George Bernard Shaw

Definition

Theater

  • (1856 - 1950) Irish playwright and critic, whose plays are famous fortheir wit, eloquence, and interest in provocative ideas.

    Born and educated in Dublin, he moved to London in 1876 tojoin his mother and two sisters. By the mid-1880s he had establishedhimself as a critic on the Pall Mall Gazette (books), World(art), and Star (music). Over the next decade he emerged asa powerful advocate of both Wagner and Ibsen. Inspired mainlyby the social dramas of Ibsen, he began to write plays of his own,although they were not performed until later. Plays Pleasant andUnpleasant, published in 1898, included Mrs Warren's Profession,which was banned by the Lord Chamberlain until 1925, Widowers'Houses, an exposé of slum landlordism, and The Philanderer.The other plays in the collection, Arms and the Man, YouNever Can Tell, Candida, and The Man of Destinyreveal the author's gift for sparkling comedy. Unable to find commercialaudiences for these plays, Shaw wrote extensive Prefaces for them,elaborating on the social and moral themes that they explore. Thesepieces reflected the socialist beliefs that had led him to becomea founding member of the Fabian Society in 1884.

    His next collection, Three Plays for Puritans (1901),included The Devil's Disciple, Caesar and Cleopatra,and Captain Brassbound's Conversion. Although these playswere performed (indeed Mrs Patrick Campbell appeared in thefirst performance of Caesar and Cleopatra in 1899) Shaw's reputationas a dramatist was not established until John Bull's Other Island andMan and Superman had been seen in the London theater in 1904. Subsequent plays included Major Barbara (1905), The Doctor's Dilemma (1906), Misalliance (1910),Fanny's First Play (1911), Androcles and the Lion(1913), and Pygmalion (1914; filmed in 1938 and producedas the musical My Fair Lady in 1955). During World War IShaw's reputation suffered seriously from his pacifist essay CommonSense About the War (1914), in which he proposed that the soldiers onboth sides should mutiny. However, the London theatregoing publichad forgiven him by 1921, when Heartbreak House appeared(one year after its first performance in New York). The series ofplays Back to Methuselah was staged later that year. SaintJoan (1924), in which Sybil Thorndike played Joan of Arc, wasanother great success and is often regarded as his most importantplay. His later plays include The Apple Cart (1929).

    Shaw was a determinedly controversial figure, who could berelied upon to be provocative and witty in almost any situation. Ifsome of his plays have dated, this is partly because the avant-gardeopinions of a century ago are now accepted as commonplace.Others still retain their poignancy - largely because of theeloquence of his characters. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for literaturein 1925.

    His brain is a half-inch layer of champagne poured over abucket of Methodist near-beer.
    BENJAMIN DE CASSERES
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