Bernard, George Shaw
George Bernard Shaw 1856-1950
(Also wrote under pseudonym Corno di Bassetto) Irish-born dramatist, essayist, critic, novelist, short story writer, and poet.
Shaw is regarded as the greatest English dramatist of the modern age, and his contribution to British theater is considered second only to that of William Shakespeare. By rejecting outmoded theatrical conventions and championing realism and social commentary in his work, critics contend Shaw succeeded in revolutionizing British drama. He has been credited with creating the “theater of ideas,” in which plays explore such issues as sexism, sexual equality, socioeconomic divisions, the effects of poverty, and philosophical and religious theories. Moreover, his innovative dramas are thought to have paved the way for later Symbolist drama and the Theater of the Absurd.
Shaw was born on July 26, 1856, in Dublin, Ireland. At his mother's instruction, Shaw was introduced to music and art early in his childhood and became interested in a career as a writer. At the age of fifteen, he began work as a rent collector for a Dublin land agent, which he did for five years. His experiences on the job became the inspiration for the events in his first drama, Widowers' Houses (1892). In 1876 he moved to London and began a rigorous self-education in economics and politics, with a leaning toward socialist ideals. During the 1880s he garnered attention as an orator, a literary and art critic, a socialist commentator, and Saturday Review drama critic. When his career as a novelist stalled, he turned to playwriting, a form that he soon realized allowed him to express many of his political, social, and philosophical concerns. Generally, his works were successful in book form before appearing on stage and the prefaces to his plays received much critical attention; in fact, critics consider these explanatory essays to be integral to a full understanding of his work. In 1894 Shaw aided Sidney Webb in establishing the London School of Economics. He was elected vestryman in Saint Pancras in 1897, with an emphasis on reform in sanitation and public health conditions. His interest in reform, especially on behalf of those living in poverty, found its ways into his dramatic writing. In 1898 six of his plays were published as Plays: Pleasant and Unpleasant, which catapulted Shaw into a critical and popular success. However, his writings questioning the motives behind England's participation in World War I resulted in a backlash—his books were removed from library shelves, his plays were boycotted, he was forced to resign from the Society of Authors and the Dramatists Club, and he was accused of being a German sympathizer. Yet the public outcry did not deter Shaw from writing about the implications of the war and incorporating these concerns into his dramatic work. It was not until the appearance of his celebrated play Saint Joan in 1923 that his reputation was repaired. The play was immediately recognized as a masterpiece and earned the playwright a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925. He continued to be a prolific playwright, essayist, social and political commentator, and socialist activist. He died on November 2, 1950.
Commentators note that Shaw's major dramatic works are infused with his social, economic, and political concerns, particularly his criticism of the inequalities and injustices of late-Victorian capitalism. He is also credited with creating the serious farce, a dramatic genre that inverts melodramatic conventions and utilizes comedy to promote serious views on public policy, social institutions, and morality. In his work, Shaw strove to peel away the romantic and false layers in order to reveal the realities of middle- and lower-class life. Completed in 1892, his first play, Widowers' Houses, exposes the hypocrisy of slum landlords who derive their income from the ruthless exploitation of the poor. In his next play, The Philanderer, which was written in 1893 but not produced until 1905, Shaw explores his recurring interest in the concept of sexual equality, contending that social pressures and artificial social structures result in sexual discrimination. Mrs. Warren's Profession (written 1893; produced 1902) is a scathing indictment of a capitalist system that does not allow women equal opportunities for decent wages and fulfilling work. When Mrs. Warren is exposed as a prostitute, she justifies her personal choice as a matter of economics. Viewed as a conventional drama-comedy, Candida (written 1894; produced 1897) chronicles the triangle of a husband, wife, and immature, idealistic young poet. In his John Bull's Other Island (1904) Shaw focuses on the issues of Irish self-rule and Anglo-Irish relations. The play garnered attention for Shaw's reversal of stereotypes: the comic Irishman became wise and the wise Englishman became comic.
