The Man of Destiny

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Can you please help me with the analysis of The Man of Destiny by George Bernard Shaw?

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Analyzing a play is not different from analyzing a novel or a poem. Structure must be considered and theme, literary devices, plot, conflict, symbolism and imagery, setting and time (a distinct part of setting). There are some features particular to plays that must be included in an analysis (Vonier College). One of these is whether the action is mental or physical action. One might say Death of a Salesman is a play with mental action as is Faust Part II whereas King Lear and Faust Part I might be said to have physical action. Another of these particular features is whether there are soliloquies and/or monologues. Another is characters since characters have a singularly significant function in plays. The final feature particular to analysis of plays is key lines.

To apply some of these points to Shaw's The Man of Destiny, it is a one act play with four characters, two of whom are the primary characters. It is based on an historic incident at the early stage of Napoleon Bonaparte's military career following upon his advancement to General. As such, Bonaparte is the lead character and an unnamed Lady is the second principle character. They meet at an inn and the inn keeper, Giuseppe, is instrumental in helping to reveal information about them to each other and to the audience. The fourth character, the Lieutenant, is instrumental in setting up the conflict, which is introduced at the very beginning of the play and pursued hotly from the start. The action is mental; nothing physical rally takes place except for the innkeeper's comings and goings. There are no soliloquies in this play, but Shaw does give Bonaparte a monologue (i.e., long speech by one character that interrupts conversation) that reveals his philosophy and point of view when he, a Frenchman, elaborates his theory of the national character of the English and of the English moral conscience (this is in a sense ironic since Shaw is himself an Englishman).

The plot is a simple one: a Lady has stolen Bonaparte's letters from his Lieutenant on the highway in order to remove a personal one written by Josephine to Director Barras and maliciously sent to Bonaparte. He has encountered her and attempts to retrieve his mail while she attempts to keep him from reading the contents of Josephine's personal letter. The conflict of the mental action then is the battle between them for possession of the physical letters and then the contents of the one letter. The theme is that of how destiny turns on single events and remarks. Two key lines are spoken by the Lady because her brief comments, in the face of sure defeat, turn events in favor of her achieving her end by raising the right questions and motives in Bonaparte's mind. The lines are:

LADY. Nothing— (He interrupts her with an exclamation of satisfaction. She proceeds quietly) except that you will cut a very foolish figure in the eyes...

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of France.


LADY (springing up with a bright flush in her cheeks). Oh, you are too bad. Keep your letters. Read the story of your own dishonor in them; and much good may they do you. Good-bye. (She goes indignantly towards the inner door.)

The other elements for analyzing The Man of Destiny you can easily discover through your own reading of the play while watching for symbolism, imagery, setting, time, and other literary devices such as techniques ofironyor metonymy and structural elements like climaxand resolution.

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Please help me with the theme and analysis of different key lines from The Man of Destiny by Geroge Bernard Shaw.

The central theme of Shaw's play, The Man of Destiny, is illustrated in the title: destiny hinges upon single remarks and occurrences that turn of the tides of life. Shaw illustrates this theme in the dual of wills between General Bonaparte and the Lady over who will possess the mail dispatched to Bonaparte and, more importantly, who will possess knowledge of the contents of one particular letter. The Lady, while in disguise, stole Bonaparte's mail while it was en route to him in order to liberate a letter written by Josephine to her paramour Director Barras, which was maliciously forwarded to Bonaparte with evil intent toward Josephine. In this willful dual, Shaw illustrates that Bonaparte has several chances to change the course of his destiny by how he does or does not react to the situation and to the words the Lady speaks. A pivotal example of this is when she, almost overpowered by Bonaparte's efforts to keep control of his newly gained mail, says:

LADY (springing up with a bright flush in her cheeks). Oh, you are too bad. Keep your letters. Read the story of your own dishonor in them; and much good may they do you. Good-bye. (She goes indignantly towards the inner door.)

This line, and one that precedes it in the play, are two pivotal lines as they clearly open Bonaparte's choices to him and open his destiny to change of course. The other line, also spoken by the unnamed Lady, is:

LADY. Nothing— (He interrupts her with an exclamation of satisfaction. She proceeds quietly) except that you will cut a very foolish figure in the eyes of France.

In the midst of their dual of wills, sometimes slightly physical but mostly a dual of wits, in this second line the Lady speaks directly to the center of Bonaparte's inner motivation, which is his ambitions for his future position in the "eyes of France.” This ambition is alluded to by Giuseppe, the inn keeper, in a line in the first scene: “GIUSEPPE: I shall enjoy looking on at you whilst you become Emperor of Europe,.” The Lady’s "quietly" delivered warning and remonstrance makes Bonaparte take notice because he realizes that if he cuts "a very foolish figure" at this early stage of his career, he will inevitably fail in his ambitions to rise in power.

Later in the play, Bonaparte has gained possession of the letters; the focus of the dual of wills shifts to preventing him from keeping and reading the one particular letter written by Josephine. When Bonaparte has almost won, the Lady reacts in fiery indignation and is on the verge of storming out when she sends another verbal arrow zinging to Bonaparte's ambition. She says: "Read the story of your own dishonor in them." Dishonor is quite a bit worse than cutting "a foolish figure." If cutting a foolish figure could hinder Bonaparte's ambitions, then dishonor could do much, much worse things to his career and ambitions.Three final things are of particular interest. Firstly, Giuseppi foreshadows the challenges between Bonaparte and the Lady in the opening scene in the line:

GIUSEPPE. We are all cheerfully at your excellency's disposal, except the lady. I cannot answer for her; but no lady could resist you, General.

Secondly, the Lady presents moments to Bonaparte during which his choices might change his destiny. Thirdly, the interesting situational irony of the play is that, while the Lady's effort is to save Josephine's destiny, the effort presents Bonaparte's own destiny into his hands to preserve or alter.

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