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?