Originally written in 1901-1902, Man and Superman (produced 1905) is considered a turning point in Shaw's dramatic career. The play is often described as a comedy of manners in which a confident and resourceful woman seduces a reluctant man—the reverse of the Don Juan myth, which figures prominently in the story. Subtitled A Comedy and a Philosophy, the play also addresses several controversial and pressing social and philosophical issues, including theories of evolution and religion. Much of the critical reaction to Man and Superman surrounds the relationship between the hell scene in Act III—in which the principal characters are depicted as their actual or spiritual ancestors from the Don Juan legend—and the rest of the play. Major Barbara (1905) utilizes comedy to explore the dehumanizing consequences of poverty and unemployment. The protagonist of the play, Barbara, rejects her position in the Salvation Army when she realizes that her father's fortune can better aid the poor and downtrodden than can the Salvation Army's enforced religiosity. Critics commend Major Barbara as Shaw's most intellectually complex play.
Although Shaw described Pygmalion (written 1912; produced 1913) as a didactic play about phonetics, commentators viewed the play as a comedy about love and class. The play chronicles the story of a lower-class cockney flower peddler who is trained by a priggish professor, Henry Higgins, to be a lady. It is regarded as Shaw's most popular play, and has been performed countless times all over the world. Written and performed in 1923, his acclaimed drama Saint Joan chronicles the life of the legendary religious martyr Joan of Arc, whose canonization in 1920 inspired Shaw's play. Joan is portrayed as a nationalist rebel who struggles against the establishment at the risk of her own life. In the preface to the play he finds parallels between medieval France and early twentieth-century Ireland and condemns English tyranny as cruel and unjust.
Shaw is acclaimed as the most significant British dramatist of the modern era. During his lifetime, critics and theatergoers alike recognized Shaw's innovative, clever, and humorous plays that eschewed romantic conventions and explored relevant and often controversial subjects, such as prostitution, sexual discrimination, class divisions, morality, and the effect of poverty on the lower classes. At the outbreak of World War I, Shaw's antiwar writings proved to be severely damaging to his critical and popular reputation, as commentators accused him of being unpatriotic and a German sympathizer. After the war, however, his commentary on the war was recognized as prescient, and he was once again applauded as an innovative and insightful talent. On the eve of World War II, Shaw once again alienated critics and theatergoers with his anti-democracy tracts and dramas, which were perceived as pro-fascist in nature. Over the years, Shaw's plays have been derided as didactic and unsympathetic and his characters have been censured as unrealistic and lacking sensuality, spirituality, and vitality. His depiction of strong, independent women has been a frequent topic of interest for feminist critics. The philosophical, theological, and psychoanalytical theories that permeate his work are perceived as reflections of Shaw's own concerns. Scholars have traced the influence of Henrik Ibsen on Shaw's plays, focusing on the aim of both playwrights to call attention to social problems and moral issues rather than melodramatic incidents and sentimental resolutions. Despite criticisms of his work, Shaw's contribution to modern theater is considered profound. His propounding of the “theater of ideas,” in which theater is obligated to provide moral instruction, is regarded as one of his key achievements.
Widowers' Houses 1892*
Arms and the Man 1894
The Devil's Disciple 1897
Plays: Pleasant and Unpleasant [first publication] 1898
You Never Can Tell 1899
Captain Brassbound's Conversion 1900
Three Plays for Puritans [first publication] 1901
Mrs. Warren's Profession 1902
†The Admirable Bashville; or, Constancy Unrewarded 1903
How He Lied to Her Husband 1904
John Bull's Other Island 1904
Major Barbara 1905
Man and Superman: A Comedy and a Philosophy 1905
The Philanderer 1905
Caesar and Cleopatra 1906
The Doctor's Dilemma 1906
Getting Married 1908
The Shewing-Up of Blanco Posnet 1909
Fanny's First Play 1911
Androcles and the Lion 1912
Heartbreak House 1920
Back to Methuselah 1922
Saint Joan 1923
The Apple Cart 1929
Too True to Be Good 1932...
