Back to Methuselah



  • A long fantasy play by George Bernard Shaw, firstperformed in 1922 by the Theatre Guild in New York. Edith Evans createdthe roles of the Serpent and the She-Ancient. Shaw considered it hisfinest play, but it is seldom seen today, being too monumental fornormal commercial handling. The drama, five linked plays, covers humanhistory from the Garden of Eden to the year 31290. Shaw expounds hisidea of 'creative evolution' through the Serpent, who tells Eve:
    You imagine what you desire; you will what you imagine; andat last you create what you will...
    In the year 2170 "the thing happens" when twocharacters from the 1920s sequence are found to be still alive: humanityhas at last achieved the longevity needed to acquire wisdom.

    Back to Methuselah was the source of a phrase usedby John F. Kennedy (1917 - 63) and his brother Robert (1925 - 68)and often credited to them. When the Serpent tries to seduce Eve,he says:

    You see things; and you say 'Why?' But I dream things thatnever were; and I say 'Why not?'
    Another line from the play became a catchphrase for MalcolmFraser, the former prime minister of Australia (1975 - 83): "Lifewasn't meant to be easy." In the play Shaw's He-Ancient declares:
    Life is not meant to be easy, my child; but take courage:it can be delightful.