GEORGE BERNARD SHAW
Born: July 26, 1856, in Dublin, Ireland
Died: November 2, 1950, in Ayot, St. Laurence, England
Shaw was an Irish author and socialist best known for his plays which were marked by experimental techniques and social criticism. Born in Ireland, Shaw grew up in a Protestant household. From his father, a clerk in the government, he inherited a sense of humor. From his mother, a professional singer, he gained appreciation for music, and a love of literature.
Shaw left school at age fifteen and went to worked for an estate agent, collecting rent. Although he was paid a pittance it allowed him time to read and write. His first published work was a letter to the editor on the topic of American evangelists in 1875. He mused that religion, and in particular sudden conversions, did little to better people’s lives.
Eager for a better life he followed his mother, who had left his father, to London in 1876. His departure from Ireland was purely physical, for although he never returned, his writings indicated he often turned to the beauty and the violence of the island for inspiration.
In London he became interested then active in socialism after hearing a speech by Henry George, a socialist and political-economist. He was also inspired by the writings of Marx and Engels. He became a socialist in 1882, joined the Fabian Society in 1884, and sat on the executive committee for many years. Shaw was a pamphleteer and spoke at busy street corners delivering the message of socialism. It is estimated that he delivered more than one thousand speeches, which gave him practical knowledge about what would grab people’s attention and what would entertain them long enough to get a message across.
During the mid-1880s he stared a friendship with William Archer. Brought together by a love of the writer Ibsen, Archer and Shaw often talked of collaborating on a play, but they never did. It was Shaw who emulated the Scandinavian with the play The Quintessence of Ibsenism produced in 1891. Archer did help Shaw find work as a journalist. As a journalist, Shaw used the pen name Corno di Bassetto. He worked for The Star during 1888 to 1890 and became a recognized music critic. Shaw then became the drama critic for The Saturday Review between 1895 and 1898, using his initials G.B.S. in the byline. His articles from this period were bundled into Our Theater in the Nineties, a three volume collection published in 1932.
Shaw wrote a number of novels while in London. Although they were not commercially successful they were a forecast of strong political and social writings to follow. His first published novel was Cashel Byron’s Profession in 1886. An Unsocial Socialist followed in 1887 and before the end of his career he would return to novel writing, publishing The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God, a socio-political parable, in 1932.
After a false start as a novelist, Shaw turned to writing drama. This early period is considered, by some, an extension of his newspaper days where there is a heavy emphasis on social and artistic criticism, but not as much thought to the dramatic text. Many of his early plays were considered too strong to initially garner the approval of the censors. Early plays that had later productions were Mrs. Warren Profession written in 1893, performed privately in 1902, publicly in New York in 1905 and in England in 1924. And The Philanderer which was written in 1893, and performed in 1905. Shaw’s first play that was staged in England was Arms of the Man in 1894.
Shaw married a wealthy woman, Charlotte Payne- Townsend, in 1897, a year in which he also dedicated his energies to the art of producing theater. Successful productions which followed were Candida in 1897, The Devil’s Disciple in 1897, The Man of Destiny in 1897, You Can Never Tell in 1899 and Captain Brassbound’s Conversation in 1900. These plays have been grouped together because they show emerging themes which Shaw continued to develop throughout his career. In them Shaw attacks routine, the customs and manners of the petty bourgeois, and praises those who set out on their own course and hold true to a code that defies accepted standards. To the public he was known as the “enfant terrible.” Shaw pulled audiences into topical, political debates and demanded them to think intelligently about issues.
Shaw became popular through the productions of his plays at the Royal Court Theater between 1904-1907. One such play was Man and Superman, first performed at the Royal Court Theater in 1905 and published in 1908. The title is an allusion to the work of the philosopher Nietzsche who thought man could obtain a higher state if he threw away accepted morals doled out by the church and state. In this play Shaw seeks a new religion or ethic and expounds on the joy of creative evolution. He believed in a “life force,” the need for geniuses to drive society to new levels.
Other plays produced at the Royal Court Theater by Harley Granville-Barker and J.E. Vedrenne were John Bull’s Other Island in 1904, How He Lied to Her Husband in 1904, Major Barbara in 1905 and Doctor’s Dilemma in 1906. In 1909 Shaw came under scrutiny from the censorship board again which denounced all his plays as immoral. His 1913 play Pygmalion is considered his comic masterpiece.
Shaw’s later works such as Heartbreak House in 1920, Back to Methuselah in 1922, and Saint Joan in 1923 were considered revolutionary in form and technique and influenced the production of theater in the 1920s. Later works, such as The Apple Cart staged in 1929, have not been presented with the same enthusiasm as his earlier works, perhaps because of their experimental dramatic nature.
Later in life he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925, but gave the money to the Anglo -Swedish Literary Foundation, a organization dedicated to the study and promotion of Nordic authors. With some of his earnings, he indulged in travel, first to Russia in 1931, then around the world with his wife in 1932.
Shaw continued to write on a number of social, political and ethical issues such as How to Settle the Irish Question in 1917, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism in 1928 and Everybody’s Political What’s What in 1944. Shaw has been criticized for being a teacher and a propagandist who used the theater only to send a message. However, he has surpassed his contemporaries such as Sheridan and Oscar Wilde, and created art that is presented and enjoyed today.
Shaw, who was a strict vegetarian and did not drink alcohol, coffee or tea, lived to be ninety-four.
Harley Granville-Barker, George Bernard Shaw’s friend produced 11 of his plays in less than three years at the Royal Court Theatre. These included:
The Devil’s Disciple (1897)
Caesar and Cleopatra (1898)
Man and Superman (1903)
This last play contains the scene ‘Don Juan in Hell’ which is often performed as a separate work.
