Social class disparity is evident in both Shaw and Wilde’s theatrical plays. Both plays have a timeframe setting of late 19th or early 20th century England. Both author’s appear to place an importance not just on economic class standing but also on where a person lives as well as the dialect of language spoken. Both of these seem to be indicators of the background and overall social class of a person.
In the beginning of Wilde’s play Lady Bracknell is speaking with Algernon Moncrieff about a music selection for dinner. Lady Bracknell explicity states that no French music would be allowed because
“people always seem to think they are improper” (Wilde 1895) This is just one instance where the author makes reference to a group’s place of upbringing and the way language is used to represent social class and standing.
The entire play Pygmalion appears to determine a persons status by his or her dialect. One of the main male characters Professor Henry Higgins, upon meeting Eliza Doolittle criticizes her accent immediately as being from a poverty stricken area of London called Covent Garden. Higgins begins speaking to several street goers and claiming to know each neighborhood they were raised. The more upper and middle classed street goers seem happy with being from different areas.
This seems to suggest to me that based on education and family upbringing that a person could not achieve a higher social status in England at the time the plays were written. Dialect is a direct reflection of upbringing. An example a couple from Ireland who moved to Mississippi would stand out like a sore thumb. Their accent would not change and likely if they had children the accent would carry over. If there was a social “ladder” in Mississippi like what is represented in the plays, the Irish couple would likely be seen as lower class and could not escape lower class due in part to their neighborhood and dialect.
Wilde and Shaw both do a great justice in showing class disparity in the plays. While both do it in a very subtle way, each show that circumstances that a human cannot control seem to determine a person’s social status well before the individual is even born.