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George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw George Bernard Shaw[1†]

George Bernard Shaw, known at his insistence simply as Bernard Shaw, was an Irish playwright, critic, polemicist, and political activist[1†]. His influence on Western theatre, culture, and politics extended from the 1880s to his death and beyond[1†]. He wrote more than sixty plays, including major works such as Man and Superman (1902), Pygmalion (1913), and Saint Joan (1923)[1†]. With a range incorporating both contemporary satire and historical allegory, Shaw became the leading dramatist of his generation[1†]. In 1925, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature[1†].

Born on July 26, 1856, in Dublin, Ireland, Shaw moved to London in 1876[1†][2†]. There, he struggled to establish himself as a writer and novelist, and embarked on a rigorous process of self-education[1†]. By the mid-1880s, he had become a respected theatre and music critic[1†]. Following a political awakening, he joined the gradualist Fabian Society and became its most prominent pamphleteer[1†]. Shaw had been writing plays for years before his first public success, Arms and the Man in 1894[1†]. Influenced by Henrik Ibsen, he sought to introduce a new realism into English-language drama, using his plays as vehicles to disseminate his political, social, and religious ideas[1†].

Shaw’s expressed views were often contentious; he promoted eugenics and alphabet reform, and opposed vaccination and organized religion[1†]. He courted unpopularity by denouncing both sides in the First World War as equally culpable[1†]. And although not a republican, he castigated British policy on Ireland in the postwar period[1†]. These stances had no lasting effect on his standing or productivity as a dramatist[1†]. In 1938, he provided the screenplay for a filmed version of Pygmalion, for which he received an Academy Award[1†].

Shaw passed away on November 2, 1950, in Ayot St. Lawrence, Hertfordshire, England[1†][3†]. Since Shaw’s death, scholarly and critical opinion about his works has varied, but he has regularly been rated among British dramatists as second only to Shakespeare[1†]. Analysts recognize his extensive influence on generations of English-language playwrights[1†].

Early Years and Education

George Bernard Shaw was born on July 26, 1856, in Dublin, Ireland[3†][4†]. He was the youngest of three children[3†][5†]. His family belonged to the Protestant “ascendancy”—the landed Irish gentry—but his father was first a sinecured civil servant and then an unsuccessful grain merchant[3†]. As a result, Shaw grew up in an atmosphere of genteel poverty, which he found more humiliating than being merely poor[3†].

Shaw’s mother, Lucinda Elizabeth Gurly Shaw, was a professional singer, and her career greatly influenced his interest in music, art, and literature[3†][5†]. Despite having a less formal education, Shaw developed a wide knowledge of art, literature, and music due to his visits to the National Gallery of Ireland and his mother’s influence[3†][6†].

Shaw did not like school, so he left at an early age to go to work[3†][4†]. At first, he was tutored by a clerical uncle, and he basically rejected the schools he then attended[3†]. By age 16, he was working in a land agent’s office[3†].

In 1876, Shaw decided to become a writer and moved to London, where his mother and sister had already settled[3†][4†]. He remained relatively impoverished throughout his 20s, trying his hand at novel-writing several times to no avail[3†][5†]. However, this period laid the foundation of his writing career, for which reading was a prerequisite[3†][6†].

Career Development and Achievements

In the 1880s, Shaw began his career as a professional art and music critic[7†]. Writing reviews of operas and symphonies eventually led to his new and more satisfying role as a theater critic[7†]. His efforts proved fruitful as his play, Arms and the Man, a mock-Ruritanian comedy, brought him financial success[7†][6†].

Shaw’s career as a dramatist began slowly with his plays unappreciated or, as in the case of Mrs. Warren’s Profession, banned[7†][8†]. He was recognized as a great wit after his production of Arms and the Man in 1894[7†][8†]. However, with the production of Man and Superman in 1905, his fame as a serious playwright was established[7†][8†].

Influenced by Henrik Ibsen, Shaw sought to introduce a new realism into English-language drama, using his plays as vehicles to disseminate his political, social, and religious ideas[7†][1†]. By the early twentieth century, his reputation as a dramatist was secured with a series of critical and popular successes that included Major Barbara, The Doctor’s Dilemma, and Caesar and Cleopatra[7†][1†].

Shaw’s expressed views were often contentious; he promoted eugenics and alphabet reform, and opposed vaccination and organized religion[7†][1†]. He courted unpopularity by denouncing both sides in the First World War as equally culpable[7†][1†]. And although not a republican, he castigated British policy on Ireland in the postwar period[7†][1†]. These stances had no lasting effect on his standing or productivity as a dramatist[7†][1†]. The inter-war years saw a series of often ambitious plays, which achieved varying degrees of popular success[7†][1†].

In 1938, he provided the screenplay for a filmed version of Pygmalion, for which he received an Academy Award[7†][1†]. His appetite for politics and controversy remained undiminished; by the late 1920s, he had largely renounced Fabian Society gradualism, and often wrote and spoke favorably of dictatorships of the right and left—he expressed admiration for both Mussolini and Stalin[7†][1†].

First Publication of His Main Works

George Bernard Shaw was a prolific writer who produced more than sixty plays[9†]. His works were characterized by contemporary satire and historical allegory, making him the leading dramatist of his generation[9†]. Here are some of his main works:

Each of these works reflects Shaw’s unique blend of wit, social criticism, and character development. His plays continue to be performed and studied today, attesting to his enduring impact on the world of drama[9†].

