Major Works of George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw had a great passion for writing. He never enjoyed the various jobs he did before seriously writing. He could not keep himself away from writing; it was his breath. He said, “As long as I live I must write. If stopped writing I should die for want of something to do” Come of his major plays have been discussed below:
Widower’s Houses (1892)
Shaw started writing this play in 1885, in collaboration with William Archer. This was his first play. It had to be left unfinished because William Archer withdrew his collaboration. Seven years later in 1892, Shaw completed it. What happens in the play is matter of few lines. A young doctor falls in love with a young girl. He is shocked to find that her father became rich by exploiting slum-dwellers. This play deals with slum-landlordism, and municipal jobbery. The play appears to be an economic essay in dramatic form. The characters represent hypocrites. The play was a failure, although it gave a shock to the public because it dealt with the evils of slum landlordism.
Mrs. Warren’s Profession (1893)
This play was written in 1893 but it could not be produced before 1925 because of the ban, and the objections raised by J.T. Green and Lord Chamberlain. It is a play on prostitution. In this play the evils of capitalism which turn women into prostitutes, are brought to light.
Mrs. Warren like her sister was born in a slum and became a prostitute and prospered well. Her sister Lizzy, who is only mentioned in the play, collected so much money out of his this profession that she retired to a cathedral city. Mrs. Warren becomes the Managing Director of a chain of hotel-brothels. She keeps her only daughter Vivie, who has received the best education ignorant of the source of her income. Vivie wants to know the name of her father, but her mother does not know it hersel. The situation reaches the climax when Vivie and her lover Frank Gardner are informed that her father is the vicar of the parish. This would mean that Vivie and Frank are half-sister and brother. Vivie revolts and frees herself both from her mother and from her lover. At the end of the play there is that the vicar could have been, but is not the father of Vivie.
Arms and the Man (1894)
The title of this play is taken from the first line of the translation by John Dryden of the Latin poet Virgil’s epic, The Aeneid ‘Arma Viumque Cano; (I sing of arms and the man). It was written and produced in 1894. In this play, which is an anti-romantic comedy, Shaw opposes and criticises the romantic ideas about love and war. The original name of the play was Alps and Balkans, because the story is based on an incident in a war between Bulgaria and Austria in 1885. The Petkoffs represent an aristocratic Bulgarian family consisting of Major Petkoff, his wife Catherine and their daughter Raina whose head is full of romantic ideas. She is love with and engaged to Sergius, a military hero. Bluntschli, a Swiss, who has
joined the Serbian army as hired soldier, has no false ideas about war. One night, as fugitive, he jumps into the bed room of Raina. He tells her that Sergius won the battle wrongfully. Raina is impressed with this man. She starts loving him. On the other hand Sergius develops a fascination towards Louka, a maid- servant. He flirts with her. When he comes to know about the bed room episode, he challenges Bluntschli to a duel. At this moment it is revealed that he been flirting with Louka. So Raina, In the end, breaks off with Sergius and decides to marry Bluntschli.
Candida, written in 1894 and produced in 1895, is considered to be one of the best play of Shaw. It is a serious comedy. Candida, has to choose between her husband and Reverend James Morell and her lover, the poet Eugene Marchbanks. Morell is an able parish priest. He is a noble person and a loving husband. He thinks that he protects his wife with his strength, and ability. But he does not realise that he is a parasite on Candida. Eugene Marchbanks is a poet. He does not like Morell but is not jealous of him. When Candia has to choose between the two, she prefers her husband who is the weaker of the two. The poet goes out into the night.
The Devil’s Disciple (1896)
The hero Richard Dudgeon is considered to be the Devil’s Disciple as he has no faith in conventional morality. He is not a disciple of God; but one who does not obey God is not necessarily a disciple of the Devil. The hero is a man with an original morality and is guided by his own instincts. He is considered to be an outcast from society. But there is nothing particularly devilish about him. The people hate and criticize him only because he does not accept their religion. Richard is arrested by the British soldiers mistaking him to the priest, with whose wife Judith he was staying. He goes away with the soldiers telling Judith to send her husband to some safe place. Her husband, Anderson runs away like a coward. Judith tries to save demonstrates that while the hero is guided not by a fixed code of morality but by his instincts, Anthony Anderson is guided by an external code of morality.
