Discuss the characters of Maggie and Hobson in their dramatic context. Comment on how they illustrate and highlight the social context of the Victorian era and the effect on the modern audience. Maggie and Hobson, the two main protagonists of the play when viewed in their social, moral and historic contexts act as the fulcrum for the play’s humour. Brighouse’s entertaining play was set in a bootshop in Salford. At that time in Victorian society there were many divisions amongst contrasting groups of people. The Victorians had strong beliefs and values, which are somewhat different to today’s modern issues.
Middle and upper class Victorian women valued the whole ritual of courting, fine extravagant weddings and a well thought of husband- in business not trade. A single woman was considered of little importance in harsh Victorian society, being thought to be inferior to a man. In addition Victorians held rigid beliefs and opinions on racism and the British Empire. Status in the Victorian culture was very important and the lines between these classes were rarely crossed. Brighouse’s purpose in writing the play was to highlight gender issues, provide comedy incidents and focus on social problems, for example the Victorian’s attitude to alcohol.
Brighouse created Hobson’s character to convey the stereotypical middle class family man, whilst introducing humour to the play. Hobson was a respectable businessman who was proud of his position in society. He was a widower, yet still a responsible father, a churchwarden and a member of the masons; certainly a man who would have been looked up to. However Hobson had many flaws in his character, which would have resulted in a mixed audience reaction. He was stubborn and often undermined and bullied people he believed to be less important than himself.
This is displayed in Act 1 where Hobson beats Will Mossop to reinforce his solid Victorian values and emphasise his superior power. In contrast his treatment to Mrs Hepworth, an upper class lady, is most different. He praised her and was polite to her. “Good morning, Mrs Hepworth. What a lovely day! (He places a chair for her)” He was also obstinate and blinkered, especially where the female point of view was concerned- “I’m not so partial to women”. In addition Hobson suffered from “chronic alcoholism”, which explained why Hobson often exhibited irrational actions and thoughts.
Throughout the play the audience would have reacted in different ways illustrating a variety of social contexts relating to Victorian values. In act 1 the modern audience’s reaction would have been anger when Hobson beat Will Mossop. Brighouse inserted this part about one man beating another to highlight the clear divisions in status and how it was perceived to be acceptable to do this in the Victorian times. “There’s nobbut one to answer to that kind of talk, my lad (He strikes with belt) and “you’ll get a leathering”.” Act 1 also portrayed his neglect for his business. Maggie who disapproved of this scolded “if you stay more than an hour in the Moon-rakers inn, you’ll be late for it.” The audience’s reaction would have been disgust that he would leave his three daughters responsible for the shop, while he went out for a drink.
Hobson’s attitude changed in Act 3, as did the judgement of the audience. Act 3 portrayed Hobson’s insecurity and his humiliation of the marriage settlement, when Maggie tricked him into paying for Vickey and Alice to get married. “I’ve been diddled. It’s a plant.” The audience reaction to that scene would have been laughter, because Hobson assumed himself to always be right, yet there he was being made a fool of by a woman. In addition, Hobson’s fear of lawyers was conveyed by “I dodged them, and they’ve caught me in the end. They’ll squeeze me dry for it.” Whilst he may have invoked a small degree of sympathy from the audience, most would have considered him to be a pathetic old man who deserved everything he that was thrown at him.
Act 4 highlighted Hobson’s near fatal weakness for alcohol. Many middle class Victorians were involved in temperance societies. Hobson had certainly wanted his daughters to marry temperance men, but he himself was diagnosed as suffering from “chronic alcoholism”. This could have led him to an early death had he not succeeded in obliterating it from his life. Hobson’s ultimate confrontation with Maggie and Will portrayed his loss of power. “You’re just my old shoehand” he said, yet Will answered back with confidence and self esteem. The audience reaction would have been relief and triumph that Will Mossop finally came out on top.
While considering Hobson’s effect on the audience it is important to also focus on Maggie’s role. In the late nineteenth century British women held a low position in society. They could not vote and could only work in factories or for their families, and therefore earned very little or nothing at all. They could only escape from their families through marriage, but needed permission and marriage settlements from their fathers in order for this to happen. In addition they could not be perceived to actually searching for a husband. Even if they did break from their father’s strict rules and ideas, there were their husband’s expectations to live up to. They were expected to maintain a passive role and conform to their husband’s rules, required to run the household without any help. The latest fashions in women’s clothing, for example the use of corsets and bustles were impossibly restrictive. Overall in the Victorian period women had few privileges.