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Shirley Valentine revolves primarily around the working class population in Liverpool in the early 80’s. The family environment which is introduced in the first scene is consistent through out the play. We can lucidly see that Shirley is repressed by the social back ground she comes from, it is not vitally her husband, but the social beliefs that they are both surrounded by which mean that they are both entrapped in a routine which entirely removes all the pleasure that they are both able to gain from life.
When we went to Liverpool we were able to relate the momentary social degree to how we would have expected it to be in the time in which Shirley Valentine was set. We found that it many people seemed to be conforming to a certain stereotype, and many seemed to be dressed in very much the same way. This emphasises the notion that the culture in which Shirley was found was the basis of her suppression.
Shirley Valentine was written at the time when Margaret Thatcher was the Prime Minister, and though politics are not often related to the arts, it could be said that Shirley is a lower class alteration of Thatcher in the way that she has risen above the expectations and the roles of men and women, she has exited the ‘Chips and Egg’ producing kitchen of her working class home and as the bird on the top of the Liver Building in Liverpool, she escapes from the cage she is encaged in and flies away to her freedom, which in Shirley’s case, is Greece.
Liverpool is exceeding to be the capital of culture of England, this is an insinuation that though Shirley has moved from the land she was born to, and developed into a different person, the land which she has escaped from has developed without her.
However as we crossed The Mersey, it made me realize that as we moved away from one side of The Mersey by ferry, we went past different stages, through different stops, and it made me realise that to Shirley her journey of re self discover also had different stages, it began in her home with Joe in Liverpool, then led to her tea in the Adelphi Hotel with Marjorie Majors, to then resulting in her vacation in Greece, but at the end she still ends up though not mentally in the same place, she is waiting for Joe, who is anticipating to be able to take her back to their home.
As with the ferry ride we eventually resulted in the same place, so perhaps the nature of the play could have been inspired by the very same ferry ride which we took. Shirley Valentine would typically be acted out as a monologue, this heightens the sympathy which we hold for her, we are given no choice but to side with the absolutely delusional middle aged woman, if however we were given the presence of the other characters we would not have been able to relate to her as much which in my opinion is the key motive of the play write, to create a unanimous sympathy for the woman who speaks to the wall.
To hear this play from the mouth of one of the other characters, would almost be a voyage to the further discover of Shirley to gain others opinions of her actions from their perspective. To hear the story from Joe’s opinion I’m certain would greatly sway our bias towards him as the poor man who’s wife ran away and cheated on him. Or perhaps we were going to discover that when Shirley was in Greece and had her ‘love affair with herself’ or Costas if we were to look at it technically, perhaps at that point, Joe was not entirely well behaved in himself.
When we went to Liverpool to explore the atmosphere which our protagonist lived in, the receptionist of our hostel enlightened us that a group of men were also staying in the same building as us, but that these men however had entrusted their wedding rings to the reception safe during their stay, I’m sure that with the smallest amount of forced imagination we can assume that the purpose of this action is not entirely innocent. If Joe’s mind worked in a similar way, whilst Shirley was eating ‘olives’, he was having several ‘cherries’ of his own.
Looking at reviews on this play Shirley Valentine, it makes it perhaps easier to develop our own opinions of the production, not through influence alone, but also through contradiction. Milton Shulman from The Standard wrote ‘I am very dubious about Russell’s premise that feminine frustration is caused by educational, cultural or national limitations’, in my opinion these limitations have great potential to cause not only females but everyone distress.
For these limitations to not take affect on a person, that person must harbour a great deal of inner strength, confidence and mental power, however the issue is that a child brought up in a culturally limited environment is likely to not have been raised with sufficient love to be able to construct this confidence within themselves. For our confidence to grow, we require people in our lives that positively influence us, this again though not academic, is none the less in my opinion a form of education.
However there are still people who rise past their repression despite their limited opportunities. These perhaps are the type of women that Russell is portraying in both Education Rita, and in Shirley Valentine. To further contextualise the play we looked at Shirley Valentine in context with other feminist plays, such as The Vagina Monologues, we used a scene from each and juxtaposed them in a way to still make them almost fit in with each other.
It is perhaps not as easy to do so for a man. However controversial it may be for a man to write about topics such as the clitoris and ‘olives’ from the mouth of a woman, it could be seen that Willy Russell is expressing the beliefs that he has about male sexualising through the words and mockery expressed by Shirley. For a play written in the 19th Century, Shirley Valentine is very much ahead of it’s time. Even today Shirley Valentine is viewed very much as a feminist and it does come across that way as she abandons her children and husband for her own self discovery.
Looking at the world in those times, women would not have generally been concerned as much with themselves, their main aims would have been to get married and reproduce. Shirley opens up new windows to how women see themselves, and it could be seen as revolutionary for such modern ideas on the view of the roles of men and women to be written so early on. We still see in many parts of the world today that sexism is still current. Many women get paid less in jobs than men.
Women continuously get hired for their apparel. Even in London, a city which is viewed to be amongst the most developed cities in the world, traditions have still been maintained, even in the new generation, that it is the man’s position, especially in relationships to pay when going out. It is still in our culture that a man is there to be strong and to protect, and the population of housewives is still high. However, these traditions, unless if somehow men start giving birth, are likely to remain.
When researched or analysed sufficiently, it can be seen that Shirley is in fact not a feminist. The line between being a feminist, and being on a search for equal rights, though often confused, is quite prevalent. Shirley is not a man hater, she is merely a woman lover, she believes that everyone has a right to happiness, unlike feminists who strongly dislike all men, similarly to Jane, and would use men only as sex objects to satisfy their own ego. Shirley, being a mother to a son, does not entirely have the capability of becoming a feminist.
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