Man and Superman introduced Shaw’s theory of what he called the ‘life force’ – To George, the life force was the energy that dominates people biologically. However, when harnessed by human will, the life force can lead to a higher, more creative existence. This concept is central to Shaw’s most ambitious play, the five part Back to Methuselah (1918-1920) a fable that traces the entire history of humanity.
Saint Joan (1923), a drama about the individual in conflict with historical necessity, is widely regarded as Shaw’s masterpiece. But some critics prefer Pygmalion (1912). This ironic Cinderella story describes how a professor of phonetics (speech sounds) demonstrates the absurdity of class distinctions by changing an ignorant Cockney girl into a counterfeit aristocrat by changing her speech. The play was adapted into the musical ‘My Fair Lady’ (1956). Shaw’s other plays include Major Barbara (1905), The Doctor’s Dilemma (1906), Androcles and the Lion (1913), and Heartbreak House (1919)
Here’s some Quotes by George Bernard Shaw:
Make it a rule never to give a child a book you would not read yourself.
What we want is to see the chid in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge in pursuit of the child.
I am afraid we must make the world honest before we can honestly say to our children that ‘Honesty is the Best Policy’
A happy family is but an early heaven.
Perhaps the greatest social service that can be rendered by anybody to the country and to mankind is to bring up a family.
Power does not corrupt men; fools, however, if they get into a position of power, corrupt power.
If you leave the smallest corner of your head vacant for a moment, other people’s opinions will rush in from all quarters.
Life contains but two tragedies. One is not to get your heart’s desire; the other is to get it.
When I was young, I observed that nine out of ten things I did were failures. So I did ten times more work.
If women were particular about men’s characters, they would never get married at all.
by Bernard Shaw
There are twelve numbers on the face of my clock,
I know that it’s happy for it goes tick tock.
It has two hands, one large, one quite small,
They go round and round as it hangs on the wall,
I think you know that they are playing a game,
Each time that I look, it is always the same.
They chase each other day after day,
Around they go from June until May.
What are they doing to tell the time?
Copying one another with hands that mime.
As they pass each number they seem to say,
Please don’t hinder me, I’m still on my way.
The large hand says it’s really not fair,
I seem to be doing more than my share.
The little hand laughs and said what fun,
I love seeing you go past always on the run.
Some people you know don’t like my old clock,
But it keeps me happy, as it goes TICK TOCK.
MY FRONT ROOM
by Bernard Shaw
There’s been a battle in my front room.
The shovel fought against the broom.
You should have heard my old arm chair.
It said, ‘Go on Lads, I don’t care.’
A picture of Lord Kitchener upon the wall,
‘Let out a hearty rallying call,’
Your country needs you, That’s the stuff.
The Aspidistra said, ‘She’d had enough.’
The Sofa cried with piercing shriek.
‘You are making my old springs squeak.
It’s bad enough to watch you fight,
I’m sure to have a very rough night.’
The light shade called, ‘That’s enough from you,
You need re-stuffing you silly old Moo.’
The Tele in the corner has the hump,
It’s got four legs and cannot jump.
It in turn had a go at the books upon the shelves.
But they held knowledge and could defend themselves.
Even the Carpet on the floor was mad,
Its colours were the same as the Wallpaper had.
But the curtains had the best time of all,
They kept telling the windows they were having a ball.
The Clock upon the mantel-piece,
Said ‘It’s time I think to call the Police.’
But what do you know as I entered the room,
All was quiet as shovel kissed broom.
by Bernard Shaw
I see the fresh blossoms on the trees,
And know that spring is here at last.
This does my old heart please,
As it has done in the years gone past.
Soon fruit ripened in a warming sun,
Will be ours to pick and eat.
Nature has her work well done,
Where no human can compete.
Blowing rippling through the trees,
There plays a gentle summer breeze.
Telling us that all is well,
For spring has cast her magic spell.
Blossoms do the poet inspire,
His pen will write the rest.
Our hopes rise higher and higher,
As we are with blossoms blest.
by Bernard Shaw
My spirits soar on high,
Inebriated with thoughts so pure.
I now can fly,
Nothing is obscure.
Spiritual healing is taking place,
As I rise to heavens realms.
Beams of joy cover my face,
Nothing can me overwhelm.
I have seen the heavens gates,
Beautiful light paves the way,
Music sweet to soul and ear,
I have nothing more to say.
FROM ED DESK
Reading George Bernard Shaw’s Works is a genuine treat:-) Recently, his birthday reminded me of my love for George Bernard Shaw’s work since school days. Shaw is my favorite of the Victorian playwrights. His works were revolutionary in many ways. He used Humor exceptionally and even tackled serious moral, political, an…d social issues in his plays at a time when sappy dramas were all the rage. He had an amazing ability to make people think while simultaneously making them laugh. As our children learn about this Author in school, here’s sharing his quote : “What we want is to see the child in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge in pursuit of the child. ” George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion (1912) – This ironic Cinderella story describes how a professor of phonetics (speech sounds) demonstrates the absurdity of class distinctions by changing an ignorant Cockney girl into a counterfeit aristocrat by changing her speech. The play was adapted into the musical ‘My Fair Lady’ (1956). And, my favorite song from this movie has ever been ‘Lots of Chocolates for me to eat’ ( Songs Page ). Teachers may get the class to sing the song and follow the George Bernard Shaw Literature Project in the classroom. Enjoy.