Caesar and Cleopatra (1898)
This play, written in 1898 and performed in London in 1907, has been written on a grand scale. The hero is a man who is the master of his own mind. However, Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra both are completely different from the Caesar and Cleopatra of Shakespeare. Shaw follows Plutarch in this play. The Caesar of Shaw is not faithful portrait of a historical character, but rather his conception of greatness of greatness. He is a genius and docs not believe in revenge and bloodshed. In this play Cleopatra is a girl of 16. Caesar is fifty years old. Caesar’s rival Pompey had been killed. Ponthius banished Cleopatra. Caesar took Cleopatra’s side and developed her self-confidence. Caesar leaves Egypt. Throughout the play, there is nothing like romantic fascination Caesar sums up the theme of the play, when he says, “To the end of history murder shall breed murder.”
Captain Brassbound’s Conversion (1899)
This play was written in 1899 and produced in 1900. Shaw deals with an important social institution, law and justice in this play. The setting of the play is unusual and the plot is full of sensational happenings.
Sir Howard Hallam, a respectable British Judge, visits Mogador, a sea-port on the west coast of Morocco, in the company of his wife’s sister Lady Cicely Waynflete. Lady Cicely insists on an excursion to the Atlas Mountains where Shelley’s witch lived. Their host Ranein, a Scotch missionary, provides them an escort under the command of Captain Brassbound, the leader of a smuggling party composed of rascals and ex-convicts them bravely but intends handing Sir Howard to Sheikh Sidiel Assif, who hates Christians. Brassbound thinks that his uncle maltreated his mother and robbed him of the property after the death of his father in Brazil. Lady Cicely tries to show him the absurdity of his action.
Man and Superman (1903)
Written in 1903, it is one of the finest plays of Shaw, it established him as the leader of the new drama. It is a comedy about Shavian philosophy of ‘Life Force‘ It has the sub-title “A Comedy and Philosophy” The play when produced was quite successful and showed the conquest of the audience by the drama of ideas. The play is written on Don Juan theme. In a Spanish legend Don Juan loved and betrayed many women. Among these women one Donna Anna. Don Juan killed her father in a duel. In this play, Shaw reverses the theme. The woman becomes the pursuer and the man is pursued. In this Life Force can be fulfilled. In this play Ann is the beloved. John Tanner, the lover, tries to run away, but she follows him. A.C. Ward thinks that in Man and Superman. Shaw ‘established in English drama a new genre- the comedy of Purpose’
John Bull’s other Island (1904)
This play was written in 1904 at the suggestion of W.B. Yeats for the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. It is a very powerful and highly realistic play about Ireland, the land of humour, delicacy, dreams and romance along with suffering and handship and exploitation.
Major Barbara (1905)
The main theme of this play is poverty. The title suggests that Barbara is the chief character in the play, but the principal character appears to be Andrew Undershaft, her father, who is a domineering man. Though the play is full of fun, it is also a tragedy of Barbara who discovers her utter dependence on a corrupt social organism. Shaw appears to have been careless in writing this play, because its acts are unequally constructed. Barbara, the heroine of the play, was the daughter of Mr. Undershaft, a manufacturer of arms. But she did not know this fact as her mother Lady Britomart was separated from her husband. Barbara was brought up by her mother. She became a Major in the Salvation Army, a religious institution. In the end, she is shocked to know that the money to the Salvation Army a come from the Capitalists and the manufacturers of Arms like her father. She cries, “My God, why hast thou forsaken me.”