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Criticism: General Commentary
SOURCE: Ganz, Arthur. “The Ascent to Heaven: A Shavian Pattern (Early Plays, 1894-1898).” Modern Drama 14, no. 3 (December 1971): 253-63.
[In the following essay, Ganz discusses the negative vision in Shaw's early plays, contending that there is a recurring pattern of his characters withdrawing from the real world into an intellectual, contemplative existence.]
It is the peculiar character of Shaw's plays that from the first they embody Romantic optimism and Romantic disillusion simultaneously. One is reminded of William Archer's account of seeing Shaw for the first time in the British Museum studying alternately the French translation of Das Kapital and the score of Tristan und Isolde. Characteristically Shaw could be attracted not only by optimism, progress, and social action but by their opposites, passivity, withdrawal, and fulfillment in death.
The continuing dramatic tension in Shaw's work is generated, at least in part, by the clash of a vision of man as perfectible and the world as capable of continuing reform and improvement with an opposing vision of man as distasteful and irredeemable and the world as forever the abode of vulgarity and brute stupidity. The optimistic vision is by far the more conscious one. It is the vision of the man of ideas, the social reformer, the satirist determined to laugh men into a recognition of their follies. Ostensibly it is the...
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SOURCE: Small, Barbara J. “Rhetorical Style in Shaw's Plays.” Shaw Review 22, no. 2 (May 1979): 79-88.
[In the following essay, Small contends that Shaw's plays were conceived and written more in the rhetorical tradition than in a realistic style.]
What Raina wants is the extremity of style—style—Comedie Francaise, Queen of Spain style. Do you hear, worthless wretch that you are?
—G. B. S. to Lillah McCarthy, 6 February 1908
Although Shaw, for the most part, used realistic subject matter and language that on the surface appears realistic, his plays and characters transcend realism. It is clear that he never intended to write strictly naturalistic plays:
Life as we see it is so haphazard that it is only by picking out its key situations and arranging them in their significant order (which is never how they actually occur) that it can be made intelligible.1
It was the playwright's duty to arrange the random events of life in “such a way as to make you think much more deeply about it than you ever dreamed of thinking about actual incidents that come to your knowledge.” This was the “very important public service” that the didactic theatre renders to its audiences.2...
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SOURCE: Weintraub, Rodelle. “The Irish Lady in Shaw's Plays.” Shaw Review 23, no. 2 (May 1980): 77-89.
[In the following essay, Weintraub identifies Shaw's wife, Charlotte Payne Townsend, as a model for the strong, independent female characters in his plays.]
Unlike most playwrights since Shakespeare, “St. Bernard,” patron saint of the women's movement, as Bernard Shaw jestingly referred to himself, wrote plays for strong, vital women. Often the play's central figure, his woman does not easily fall into the bitch goddess, virgin mother, whore, ingenue, nor castrating neurotic formula. His female characters generate energy and motivate action rather than merely react to forces buffeting them. When asked how he came to write roles for real women, he responded that he had never imagined women as different from himself. He frequently based his characterizations, however, not merely on himself but on persons he knew and episodes from their lives. Until now critics have, for the most part, overlooked a very significant model for his female character development, one who contributed much of the inspiration for the strong, independent women portrayed in his later plays as well as for his royal wives—his wife.1
In a paradox equal to any he put on the stage, Shaw, in 1898, entered into a celibate marriage with a woman for whom he felt intense physical desire and whom, two...
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SOURCE: Adams, Elsie B. “Heartless, Heartbroken, and Heartfelt: A Recurrent Theme in the Plays of Bernard Shaw.” English Literature in Translation 25, no. 1 (1982): 4-9.
