Discuss Man and Superman as a drama of ideas.

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Shaw was a thinker who liked to illustrate his philosophies in his plays and does so more than ever in Man and Superman. The plays pivots around an idea expounded by the philosopher Henri Bergson, who argued that there is a vital spirit of life—what Shaw calls a Life...

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Shaw was a thinker who liked to illustrate his philosophies in his plays and does so more than ever in Man and Superman. The plays pivots around an idea expounded by the philosopher Henri Bergson, who argued that there is a vital spirit of life—what Shaw calls a Life Force—which is an instinct that drives men and women together to procreate. This Life Force is the domain of woman who, in her drive to have children, pulls the more intellectual man into her orbit and thus perpetuates the human race. Anne Whitefield represents this vital Life Force, luring John Tanner into marriage. The Life Force is also connected to Darwinism as an instinctual drive all species have to reproduce.

Shaw also leans into ideas from Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra, in which certain men's driving will to repress their base nature and drive forward intellectually will cause an improvement in the human race, leading to the development of superior humans called supermen. John Tanner represents this superman force. This force, through Tanner, unites with Anne Whitefield's Life Force to propel the human race forward.

The play is often thought to sink under the weight of too many ideas that undercut the dramatic force of the plot. Also, although Shaw's ideas were cutting edge at the time, they can seem silly to us now—we don't now, for instance, assign distinct attributes to the different genders. We don't even think in terms of rigid gender binaries, given the new awareness of the multiplicity of available gender identities. Furthermore, ideas of creating a race of supermen—though Shaw, a Fabian socialist, was hardly thinking in terms of Nazi ideology—have taken on a sinister cast since the play was written.

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In this play more than in any other play, Shaw's characters are obsessed with various ideas and theories and different approaches. They endlessly discuss various ideas such as sex, capitalism and how to improve society in exchanges that are somewhat bewildering in their scope, range and content. At its heart, the play is full of many different and opposing ideas that capture some of Shaw's ideas and philosophy, especially with regard to the Life Force, which he defined as the instinct that causes women to find a consort so as to give birth to a so-called "Superman." Note, for example, the following speech that discusses the artist and the reason why he is such a terrible character:

Since marriage began, the great artist has been known as a bad husband. But he is worse: he is a child-robber, a blood-sucker, a hypocrite, and a cheat. Perish the race and wither a thousand women if only the sacrifice of them enable him to act Hamlet better, to paint a finer picture, to write a deeper poem, a greater play, a profounder philosophy!

Such a speech portrays the artist as a terrible person who is willing to sacrifice even the most sacred and important relationships around him for his art and to improve it. This is but one of the many bewildering array of ideas that are presented in this play in which Shaw explores many different contradictory beliefs and approaches to various ideas and debates. The sheer range of the ideas in this play has made it somewhat cumbersome to perform, as its length and complexity has rendered it one of the more abstract of Shaw's works.

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