Subtitled ‘‘A Comedy and a Philosophy,’’ George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman is a comedy of ideas: its characters discuss ideas such as capitalism, social reform, male and female roles in courtship, and other existential topics in long speeches that resemble arias in an opera. The play’s verbosity makes it unwieldy to produce full scale, so the Epistle in the beginning and the Revolutionist’s Handbook at the end are usually not performed, and the scene in Hell, although containing the bulk of the play’s philosophical musings, is often dropped.
What is left is basically a light-hearted parlor play demonstrating Shaw’s idea of the Life Force, the force that drives women to pursue a mate in order to attempt to produce a Superman. This theory, along with a theory of eugenic breeding to accompany it, preoccupied Shaw for the rest of his life. The theories expounded in the play are full of contradictions, typical of Shaw’s writing, and critics have devoted countless books and articles to sorting them out. Early critics called the play tedious and dramatically unsound, but today it is considered a landmark in the genre of the ‘‘idea play.’’