[In the following essay, Adams considers the significance of Shaw's repeated use of “heart” in compound words and phrases throughout his plays, and the association of these terms with particular characters.]
It has been a critical cliché of long standing that Shaw is a writer of intellect, not passion—appealing to the brain and not to the heart. Shaw was of course aware of this critical opinion, and objected to it as an oversimplification of his matter and method. For example, in his satire on drama critics in the Epilogue to Fanny's First Play (1911), he has the appropriately named Bannal offer the opinion that Shaw is “Intellect without emotion.” In trying to guess the anonymous author of Fanny's First Play, the critics reject the notion that it might be Shaw:
… Poor as this play is, theres the note of passion in it. … Now Ive repeatedly proved that Shaw is physiologically incapable of the note of passion.
Yes, I know. Intellect without emotion. Thats right. I always say that myself. A giant brain, if you ask me; but no heart.(1)
Shaw then has the critic Gunn (a satire on the Star's Gilbert Cannan)...
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SOURCE: McFadden, Karen Howell. “G. Bernard Shaw's Political Plays of the Nineteen Thirties.” Nature, Society, and Thought 1, no. 3 (1988): 418-34.
[In the following essay, McFadden asserts that Shaw's political plays from the 1930s are “worthy of re-examination, not only for their artistic merit, but also because they provide engrossing images of the kinds of philosophical debates Shaw was constantly waging with himself and others throughout his lifetime.”]
The acute social crisis of capitalism in the nineteen thirties produced a literature fraught with ideological implications which retains its relevance for those seeking solutions to the problems of today. In that period G. Bernard Shaw wrote five major political plays, Too True to Be Good (1931), On the Rocks (1933), The Simpleton of the Unexpected Isles (1934), The Millionairess (1935), and Geneva (1938).1 These plays are worthy of re-examination, not only for their intrinsic artistic merit, but also because they provide engrossing images of the kinds of philosophical debates Shaw was constantly waging with himself and others throughout his lifetime. The depression, the rise of fascism, and the outbreak of war all had a catalytic effect on these debates, which were carried out in his drama with a new sharpness, clarity, and sense of urgency. Paradoxically, the far-reaching political implications...
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Criticism: Arms And The Man (1894)
SOURCE: Quinn, Michael. “Form and Intention: A Negative View of Arms and the Man.” Critical Quarterly 5, no. 2 (summer 1963): 148-54.
[In the following essay, Quinn explores the disconnection between Shaw's intentions in Arms and the Man and the form of the play, concluding that it is “a very good play of its kind, but it is not the kind of play one might have expected from Shaw's preface.”]
One of the difficulties with Shaw is that too often, like Mistress Quickly, “a man does not know where to have” him. Largely on the basis of his own noisy claims, he still retains much of the prestige of a ‘great thinker’, standing, in somewhat heretical and clownish garb, at the end of the line of what John Holloway has called ‘Victorian sages’, a latter-day Carlyle whose aim also was “to make his readers see life and the world over again, see it with a more searching or perhaps a more subtle and sensitive gaze”. But, as Holloway insists and demonstrates at length from the works of his selected sages, “everything depends on their interpretation in detail”, without which one cannot be sure of the “exact meaning” of the sage's message. In the case of Shaw the difficulty is greatly increased by a common confusion, deliberately encouraged by the author himself, between the polemical pamphleteer, whose favourite form was the preface, and the successful dramatist. That there...
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Criticism: Candida (1897)
SOURCE: Berst, Charles A. “The Craft of Candida.” College Literature 1, no. 3 (fall 1974): 157-73.
[In the following essay, Berst addresses several common criticisms of Shaw's work through an analysis of his Candida, contending that the play “refutes many of the facile critical generalizations so often repeated about Shavian drama.”]
