Ibsen’s Ghosts and Bernard Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession

As in the case of Ghosts, the main character in Shaw’s play is a woman. The two heroines are embodiment of the dramatists’ faith in woman, they believe that “there is more hidden and unused potential power in woman than in man, chiefly because man has for ages been the lord of his society” (Jorgenson 347). Therefore, we see Mrs. Alving and Vive as two vital and dutiful women, read controversial material, and take immensely brave step of rebellion at the end, either in breaking silence as in Mrs. Alving’s case or breaking social laws as in Vive’s situation. Yet, there are some significant differences between the two; Mrs. Alving passes many phases to come to what she is at last, whereas Vive is a woman of determination since we first met her. Mrs. Alving is made to give up some of the values that she brought up with because of her desperate circumstances; Vive has never abandoned her principles even once. Besides, it takes lifelong time for Mrs. Alving to state openly what she wants, while Vive used to express herself self-confidently. Their reactions to self-duty also differ, for instance, once Mrs. Alving is reminded of her duty as a wife, her response is immediate though without content. Vive, on the other scale, faces her mother’s words with refusal and much self-confidence. Here, the tension becomes obvious between the characters’ will and their “duties” in the conventional sense. A broad theme is brought to the surface throughout such struggle; it is that pursuing dreams and wills is a duty towards one’s own self.

An example of the dissimilarity can be seen in the consequence of each exposure. In both plays, it has a tremendous impact. In Ghosts, the greatest effect of Mrs. Alving’s confession is that she breaks the ties of the past that constrains her till the present. While in Shaw’s play, the discloser opens a new gate for completely new life and hope embodied by Vive. So, when we look to Mrs. Alving’s past, we feel the same pain and sorrow, whereas in Shaw’s plays, looking for the past gives us a motif to go forward and live the present just like Vive. It gives us a sense of a new start, another new play to be played by Vive. Unlike Ibsen’s play, when the curtains fall, it shatters any idea of a new start.


Jorgenson, Theodore. Henrik Ibsen: A Study in Art and Personality. Westport: Greenwoods P, 1977.

Wisenthal, J. L. ed. Shaw and Ibsen: Bernard Shaw’s The Quintessence of Ibsenism. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1968.

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