Hobson's Choice by Harold Brighouse.

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Richard Tandy                                                                                June 2003                                                                          

Buile Hill High School

Centre Number 33321

English Coursework

Post 1914

Hobson’s Choice by Harold Brighouse


             With close reference to the text, explain how audiences past and present would react to the comedy in the play. Examine the cultural and historical contexts. Refer to the film version to further support your comments on the drama.


Harold Brighouse        

Although a prolific and popular playwright and novelist during his lifetime, the reputation of Harold Brighouse today rests almost entirely on his play Hobson’s Choice.
Born in Eccles near Salford on 26 July 1882, his mother was a teacher and his father was in the cotton business. Despite gaining a scholarship to Manchester Grammar School, Harold was not a keen student; at seventeen he left school to start work in the textile industry. However, during his lunch breaks at work, Brighouse discovered no fewer than ten music halls and theatres near his workplace. They provided a form of escape from his job, and he soon became obsessed with the theatre. Theatre-going had made Harold dissatisfied with his work and, following a visit to London to see a play that he later described as 'outrageously bad', he was determined to write a better one and he soon became involved in writing plays. Following an initial rejection, he took advice and wrote a one-act play called
Lonesome-Like, one-act plays were very common at this time. Brighouse devoted his spare time to writing, and after the success of another one-act play, The Doorway, and his first full-length play, Dealing in Futures, he never looked back. After the First World War he was able to give up working in textiles and concentrate on his writing. His output eventually in totalled fifty one-act plays and fifteen full-length plays.         

Manchester School of Dramatists        

Much of Brighouse’s success was paralleled by the rise of what was known as the "repertory movement" which, from 1907 onwards, saw the spread of serious drama to the major British cities outside London and the formation of professional theatre companies there. Repertory had been brought to Manchester by Miss A E Horniman, whose sponsorship of Lancashire drama helped set up the Manchester School of Dramatists between 1909 and 1914. The three most outstanding members of the Manchester School were Stanley Houghton, (author of
Hindole Wakes), Allan Monkhouse and Brighouse himself. Notably their work depicted a way of life foreign to the upper and upper-middle classes of polite London society; their plays were set in Lancashire and used working-class and middle-class characters, speaking in the Lancashire dialect.        

The play

       In 1913, Brighouse’s friend and fellow playwright, Stanley Houghton, fell ill in Venice and died on his return to Manchester. Brighouse put together a memorial edition of Houghton’s plays and, while compiling the book, had discovered a notebook in which Houghton had listed the titles of projected plays. One of these was Hobson’s Choice.
Following the outbreak of war in 1914, Brighouse, at that time in France, made his way to the Channel. The emotional reactions of the other passengers to the impending historical tragedy combined in Brighouse’s mind with the memory of his dead friend and provided the impetus for a new play. It was to take place in the year 1880 because that had been the year in which his parents had decided upon their marriage. It was to be set in the very cobbler’s shop in Eccles to which his mother had taken him as a child to buy his boots. Even the cellar trapdoor of the place would be duplicated exactly. The character of Maggie was to be drawn from that of his sister Hilda. It was as if, in the face of massive hostilities and destruction, Brighouse wished to write a play which would represent all that was most admirable and humane in the Lancashire character. Finally, the title of the play itself would represent a tribute to his late friend.

        In 1914 he wrote the story of Hobson’s Choice, set in Salford it depicts local life with an outstanding contribution to the expressiveness of local speech. Brighouse’s play is set around 1818 in and centers on Oldfield Road and Chapel Street, in both Salford and Manchester respectively, in Lancashire.

               In terms of the story itself it is a rich Lancashire comedy in which a timid and backward lad is married, somewhat against his will, to his boss’s efficient and determined daughter. Under her influence he develops in ability, confidence and authority until he takes over the business from the old tyrant, Henry Hobson, and that strange marriage matures into an affectionate partnership. The saying "Hobson’s Choice" is proverbial, having passed into common usage from the practices of one Thomas Hobson, a Cambridge livery stables owner and Wagoner. At his stable the customers had no choice of horse but the next one available, and hence no choice at all.

          The story was first performed in America in 1915 before it was brought back home to England where it was performed at the Apollo Theatre in London in 1916. The story was later performed in the capital a further two hundred and forty six times.



        I will now examine the play in accordance to the assignment question. To do this I will select various sections of the play.

Scene One

                The first section of the play I will examine is Act one, pages 8-10.        

This scene commences as Hobson is about to leave the shop. However, Mrs Hepworth, an upper class lady enters the shop and upon her arrival, Hobson decides to stay. This would illustrate to audiences past and present that Mrs Hepworth was an important customer. This is reinforced when Hobson says in a cheerful manner “Good morning, Mrs Hepworth. What a lovely day!” and he places a chair for her.

                An audience of the past would further realise that she was an upper class lady and an important customer because she says “I’ve come about those boots you sent me home”. In those days only the upper class and wealthy citizens would have had their boots delivered to their house. Furthermore, in Victorian times anybody who could afford it would always have their shoes made to measure by skilled shoemakers, this would have been the case with Mrs Hepworth. This was partly a conceit and a nod to luxury, but there was also the serious issue of comfort to bear in mind, nevertheless, it provided good trade for shoemakers/sellers, this is evident by the actions of Hobson. An audience of the past would further recognise that she was an upper class lady because of the way she was dressed and in the past, the social standing of every person within the community was demonstrated by their material possessions. Her expensive clothes are further evident by the reaction of Alice and Vickey, who glance at each other and smile at the expensive over-the-top clothes, which were typical of what wealthy women in those days would wear.

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        Upon her arrival, Hobson then ingratiates himself and tries to get in Mrs Hepworths favour when he kneels on the floor and starts fondling her boots, as if he was stroking a cat and says “Yes, Mrs Hepworth. They look very nice”. Here audiences of the past and present would find this amusing because Hobson is not only a big man in terms of body proportion, but more importantly an important man being a shopkeeper and yet he is down on his knees like a shop assistant. Audiences of the past and present would furthermore laugh at Mrs Hepworth’s ...

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