A year before Shaw wrote Candida the prominent critic William Archer reviewed his first play, Widowers' Houses, in the London World. Archer was most condescending: “It is a pity that Mr Shaw should labour under a delusion as to the true bent of his talent, and … should perhaps be tempted to devote further time and energy to a form of production for which he has no special ability and some constitutional disabilities … it does not appear that Mr Shaw has any more specific talent for the drama than he has for painting or sculpture.”1 Such critical condescension was to be cast upon Shaw for many years, hindering popular acceptance of his plays for a decade and enduring even to the American production of Saint Joan in 1923. By 1923, however, the critics were more wary, qualified, and humble. By that time Shaw had become so great a force in the theater that few could afford to be supercilious, and most were content to generally acknowledge his greatness while jabbing at him here and there, faulting individual...
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SOURCE: Lazenby, Walter. “Love and ‘Vitality’ in Candida.” Modern Drama 20, no. 1 (March 1977): 1-19.
[In the following essay, Lazenby examines aspects of the dramatic irony, imagery, and plot of Candida and traces the “vitalization” of the three major characters in the play.]
Most critics of Shaw's Candida have approached the play “as if it were a geometry problem whose basic axioms can be located in The Quintessence and other Shaviana.”1 They have assumed that Shaw was here merely illustrating his three types (Philistine, Idealist, Realist) and that the play demands a simplistic stock response: automatic scorn for Idealists and Philistines, automatic approval for Realists—that is, after one has identified the characters who represent the types. Unfortunately, they have not been able to agree on whether Morell is Idealist or Philistine; whether Marchbanks is Idealist or Realist; and, curiously, whether Candida herself is a Realist or a Philistine!2
One who surveys critical opinions on the play will not find much detailed, cogent analysis of what actually happens in it. True, there has been considerable general discussion of how the play's action affects Marchbanks and Morell, resulting in agreement that both come to be enlightened. But several specific questions remain to be explored: what and how does Eugene learn about...
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Criticism: Mrs. Warren's Profession (1902)
SOURCE: Berst, Charles A. “Propaganda and Art in Mrs. Warren's Profession.” ELH 33, no. 3 (September 1966): 390-404.
[In the following essay, Berst calls Mrs. Warren's Profession one of Shaw's most didactic plays and maintains that “an examination of its achievement as art should prove helpful in assessing the extent to which Shaw's role as a dramatic propagandist limits his accomplishment as an artist.”]
Since Mrs Warren's Profession is one of the most openly didactic of Shaw's plays, an examination of its achievement as art should prove helpful in assessing the extent to which Shaw's role as a dramatic propagandist limits his accomplishment as an artist. Few critics nowadays would agree with Percival P. Howe that the preface to Mrs Warren's Profession renders the play unnecessary,1 or would go so far as Alick West and analyze it in terms of a Marxist tract,2 but there is a decided tendency, not unencouraged by Shaw, to generalize about his productions first in terms of their message and only second in terms of their esthetic texture. Such is certainly the case with this early play. Commentators have made three major points, all having to do with the play's message: (1) Shaw's intention is to reveal that the guilt for prostitution lies more upon society than upon immoral women; (2) Shaw's premise, that prostitutes are forced into their profession...
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Criticism: Major Barbara (1905)
SOURCE: Albert, Sidney P. “The Price of Salvation: Moral Economics in Major Barbara.” Modern Drama 14, no. 3 (December 1971): 307-23.
[In the following essay, Albert investigates the role of economics in Major Barbara.]
“In all my plays,” Bernard Shaw wrote to Archibald Henderson in 1904, “my economic studies have played as important a part as a knowledge of anatomy does in the works of Michael Angelo.”1 But the inclusion of economics in his plays, he always maintained, did not make them mere tracts. “My plays are no more economic treatises than Shakespeare's,” he declared in his Sixteen Self Sketches. “It is true that neither Widowers' Houses nor Major Barbara could have been written by an economic ignoramus, and that Mrs Warren's Profession is an economic exposure of the White Slave Traffic as well as a melodrama. There is an economic link between Cashel Byron, Sartorius, Mrs Warren, and Undershaft: all of them prospering in questionable activities. But would anyone but a buffleheaded idiot of a university professor, half crazy with correcting examination papers, infer that all my plays were written as economic essays, and not as plays of life, character, and human destiny like those of Shakespear or Euripides?”2
Shaw's comments invite inquiry into how economics functions aesthetically in his dramas: how it...
