by George Bernard Shaw
Mark Deakins, Willow Geer, Johnathan McClain
Dominic's Parsonage across from
George Bernard Shaw and the Politics of Playwriting
George Bernard Shaw was born in Dublin in 1856. When he was 19, he moved to London, where he started writing. In his twenties, he wrote 5 novels--all were rejected--and he also wrote for newspapers and magazines--first as an art critic, and later as a music and theatre critic.
Shaw was significantly influenced by Karl Marx's writings. He became a dedicated socialist, believing that income, land, and capital should be divided equally among the people and that capitalism was deeply flawed and unlikely to last. In 1884, he became a charter member of the Fabian Society, a middle-class organization promoting the gradual--and peaceful--spread of socialism. Through the years, he wrote various pamphlets, and at socialist rallies, he stood on soapboxes lecturing his views. With some of his Fabian colleagues, he co-founded the London School of Economics and Political Science, and in 1895, and he met Charlotte Payne-Townshend, an Irish heiress and fellow Fabian member, whom he married in 1898.
By this time, Shaw had also turned his attention to playwriting, and his political and social views can be seen throughout his work. His early plays were published as Plays Pleasant and Unpleasant in 1898. The "unpleasant" plays include Widower's Houses--his first play, produced in 1892--about slum landlordism and Mrs. Warren's Profession, an attack of the Victorian attitude toward prostitution. The "pleasant" plays include Arms and the Man, which satirizes romantic attitudes toward love and war, and Candida, which questions Victorian notions of love and marriage.
In the early 1900s, Shaw's work continued to explore his political and social ideas. Man and Superman (1902) is about an idealistic, cerebral man who succumbs to marriage, and Major Barbara (1905) is a drama of ideas, largely about poverty and capitalism. Pygmalion (1913) satirizes the English class system through the story of a cockney girl's transformation into a lady by a speech professor. Pygmalion is Shaw's most successful work, having inspired the musical and film My Fair Lady, for which Shaw won the Academy Award
for writing the screenplay. The outbreak of war in 1914 changed Shaw's life. For him, the war represented everything that was wrong with capitalism. He published his antiwar views in a series of newspaper articles, which brought him considerable criticism in England. His play Heartbreak House (written between 1913 and 1916) deals with the effects of World War I on England and incorporates his feelings of bitterness and despair about British politics and society.
After the war, Shaw's status as a playwright continued to grow with plays such as Back to Methuselah (1921), Saint Joan (1923), and The Apple Cart (1929). Over his lifetime, he wrote 63 plays, and in 1925, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for his body of work. Shaw lived the rest of his life as an international celebrity, traveling the world and remaining committed to the socialist cause. He died in 1950 at age 94 from renal failure with injuries incurred from a fall at his home.
"My way of joking is to tell the truth. It is the funniest joke in the world."
--George Bernard Shaw
Darin Anthony, Pablo Avelar, Wendy Avelar, Derek Bjornson,