Hobson’s choice is a comedy set in Salford, 1880 (In those times Salford was separate to Manchester) a period when development of trade unionism had begun. Harold Brighouse wrote the play in 1915 and it was performed in 1916. He wrote it to raise the morale of the population. This story mainly revolves around Willie, an uneducated and illiterate person who completely lacks self-confidence, working as a cobbler for Hobson, and Maggie, an exceedingly assertive woman. Maggie is a woman who we can recognize as way ahead of her time.
Maggie is the daughter of Hobson, a disreputable, pompous, nasty piece of work. Hobson is portrayed throughout the play as being chauvinistic, arrogant and a drunkard. Maggie is one of his three daughters.
Hobson is depicted as a middle-class, patriotic Englishman which can be seen from the text. ‘HOBSON: I’m middle class and proud of it. I stand for common sense and sincerity.” Brighouse mainly focuses on Maggie, as she is the dramatic backbone of the story, and the key to the development of Willie.
She supports him against her drunkard father, and she helps him to assert himself, she also sees a bright future for him being the owner of a shoe shop. Maggie helps improve Willie’s illiteracy by teaching him how to read and write.
Maggie turns Willie from an uneducated person to that of an articulate and self-assured businessman. She is a very powerful character, and her actions are dramatic devices. In fact, the play is so dramatic that it is difficult to believe it could happen.
Harold Brighouse was born on 26 June 1887, in Eccles. At the outbreak of war in 1914, Brighouse wanted to bring entertainment to the British Theatre audience, after the horrendous casualties in the 1WW. That was why he wrote the play “Hobson’s Choice.”
This play was set when the feminist movement began to assert itself. These women could later be recognized as the suffragettes. In this period, workers started to stick up for their rights against their bosses, who treated them badly. In those days, most of the audience would have sympathized with Hobson, as they supported class distinction (Willie under trap door), however in the 21st century most people would have sympathized with Willie and Maggie as they were treated very badly, and did not have their own rights.
This play is so dramatic it is difficult to believe it could happen. Maggie is so ahead of her time that she would have come over the audience in her time as a shocking character. The making of this play is mainly dramatic devices and the affects of characters and their actions. When Mrs. Hepworth enters the shop, Hobson kneels down by her shoe to examine it close up which is indicative for Hobson’s slow downfall. Mrs. Hepworth imposes herself on him, saying, “Get up Hobson, you look ridiculous on the floor.” She then asks him who made the boots to which Hobson replies “We did. Our own make.” Mrs. Hepworth takes advantage of his answer to make out that Hobson is pathetic and says, “Will you answer a plain question?”
Then they call up Willie who comes up the ladder, this is the turning point to Willie’s ultimate rise. Willie responds in a nervous manner to Mrs. Hepworth’s questioning. Mrs. Hepworth shows Willie a visiting card and asks him to read it to which he looks at it upside down and stutters plainly. From here, we can see that Willie is an illiterate, uneducated and poor man. After the marriage between Maggie and Willie, Hobson’s business goes bust and so he urges Willie to return. Willies reply is they have to become partners if he returns, and the shop should be named ‘William Mossop, late Hobson” but after an argument with Maggie he agrees to ‘Mossop and Hobson’.
This event clearly marks Willies assertiveness and social mobility, and at the same time Hobson’s downfall. We can see from Hobson’s character that he suffers from a bigoted arrogance. This prejudiced belief is linked with male status, and we see from various instances that he believes himself to be superior to women. “HOBSON: They scorn my wisdom, Jim. They (daughters) answer back. I’ve landed in a hole – a great and undignified hole. My own daughters have got the upper hand of me.”
We can visualize Hobson as a very unsympathetic character; he is a thoughtless bully. He believes he can solve all social problems by attempting to beat Willie with his belt: “HOBSON: I don’t bear malice, but we must beat the love from your body, and every morning you come here to work with love still sitting in you, you’ll get a leathering.” Willie starts under the trap door, in the cellar of Hobson’s shop. Towards at the end, he is at the top of a ladder looking through his stock in his newly acquired shop- this is a dramatic device, and can be seen as a seesaw affect.
Willie starts as a person who could hardly speak. He could only say monosyllabic words such as “by gum.” Maggie sees his potential and by teaching him how to read and write brings it about. She sees that together they could make a successful couple, and so she proposes to marry him. This was against Hobson’s wishes who did not even consider marrying his eldest daughter, Maggie, as she in his opinion was “past the marrying age.”
When Willie is asked to get married, he is taken aback, as it is not usual for a woman of her stature to request fro a man of poor education to marry. She was from the middle class and he was from the lower class. We know right from the beginning that Willie has potential as Mrs. Hepworth says to him ‘you’re a treasure.” To the audience watching, they would have gasped at this proposal. Class in the 19th century era was especially distinguishable. This is shown by the way Hobson, a middle class man bends down and fondles with Mrs. Hepworth’s boots.
Mrs.Hepworth is a higher-class woman. Willie refers to Hobson as “sir”, and to Maggie as the “master’s daughter.” This shows his fear of Hobson. Hobson is clearly the boss of the house, this is because he has a very dominant character and he is male. This is shown in the scene where he states what time dinner is. Maggie is also a very bold person, she stands up to her father, for example, “You will pay my man, Will Mossop, the same wages as before. And as for me…you will pay me 15 shillings by the week” she says this to her father in a very powerful and pushy way.
Willie’s development is illustrated clearly throughout the whole play. In act one Willie barely knows how to speak, he uses words such as “Nay”, or “aye”. In act two, he uses phrases such as “My mind’s made up.” “I’ve got wrought to a point. I’m ready.” In act three his language has clearly improved, we see this where he makes a speech in the cellar. However he has not yet fully developed it, Willie: “that the – the-” Maggie: (in an undertone) “generous”, he still pauses between words.
At one point at the end of the play, Willie shines even over Maggie, and he wins. This is when he decides the name for their new shop “Mossop and Hobson’s.” Willie has become so self-assured and established, that Maggie looks up to him. When Hobson comes to Willie and Maggie’s new home to complain about his penalty for ruining Mr. Beenstocks flour, and trespassing, Maggie and Willie are so confident that they decide whether they should let Hobson in or not.
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