At first glance Hobson’s Choice is simply about the conflict between Henry Hobson, a stubborn cobbler and his eldest daughter Maggie. However, the way that Maggie helps Will, a lowly shoemaker reform himself, and eventually turn the tables on Hobson is quite remarkable . In this coursework, I intend to prove how the author, Harold Brighouse, uses dramatic devices to effect Willie’s development.
the play is split up into different acts, and Willie goes through a different stage of growth at the end of nearly all of these.
The first scene begins with Willie, very fittingly being literally under everyone’s feet in a cellar. This would be very striking when being seen on stage, as seeing is believing, and it would really hit the idea of Mossop’s dire position home. Though already we begin to see signs of progress in Willie’s confidence, however low it is. Willie is called up from the cellar by an aristocratic woman, Mrs.
Hepworth, who wishes to praise him on his shoes (though Hobson presumes it is to criticise him). Maggie looks on with a glint in her eye, which again can only truly be purveyed on stage.
The end of act one sees the first signs of conflict between Hobson and his family when he refuses to pay them wages – he, ironically feels threatened that they will “overthrow” him. We are also introduced for the first time to the idea of his alcohol abuse which carries on into the next act when he falls into the corn cellar.
The climax of the first scene though, must be when Hobson takes his belt to Will. The belt, a dramatic device, really proves Hobson’s arrogance, and when Will stands up to him, and then leaves begins the conflict between him and Hobson (which makes it a good drama, and starts a dramatic advance). We also see Maggie’s strong spirit when she puts her business proposition to Will, she asks him to marry her, maybe just to defy her father.
The reason I believe that this story is best told on stage and not as a novel, is because of the typically theatrical scenes in the play e.g. Will and Maggie’s first kiss, which would be lost if Hobson’s Choice was written as a novel. Furthermore, a novel takes a long time to read, whereas the play form this story is presented in, allows the viewer to appreciate it in no longer than two and a half hours in the theatre. Vision is a very powerful sense, which is why television is the primary form of media. Therefore, when you see Willie under the floor of the shop, or at the end of the play at the top of a ladder, you don’t have to think to appreciate his position.
The play is also very auditory . Phrases like “By gum!” would have to be explained in a novel, but are taken as the Mancunian tongue on stage. It is therefore fair to say that Maggie plays a big part in Willie’s development. She is a strong headed, and for want of a better word, a feminist. The play was written in the 1880’s, and Maggie’s character really does pre-empt the suffragettes who kicked up a lot of fuss in the early 1900’s at the peak of the industrial revolution. This play really does illustrate what were at the time groundbreaking ideas. The males who surround Maggie (Hobson, his pub friends etc.) are all shocked by her outgoing and stubborn persona.
Maggie herself is also a middle class lass, who shouldn’t really be speaking back to her father, or approaching the likes of Mrs. Hepworth for collateral – she bypasses social convention. She is also convinced she can marry, when everyone else believes she is “on the shelf”, and missed marriage. This would have been seen as very controversial at the time Harold Brighouse wrote this play, and therefore contribute to the overall drama. These themes also appeal to a 21st century audience, as equal rites is still a relevant topic, especially at the work place, and many people of both genders will be able to relate to Maggie.
The role reversal between the almighty Henry Horatio Hobson and the lowly Will Mossop is also quite apparent. Mr Hobson, who at the beginning is respected by all who enter his shop, and wear his fine shoes, slips into alcoholism, and falls flat on his face because of his temper and narrow-mindedness. The lowest point of Hobson’s alcoholic escapades is when he falls into the corn cellar – below peoples feet (where Will started off).
We see a very clear role reversal here. It is quite a shame that though Willie develops into the quite the upper class businessman, Hobson refuses to see this, even when threatened by a law suit. It is also fair to say that Will would not have been able to achieve that position without Maggie. She takes the drive, confidence and enthusiasm that she possesses and instils it into Willie to the extent of him standing up to “the master” (Hobson).
The language used in the play is also quite useful to put over the point of class. Willie’s course language, and catch phrase “By gum!” constitutes quite nicely to the idea that Willie really is the lowest of the low. Throughout the play, the actor playing Willie has a look of utter shock on his face at the complicated words being used around him by the upper classes, yet by the end of the play William Mossop feels quite at home amongst such people.
His last line of the play “By gum!” is simply a satirical and ironic comment referring to his poor beginnings, which is quite sophisticated for a once shoemaker. In summary, Harold Brighouse creates a theatrical masterpiece by virtue of the fact that the story is a play. He also finds just the right blend of language, drama, and contentious themes to keep both a 20th and 21st century audience ruptured, and on the edge of their seats. I think it is fair to say that Hobson’s Choice is an achievement in it’s genre.