The UVic Writer's Guide
In problem plays, the conflicts of the protagonists arise from contemporary social
problems. For instance, in George Bernard Shaw's Mrs. Warren's Profession (1893) the protagonist is a prostitute who hides her profession
from her daughter, and raises her to social respectability only
to be morally condemned and rejected by her. The play deals with
the hypocrisy of capitalist society that morally condemns prostitution
while driving women to resort to it out of economic necessity.
The term is also used for a group of Shakespeare's plays (including
Measure for Measure (1604) and All's Well That Ends Well (1602-04)) which are particularly ambiguous in their mingling
of noble and evil qualities of human nature, and in which the
final resolution of the action can be seen as problematic.
For instance, in Measure for Measure the moralistic Angelo is tempted into sexual exploitation and
murder, but his evil actions are unwittingly turned to good and
in the end he is charitably forgiven. The woman who loves Angelo
excuses his bad intentions, arguing, "They say, best men are molded
out of faults."
Literary Terms (By Category)
Literary Terms (Alphabetized)
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Copyright, The Department of English, University of Victoria,
This page updated May 13, 1995