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SOURCE: Rosador, Kurt Tetzeli v. “The Natural History of Major Barbara.” Modern Drama 17, no. 2 (June 1974): 141-53.
[In the following essay, Rosador considers Major Barbara to be a depiction of Shaw's theory of history.]
When in 1949 Francis Fergusson described the content of Shavian drama as “unresolved paradox,”1 using Major Barbara and Heartbreak House as an illustration, he not only echoed countless early critics,2 but also furthered the label-sticking method of interpretation which has vitiated so much of Shaw criticism. “The play,” says Fergusson, “is a parlor-game based upon the freedom of the mind to name and then to rationalize anything, without ever deviating from the concept to the thing.” It is, therefore, not grounded in reality, but merely “a string of jokes which touch nothing.”3 This thesis certainly does run counter to Shaw's professed dramatic aims, and its influence seems due both to Fergusson's persuasive style and to concepts of realism which shortcircuit the subtle relation of the dramatic signs with their extradramatic referents. This difficulty in relating the play's ideas to some consistent Weltanschauung, some formative reality, has apparently led a recent study, in spite of criticizing Fergusson and brilliantly enlarging our understanding of Major Barbara by describing the play's...
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SOURCE: Whittock, Trevor. “Major Barbara: Comic Masterpiece.” Theoria 51 (October 1978): 1-14.
[In the following essay, Whittock discusses Major Barbara as a great English comic drama.]
The English dramatic tradition—if we can divert our eyes for a moment from the figure of Shakespeare who bestrides our petty, narrow world like a colossus—is essentially a tradition of comedy. Not that Englishmen have not written, or attempted to write, tragedies. Edward Marlowe, in the words of one of his characters, did ride in triumph through Persepolis; though Shakespeare indicated how much he thought his contemporary's heroics were mostly rant and rhetoric when he made the boastful braggart Pistol quote the line. John Webster presented the skull beneath the skin; but Bernard Shaw suggested how much it was in waxen effigy only when he dismissed Webster as a ‘Tussaud laureate’. Ben Jonson penned tragedies, but it is his comedies we revive. Reel off the names of the British comic dramatists, however, and a glittering succession appears. Jonson, Dekker, Beaumont and Fletcher, Congreve, Wycherley, Vanbrugh, Farquhar, Sheridan, Gay, Goldsmith, Gilbert and Oscar Wilde. Above all, Shaw. And of course, Shakespeare—he is, after all, inescapable.
Shakespeare and Shaw are still the great figures in English comic drama. With Shakespeare comedy was only one facet of the universal...
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Criticism: Man And Superman (1905)
SOURCE: Leary, Daniel J. “Shaw's Use of Stylized Characters and Speech in Man and Superman.” Modern Drama 5, no. 4 (February 1963): 477-90.
[In the following essay, Leary explores the vitality of the characters and speeches in Man and Superman.]
In discussing the dramatic effectiveness of puppets, Shaw wrote:
I always hold up the wooden actors as instructive object-lessons to our flesh-and-blood players. … The puppet is the actor in his primitive form. Its symbolic costume, from which all realistic and historically correct impertinences are banished, its unchanging stare, petrified (or rather lignified) in a grimace …, the mimicry by which it suggests human gesture in unearthly caricature—these give to its performance an intensity to which few actors can pretend, an intensity which imposes on our imaginative life those images in immovable hieratic attitudes on the stained glass of Chartres Cathedral, in which the gaping tourists seem like little dolls moving jerkily in the draughts from the doors, reduced to saw-dusty insignificance by the contrast with the gigantic vitality in the windows overhead.1
This passage is a clear presentation of what I believe to be a central dramatic vision which provided a unifying action for many of Shaw's major plays. In dealing specifically with Man and Superman, I am...