Analysis and Evaluation

George Bernard Shaw was a rationalist, anti-romantic, and a realist writer[10†]. His plays never achieved widespread popularity or were not general recognition in the theater[10†]. His plays are difficult to understand without glossary or explanation[10†]. His plays do not follow the conventional merits of playwriting[10†].

Shaw was a didact, a preacher who readily acknowledged that the stage was his pulpit[10†][11†]. In startling contrast to his contemporary Oscar Wilde and Wilde’s fellow aesthetes, Shaw asserted that he would not commit a single sentence to paper for art’s sake alone; yet he beat the aesthetes at their own artistic game[10†][11†]. Though he preached socialism, creative evolution, the abolition of prisons, and real equality for women, and railed against the insincerity of motives for war, he did so as a jester in some of the finest comedy ever written[10†][11†]. He had no desire to be a martyr and insisted that, though his contemporaries might merely laugh at his plays, “a joke is an earnest in the womb of time.” The next generation would get his point, even if the current generation was only entertained[10†][11†]. Many of the next generations have gotten his point, and Shaw’s argument—that he who writes for all time will discover that he writes for no time—seems to have been borne out[10†][11†]. Only by saying something to the age can one say something to posterity[10†][11†].

Shaw’s works discuss ideas, practices, discourses, and ideologies that are considered to be antecedents to the modern feminist movements[10†][12†]. His works showcase his unique blend of wit, social criticism, and character development[10†][11†].

Personal Life

George Bernard Shaw was born on July 26, 1856, in Dublin, Ireland[1†][10†]. He was the third and youngest child of George Carr Shaw and Lucinda Elizabeth Gurly Shaw[1†][3†][1†]. His father was an unsuccessful grain merchant, and his mother was a professional singer[1†][7†]. Shaw grew up in an atmosphere of genteel poverty, which he found more humiliating than being merely poor[1†][3†][1†].

Shaw’s mother, Lucinda Elizabeth Shaw, was a significant influence on his life. Her career as a professional singer influenced his interest in music, art, and literature[1†][5†]. Shaw was tutored by a clerical uncle in his early years, and he essentially rejected the schools he then attended[1†][3†]. By the age of 16, he was working in a land agent’s office[1†][3†].

In 1898, Shaw married Charlotte Payne-Townshend, a fellow Fabian and an Irish heiress[1†]. They were married until her death in 1943[1†]. The couple had no children[1†].

Shaw passed away on November 2, 1950, at the age of 94, in Ayot St. Lawrence, Hertfordshire, England[1†].

Conclusion and Legacy

George Bernard Shaw’s legacy is enduring and multifaceted. He was a visionary and mystic whose philosophy of moral passion permeates his plays[13†]. His influence on Western theatre, culture, and politics extended from the 1880s to his death and beyond[13†][1†]. He wrote more than sixty plays, including major works such as Man and Superman (1902), Pygmalion (1913), and Saint Joan (1923)[13†][1†]. With a range incorporating both contemporary satire and historical allegory, Shaw became the leading dramatist of his generation[13†][1†][14†].

Shaw’s expressed views were often contentious; he promoted eugenics and alphabet reform, and opposed vaccination and organized religion[13†][1†]. He courted unpopularity by denouncing both sides in the First World War as equally culpable[13†][1†]. These stances had no lasting effect on his standing or productivity as a dramatist[13†][1†].

In the final decade of his life, he made fewer public statements but continued to write prolifically until shortly before his death, aged ninety-four[13†][1†]. Since Shaw’s death, scholarly and critical opinion about his works has varied, but he has regularly been rated among British dramatists as second only to Shakespeare[13†][1†]. Analysts recognize his extensive influence on generations of English-language playwrights[13†][1†].

Shaw’s relationship with Ireland offers a keen insight into his enduring legacy[13†][15†]. He was a trenchant pamphleteer, the most readable music critic in English, the best theatre critic of his generation, a prodigious lecturer and essayist on politics, economics, and sociological subjects, and one of the most prolific letter writers in literature[13†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - George Bernard Shaw [website] - link
  2. Britannica - George Bernard Shaw summary [website] - link
  3. Britannica - George Bernard Shaw: Irish dramatist and critic [website] - link
  4. Britannica Kids - George Bernard Shaw [website] - link
  5. Britannica - What was George Bernard Shaw’s early life like? [website] - link
  6. Literary Devices - George Bernard Shaw [website] - link
  7. ThoughtCo - Fast Facts About George Bernard Shaw's Life and Plays [website] - link
  8. LiteratureApp - George Bernard Shaw [website] - link
  9. Wikipedia (English) - List of works by George Bernard Shaw [website] - link
  10. LitPriest - George Bernard Shaw's Writing Style & Short Biography [website] - link
  11. eNotes - George Bernard Shaw Analysis [website] - link
  12. Taylor and Francis - The Feminist Shaw [website] - link
  13. Britannica - George Bernard Shaw - Playwright, Nobel Prize, Critic [website] - link
  14. Yale University - The Modernism Lab - George Bernard Shaw [website] - link
  15. Dublin.ie - The Enduring Legacy of George Bernard Shaw [website] - link
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