What is an example of satire in George Bernard Shaw's play Candida?

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George Bernard Shaw, a Nobel Prize winner (1925), cleverly weaves satire into his play Candida. Most notably, he uses satire in the form of irony and ridicule to expose and criticize the marital relationship between Candida and James Morell.

It is the late Victorian era, and Candida is an attractive woman of thirty-three, married to her devoted clergyman husband, James, forty. The third wheel in their relationship is the much younger free-spirited poet Eugene Marchbanks, eighteen. James innocently invites Eugene to his home when he finds James homeless and sleeping on the Embankment in London. Unbeknownst to James, Eugene falls in love with the charming Candida. Here, we see a clear instance of irony in that James invites into his home the person who could potentially break up his marriage. Instead of becoming angry and seeking revenge, however, James elects to channel his inner Christian values of patience and perseverance.

At the same time, James, who is portrayed as a learned, mature, and thoughtful man, is actually ignorant of his wife’s needs and the requirements of a successful marriage. He falsely assumes that no man could capture Candida’s interest other than himself. He assumes he knows what she is thinking and what her intentions are. He also underestimates the young Eugene and misjudges the level of disruption Eugene has caused. It is highly satirical that Candida must choose to be with her husband over Eugene. It should be a given that she would choose to be with her established and well-groomed husband, the father of her children, over a young man who is sleeping in the street. Given the era of the play, it is highly unlikely that she would push aside her husband and opt for Eugene, and yet the story seems to be steering that way.

In the end, satire wins the day, as Candida is not fully swayed by Eugene’s lovely poetry and carefree lifestyle. Candida remains with her husband, and he accepts this as a victory. But is it really a victory if his wife has had to contemplate whether she wants to be with him or leave to be with someone else?

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As with all of Shaw's plays, Candida is deeply satirical. Virtually every character in the piece is mercilessly lampooned for one reason or another. But Shaw's unfailing gift for satire is best shown in his portrayal of the hapless socialist vicar, Morell. Morell, in keeping with the social norms of the time, sees his wife as a weak and feeble creature incapable of coping with the big world without his patient moral guidance. Ironically, it is Candida herself who proves to be much stronger—and certainly more worldly-wise—than her husband. It is she who makes the decision to stay with Morell instead of running off with the impetuous young poet, Eugene Marchbanks, because she determines that Morell is the weaker of the two men and, as such, more in need of her care and attention. In turning the tables like this, Shaw, the advocate of feminism, ably satirizes the paternalistic, condescending attitude of contemporary society toward women.

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