The title of the play “Hobson’s Choice” comes from the phrase meaning a choice which is really no choice at all. Written by Harold Brighouse the play was first produced in 1916 on the stage. It was also adapted to the screen and TV at least three times. The play has also been turned into a ballet.
Henry Hobson is a widower, who owns a prosperous shoemaking shop in Salton, a suburb of Manchester England. While Hobson drinks with his fellow Masons at a nearby pub, he forces his three daughters: Maggie, Alice and Vickey, to work at the shop for no pay. Also in Hobson’s employ is William Mossop, an exceptionally talented boot-maker, who is a bit simple-minded. Hobson treats Mossop badly and hardly pays him at all. In short, Hobson is a drunken and petty tyrant.
One day, a wealthy patron of the shop demands to know who made her shoes. Hobson admits it is Will Mossop. The customer, Mrs. Hepworth, is so impressed with the work that she demands all her and her daughter’s boots will now be made only by Mossop. Maggie the oldest and hardest working daughter, also the one least likely to marry, sees a chance, she marries Will and with a loan of 100 pounds from Mrs. Hepworth sets up a rival shop, depriving Hobson of much of his business.
After losing Maggie, Hobson decides to hold on to his other two daughters by not giving them dowries. Thru a series of missteps, usually drunken ones, Hobson is sued and forced to settle money on his two youngest daughters which allows them to marry.
Now alone, with his shop failing, Hobson drinks even more. In desperation he goes to each of his daughters to ask them to take care of him. In turn, each refuses. Finally Maggie agrees to take care of him, so long as he gives his business to her and Will Mossop and Hobson is only a silent partner.
Brighouse’s play has themes of choice and free will. There are also elements of family responsibility and what part good luck plays in peoples’ lives.
Henry Hobson’s situation is the result of his own poor choices in life. At any time during the play he could choose a different course of action and thereby repaired the relationship he has with his daughters. As with Shakespeare’s “King Lear”, perhaps Hobson is depending on mere family loyalty, rather than on making good choices for himself and his daughters.
The element of good luck is represented by Mrs. Hepworth and her loan to Maggie. Further, Hobson’s misadventures that force him to provide dowries for his other two girls are put down to good fortune as well.
“Hobson’s Choice” is ultimately a restatement of the line from “Julius Caesar”: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves. . .”