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SOURCE: Solomonson, Michael. “Man and Superman: The Shavianizing of Friedrich Nietzsche.” Independent Shavian 34, no. 3 (1996): 54-59.
[In the following essay, Solomonson investigates the influence of Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophy on Man and Superman.]
Scholars often suggest a link between the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche and that of Bernard Shaw. In particular, Shaw's Man and Superman is cited as an example of Nietzsche's influence upon the playwright. In his preface to the play, Shaw identified Nietzsche as being “among the writers whose peculiar sense of the world I recognize as more or less akin to my own” (Prefaces 162). Shaw further admitted in the preface to Major Barbara that the term “Superman” (“Übermensch”) was “borrowed by me from Nietzsche (Prefaces 117). Perhaps because of these admissions, critics and scholars examining Shaw's career have often focused on the perceived intellectual and philosophical ties binding the men. While Shaw's awareness of Nietzsche is indisputable, the role that the German philosopher played in Shaw's artistic creations not has not been fully explored.
The scholarly view that Nietzsche heavily influenced Shaw's creation of Man and Superman has been widely accepted. Nicholas Grene, for example, wrote: “Nietzsche takes over where Schopenhauer leaves off in the ideological...
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Criticism: Pygmalion (1913)
SOURCE: Roy, Emil. “Pygmalion Revisited.” Ball State University Forum 11, no. 2 (spring 1970): 38-46.
[In the following essay, Roy analyzes the relationship between Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion.]
The structure of Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion1 is perfectly conventional, juxtaposing the personal comedy of Eliza Doolittle's evolution into true independence with the social comedy of her father's sudden rise into middle-class affluence. However, Shaw's denial of a match between Eliza and her mentor Henry Higgins created legendary difficulties which have surrounded the ending for over half a century. The author's inability to create an artist-philosopher who is both constructive and dramatically compelling, thus reconciling his own repressed alienation with social ameliorism, seems to have elicited a corresponding sense of uneasiness in his audiences and their agents in the theatrical establishment. By such devices as Beerbohm Tree's gestural wooing of Eliza and the casting of Leslie Howard as Higgins in the Gabriel Pascal movie version, the possibility of marriage between Higgins and Eliza was at least hinted at. The crusty old bachelor would thereby “dwindle” into a husband as Eliza “expanded” into a wife, confirming a bourgeois audience's faith in marriage as the foundation of morality and society.
However, in Pygmalion as Robert Brustein...
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SOURCE: Reynolds, Jean. “Deconstructing Henry Higgins, or Eliza as Derridean ‘Text.’” In Shaw: The Annual of Bernard Shaw Studies 14 (1994): 209-17.
[In the following essay, Reynolds deems the power of language to be the main theme in Pygmalion and links the ideas of Shaw and the French linguist Jacques Derrida.]
Language is central to Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion: scarcely a minute of the play is without some reference to words. The plot is built around a phonetics experiment, and two of the main characters are language experts. Act II takes place amid speech paraphernalia—a phonograph and wax cylinders, a laryngoscope, and a life-size diagram of the vocal organs. The characters themselves are preoccupied with words: both Mrs. Pearce and Mrs. Higgins complain about Higgins's bad language, and Eliza insists that she cannot talk to him at all. The Eynsford-Hills are both appalled and fascinated by Eliza's “new small talk,” and Alfred P. Doolittle worries that he will “have to learn to speak middle class language … instead of speaking proper English.”1 And there is an abiding interest in the stage, itself a world of words. Higgins, Pickering, the Eynsford-Hills, and Eliza enjoy the theater—just as we in Shaw's audience do.
But actors and directors often miss the language emphasis in Pygmalion, preferring to make the play into a...
