George Bernard Shaw's Major Barbara has been called the most controversial of Shaw's works. The play was first produced at the Royal Court Theatre in London in 1905, and early reviews were decidedly mixed. Shaw's seeming criticism of Christianity caused some to accuse him of blasphemy, while others defended what they saw as Shaw's realistic presentation of religion. Critics complained about the violence of the play, particularly in the second act, saying it was so excessive as to be beyond realism. Others disagreed, saying that the depiction of that violence, if unrealistic, was so only because the violence was subdued. Whatever the opinion of the critics, however, the play was a success with the public. It remains popular and has enjoyed numerous revivals, including an adaptation to film in 1941. Today it is considered a very important work, not only among Shaw's plays but also in the history of modern drama.
Many of Shaw's plays are known for their involved arguments and Major Barbara is no exception Shaw himself called the play "a discussion in three long acts," and much of the play's "action" consists, in fact, of words. When the play was published in 1907, Shaw added, as with many of his works, a lengthy preface, contributing further discussion about the play itself. In addition, the play is noted for its unconventional attitudes toward morality as well as its irony and humor. Given the serious nature of the issues examined in the play— wealth and poverty, business and religion, cynicism and idealism—it is sometimes easy to overlook the fact that Major Barbara is, in fact, a comedy. Shaw uses the play to entertain his audience, to make people laugh, while examining issues that are as important today as they were when the play was first written.