s independence and the right to define their own roles in society.

This exercise highlights the use of literary devices to convey deeper meanings and themes within Shaw’s play, emphasizing the significance of Vivie’s character and her choices in the context of societal change and women’s rights.