Character study of Shirley Valentine

At the opening of the play we see Shirley Bradshaw, a typical middle aged housewife being taken for granted. She is treated as a domestic slave rather than a person. People assume that that she will do whatever they want her to do whenever and all they have to do is click their fingers. As a person Shirley feels isolated and alone, she has no one that she feels she can talk to properly. She has got all these feelings locked up inside that she can not let out because no one will listen. To show how desperate she is, she ends up talking to a wall in her kitchen:

(E.g. I like a glass of wine when I’m doin’ the cookin; – Don’t I wall? Don’t I like a glass of wine when I’m preparing the evening meal?)

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Shirley thinks she is worth nothing. When she looks in the mirror she sees the boring middle-aged Shirley Bradshaw. She has no self-confidence. She longs to be the old Shirley Valentine. The woman everyone wanted to be the girl at school that broke basically every rule, the person that went out and had fun with her friends.

During the course of the play, we see in a series of flashbacks the various problems and feelings Shirley experiences. The first few flashbacks we see confirm what Shirley is feeling and how people take advantage of her. They show that her life is not her own, but it seems as though everyone else controls her. Her life is just so predicable and boring. She hardly ever goes out to have fun, and is very easily over-ruled. She envies people especially Gillian who is always jetting off to some exotic place whilst Shirley is at home looking after her husband, Joe. Shirley is basically Joe’s slave he expects her to have everything ready for when he gets home:

(E.g. Is it ready then? I get my tea at six o’clock and it’s near ten past. What’s goin’ on?)

Although Joe says he still loves Shirley and Shirley still cares about Joe, their marriage has become very hostile. It works around the clock. If Shirley hasn’t got dinner ready by six o’clock then she must have been out having fun. Joe really does not have any respect for Shirley at all.

The third flashback we see shows us what the real Shirley was like, but instead of being Shirley Bradshaw, she is the cheeky and mischievous Shirley Valentine. When you see Shirley she is laughing and has an unfamiliar sparkle about her. You see that once she was a fun loving person who had lots of friends. But now she has no-one apart from her kitchen wall and her friend Jane who she has an occasional coffee with. Looking back Shirley Bradshaw looks at how she used to be with sorrow. She feels even more inadequate and out of touch than ever.

Shirley has two children, Millandra and Brian. She loves her children, but can’t help feeling a little bit disappointed in them. As we see in flashback four, Brian takes her to his new house. When they pull up Shirley can see that it is basically a derelict slum. There is peeling plaster everywhere, boarded up windows and a weed infested front garden. Shirley is even more disappointed when Brian tells her that he is a busker poet. It tells us that Shirley is very motherly a, but also regretful as she sees what her son has become.

Millandra on the other hand is very highly strung. She doesn’t like getting her hands dirty and always getting her own way. Millandra is used to being spoilt and is ill tempered. She is one of the people who takes advantage of Shirley most. We see this when Millandra sulkily returns home after a massive row with her flatmate Sharon-Louise. She expects Shirley to welcome her home with open arms and immediately starts to boss Shirley around:

(E.g. I hat that Sharon-Louise. She’s a mare. I don’t know why I ever went to live with her in the first place. Mother – I’ve come back to live with you. Mother – will ya make me some cocoa an’ toast – like you used to? I’m goin’ to me room.

Mother, you haven’t put enough sugar in this cocoa. Will you go down and get us another spoon.

Mother, do us a favour and bring the telly upstairs for us, will you?)

Other people’s attitudes change throughout the play. For example:

Gillian: We see that at the beginning Gillian looks down upon Shirley. For Gillian Shirley will never be quite good enough to invite to a party. But when Gillian meets Shirley in Marks and Spencer’s buying very sexy underwear Gillian’s view changes. Shirley tells Gillian that she is going on holiday with ‘her lover.’ Gillian believes Shirley and later on visits Shirley with a present. All of a sudden Shirley is worth something, Shirley is good enough to talk to.

Joe: Joe has a very old-fashioned view of women. He thinks that they should stay in the kitchen and look after the men. Shirley is Joe’s slave. If he doesn’t want to do something then they don’t do it. He believes that he should make all the decisions and actually drives Shirley away. When Shirley runs off to Greece and doesn’t come back with Jane, Joe starts to realise that he misses her. Not just because she is not there to have his dinner on the table or all his clothes washed and ironed, but because he really cares about her. He even flies over to Greece to get her back.

Jane: I think that Jane isn’t a true friend to Shirley. I think that Shirley is only good enough for Jane when Jane needs someone. For example, when they are on the Plane to Greece Shirley and Jane plan what they are going to do together, but Jane soon gets hit on and invited out with a man. Jane then instantly dumps Shirley and goes off with this man. It gives me the impression that Jane is a bit two faced. Jane is also very selfish, because when Jane hasn’t arrived home after a few days Shirley makes her own friends. She gets invited to spend a day on this Greek mans boat with him. Just as Shirley is about to leave, Jane turns up. She apologises profusely, and promises Shirley a fun day out:

(E.g. Oh – Shirley! Can you forgive me? I’ve been completely selfish haven’t I? But I’m going to make it up to you.

Oh come on – say you forgive me. Let’s make today the real start of our holiday. I’ve hired the car. We’ll tour the island, stop off and have lunch somewhere nice – just the two of us. Oh Shirley – can you forgive me?)

It’s only when Jane finds out that Shirley is already going out that her true nature comes out. Jane is the kind of person that gets jealous if other people go out with men without her, but expects everyone to sit at home waiting for her if she goes out. She doesn’t understand that Shirley does not need her to have a good time. An example of this is when Costas turns up at Shirley’s room to take her out on his boat. Jane’s reply to Shirley is:

(E.g. Shirley – what are you playing at?)

When Shirley arrives in Greece she it mesmerised by the sheer beauty of the island. She falls in love with everything, the sound of the crashing waves, the hum of the birds and the change in culture, but she also feels regretful. She feels regretful al of her life she’d known there was something more, something more beautiful, peaceful, fun and exciting and all this time she’s been stuck in England wasting away. She feels like it is too late for her to be happy, as though she has led such a little and pointless life as though she got given all this life and it’s just gone unused. She knew inside her that there was more. She desperately wanted to get out of being Shirley Bradshaw, but couldn’t. She wanted to be Shirley Valentine and now, when she finally got to where she could be Shirley Valentine it was all going to be snatched away when she returned home. Her two weeks of happiness would just disappear.

I think that this is what persuaded her to stay. She realised that in Greece she could be her self, not the middle-aged housewife, or the friend that will do whatever you tell them to do, but the REAL Shirley Valentine!

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