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Criticism: Saint Joan (1923)
SOURCE: Solomon, Stanley J. “Saint Joan as Epic Tragedy.” Modern Drama 6, no. 4 (February 1964): 437-49.
[In the following essay, Solomon explores the consequences of synthesizing epic and tragic elements in Saint Joan.]
Several of the critical problems related to Saint Joan stem from the unusual nature of the play—unusual, that is, for Shaw, for in no other Shaw play do we have a predominantly tragic tone.1 In the numerous commentaries on the play, we find three key questions frequently recurring: 1) Is Joan a tragic heroine with a tragic flaw or an innocent victim of circumstances? 2) Although Joan has our sympathies throughout, why does Shaw go to such elaborate lengths to align us intellectually on the side of her opposition? and 3) If the play is a tragedy, what is the purpose of the epilogue? In dealing with the above questions, I propose to consider Saint Joan as indeed a tragedy, but a special kind of tragedy, one that encompasses an epic design. The play is as consistently tragic in tone (at least from the first third of it to the end), as it is epic in structure. We may speculate on Shaw's reasons for not using the conventional tragic structure for Joan's story, but it is perhaps more rewarding to concern ourselves with the effects that Shaw achieves by coordinating epic and tragic elements.
SAINT JOAN AS EPIC DRAMA...
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SOURCE: Gribben, John L. “Shaw's Saint Joan: A Tragic Heroine.” Thought: A Review of Culture and Idea 40, no. 159 (winter 1965): 549-66.
[In the following essay, Gribben discusses the character of Joan in Saint Joan as a genuine tragic figure.]
When George Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan was presented for the first time, at the Garrick Theatre in New York on December 28, 1923, it was acclaimed by critics of all shades of competence, from Hugh Walpole and Heywood Broun to Lord Beaverbrook, as one of the finest plays the world had seen, the finest play written in the English language of our day.1 The playbill described it as “a chronicle play.” This was an audacious misrepresentation since the play was, in fact, a thesis, and the Anglo-American intelligentsia of the Twenties, with its limited knowledge of Joan of Arc could no more recognize its chronicle character than they could distinguish genuine Haig and Haig from its Hoboken substitute. They might well have known the Joan of Arc of Mark Twain or Andrew Lang, or perhaps even Die Jungfrau von Orleans of Schiller or the La Pucelle of Voltaire. They might even have been able to account for the oddly unbalanced Pucelle of Shakespeare's Henry VI, but it is scarcely credible that even the ladies from Bryn Mawr or the gentlemen from Wilson's Princeton would have been acquainted with T. Douglas Murray's Jeanne...
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Adams, Elsie B. “Bernard Shaw's Pre-Raphaelite Drama.” PMLA 81, no. 5 (October 1966): 428-38.
Investigates the influence of the Pre-Raphaelite movement on Shaw's dramas.
Albert, Sidney P. “Bernard Shaw: The Artist as Philosopher.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 14, no. 4 (June 1956): 419-38.
Underscores the importance of philosophical concerns to Shaw's dramas.
———. “The Lord's Prayer and Major Barbara.” Shaw: The Annual of Bernard Shaw Studies 1 (1981): 107-28.
Traces Shaw's lifelong fascination with the Lord's Prayer and explores its function in Major Barbara.
———. “The Mood of Barbara Revisited: Shaw, Jevons, and the Syllogism.” Independent Shavian 32, nos. 2-3 (1994): 29-36.
Traces the influence of William Stanley Jevons's The Theory of Political Economy on Shaw's dramatic oeuvre.
Amalric, Jean-Claude. “Shaw's Man and Superman and the Myth of Don Juan: Intertextuality and Irony.” Cahiers Victoriens et Edouardiens, no. 33 (April 1991): 103-14.
Discusses the Don Juan theme in Man and Superman and determines the influence of the opera Don Giovanni and the mythical story of Don Juan on Shaw's play.
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