The Doctor’s Dilemma (1906)
This play is comedy with a death in it. It has written brilliantly, trough it lacks thematic unity. The main theme does not become clear till the end. The fifth act has been unnecessarily added. All the principal characters except Louis Dubedat appear in the first act of the play. Colenso Ridgeon, a doctor, discovers a new treatment for tuberculosis. He is in love Jennifer, the wife of Dubedat, an artist. One day, the doctor meets his friend Dr. Blekinsop. Both, the artist and the doctor are suffering from tuberculosis. Dr. Ridgeon has one bed spare. He is in a dilemma as to whom he should admit. In the end, he admits Dr. Blenkinsop and Bubedat dies of tuberculosis.
Heartbreak House (1913)
Shaw started writing this play in 1913 and finished it in 1919. It is modelled on Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard and is different from the previous play of Shaw. The play is full of talk, and load discussions, and does not have a proper plot. Many ideas and themes like religion, politics war, love, society and education have been dealt with in this play. Shaw displays all the qualities of his genius through this play. His wit, paradoxes, ideas criticism, philosophy and propaganda all are present in Heartbreak house. He fills this with wisdom and beauty.
Back to Methuselah (1918)
It is a magnificent and bold attempt to dramatic the history, the aspirations and the future of mankind. It is actually a chain of five plays. According to Shaw, this play is his masterpiece. It has been given the sub-title, ‘A Metabiological Pentateuch‘. He also calls it “a second legend of Creative Evolution without distractions and embellishments” The play is in five parts. In the part, the Serpent tells Eve that the only way of living for ever is by bringing forth young ones. Adam agrees to begin again and again as a snake sheds his skin. The second part shows the zenith of evils. Barnaby brothers have found out the secret of longevity. The third part is 2170 A.D. A clergyman and a maid- servant extend their lives to 250 years and get married. The fourth part depicts 3000 A.D.A new race of long diving of men had emerged. The fifth part shows the year 3120 A.D. Children are born fully developed as if they were men of 18. At last Adam, Eve, Cain and the Serpent reappear as shadows Lilith says, “of only there is end.”
Saint Joan (1923)
This play is considered to be Shaw’s best play. It consists of six scenes. It reveals the events of two and a quarter years of history from February 1429 to May 1431 in a dramatic form. In this play Shaw has suppressed his tendency towards humour and propaganda. Thus this play is superior to and different from other plays. The suggestion of writing this play was given to Shaw by his wife, Charlotte, Joan of Arc, a peasant girl used to hear the voices of St. Catherine and St. Margaret. The voices asked her to save her country. Joan put on soldier’s dress and fought so bravely that the English were defeated by the French. The maiden-crowned Charles as king at the Rheims Cathedral. This was tolerated neither by clergymen nor by politicians. She was sold to the British as a prisoner of war. An ecclesiastical court tried her and she was burnt as a witch on 31st May, 1431. In 1920 she was canonized as a saint. The Epilogue of the play is ironical. Joan is worshipped by all, but when she wants to come back, nobody is ready to receive her. She exclaims, “O God that madest this beautiful earth, when will it be ready to receive they saints? How long, O Lord how long ?”
The Apple Cart (1929)
It is an important play as it reveals Shaw’s political ideas. Shaw did not consider it to be a significant play but it was highly successful from the consider it to be a significant play but it was highly successful from the dramatic point of view. This play fully illustrates Shaw’s wit and wisdom. It consists of two acts and interlude and is loosely constructed. The interlude is not connected with the play and appears unnecessary. It shows a confrontation between King Magnus and the Prime Minister and his cabinet ministers. It appears to be a conflict between aristocracy and democracy but Shaw reveals in the Preface that actually the conflict lies between plutocracy (a Government run by capitalists) and aristocracy and democracy combined.
English Literature— Important links
- Sonnet 29- When, in disgrace with fortune (William Shakespeare)
- SONNET 138- When my love swears (Analysis and Explanation)
- Critical review of Sonnet Writing of William Shakespeare
- “Paradise Lost” (Lines 242-272) John Milton | Summary & Analysis
- Speeches of Satan in Book I of Paradise Lost (By John Milton)
- Absalom and Achitophel (John Dryden)- Introduction & Summary
- Explanations of Absalom and Achitophel (Line by line analysis)
- O Captain! My Captain! (Walt Whitman)- Summary, Analysis & Explanation
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