1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Shaw, George Bernard
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Shaw, George Bernard
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SHAW, GEORGE BERNARD (1856- ), British dramatist and publicist, was born in Dublin on the 26th of July 1856. His father, George Carr Shaw, was a retired civil servant, the younger son of Bernard Shaw, high sheriff of Kilkenny. His mother, Lucinda Elizabeth Gurly, was a good musician, who eventually became a teacher of singing in London. G. B. Shaw went to school in Dublin, and began to earn his living when he was fifteen. He was for five years a clerk in the office of an Irish land-agent, but came to London with his family in 1876, and in 1879 was, according to his own account in the preface to The Irrational Knot, in the offices of the Edison telephone company. He had begun to write novels, which did not immediately find their market. The Irrational Knot, written in 1880, and Love among the Artists (written in 1881) first appeared as serials in Our Corner, a monthly edited by Mrs Annie Besant; Cashel Byron's Profession (reprinted in 1901 in the series of “Novels of his Nonage”) and An Unsocial Socialist'' first appeared in a Socialist magazine To-day, which no longer exists. Shaw joined the Fabian Society in 1884, a year after its formation, and was active in socialistic propaganda, both as a street orator and as a pamphleteer. In 1889 he edited the Fabian Essays, to which he contributed “The Economic Basis of Socialism” and “The Transition to Social Democracy.” He began journalism, through the influence of William Archer, on the reviewing staff of the Pall Mall Gazette in 1885; he then became art and musical critic, writing from 1888 to 1890 for the Star, where his articles were signed “Corno di Bassetto,” and then in 1890 to 1894 for the World. In 1895 to 1898 he was dramatic critic to the Saturday Review, his articles being collected in 1907 as Dramatic Opinions and Essays. He was an early champion of Richard Wagner and of Henrik Ibsen, and indicated his aesthetic point of view in the pamphlets, The Quintessence of Ibsenism (1891) and The Perfect Wagnerite (1898). His first play, Widowers' Houses, two acts of which had been written in 1885 in collaboration with Mr William Archer, was produced by the Independent Theatre under the management of Mr J. T. Grein at the Royalty in 1892. This found few admirers outside Socialist circles, and was hooted by the ordinary playgoer. In 1893 he wrote The Philanderer, a topical comedy on Ibsenism and the “new woman,” for the same theatre, but the piece proved technically unsuitable for Mr Grein's company. To replace it Mr Shaw wrote Mrs Warren's Profession, a powerful but disagreeable play, which was rejected by the censor and not presented until the 5th of January 1902, when it was privately given by the Stage Society at the New Lyric Theatre. When it was played in New York by Mr Arnold Daly's company in 1905 the actors were prosecuted. These three plays were classed by the author as “unpleasant plays” in the printed version. Arms and the Man was produced at the Avenue Theatre (21st of April 1894) by Miss Florence Farr, who was experimenting on the lines of the Independent Theatre, and by Mr Richard Mansfield at the Herald Square Theatre, New York (the 17th of Sept. 1894). The scene was laid in Bulgaria, the piece being a satire on romanticism, a destructive criticism on military “glory.” Candida was written in 1894 for Mr Mansfield, who did not produce it until December 1903; but it was played in Aberdeen in July 1897 by the Independent Theatre Company. This defence of the poetic point of view against brute force and common sense was admirably constructed and it proved one of the most popular of his plays. The pieces which followed are: The Man of Destiny (written in 1895, played at Croydon in 1897 by Mr Murray Carson), a Napoleonic drama, which was revived at New York by Arnold Daly in 1904; You Never Can Tell (written in 1896, produced at the Strand Theatre in 1900), a farcical comedy; The Devil's Disciple (produced at New York by Richard Mansfield in 1897, and in London in 1899), the scene of which is laid in the War of American Independence, Caesar and Cleopatra (1898) and Captain Brassbound's Conversion (1898) — printed as Three Plays for Puritans (1900); The Admirable Bashville (Stage Society, Imperial Theatre, 1903), a dramatization of Cashel Byron's Profession.
He had found no regular English audience when he published Plays Pleasant and Unpleasant (2 vols.) in 1898, and his pieces first became well known to the ordinary playgoer by the performances given at the Royal Court Theatre under the management of Messrs Vedrenne and H. Granville Barker. Man and Superman (published in 1903) was produced there on the 23rd of May 1905, in a necessarily abridged form, with Granville Barker in the part of John Tanner, the author of the “Revolutionists's Handbook and Pocket Companion,” printed as an appendix to the play. Mr Shaw asserted that the piece originated in a suggestion from Mr A. B. Walkley that he should write a Don Juan play, which he proceeded to do in a characteristic topsy-turvy fashion. John Tanner (Juan Tenor) is a voluble exponent of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, who finally falls a victim to the life force in Ann. Major Barbara (Court Theatre, Nov. 1905), a “discussion in three acts,” placed the Salvation Army on the stage. The Vedrenne-Barker management also revived Candida (April 1904), You Never Can Tell (May 1905), Captain Brassbound's Conversion (March 1906) and John Bull's other Island (November 1904), a statement of the Irish land question, which had been produced at the Camden Theatre in 1903, and later by the Stage Society. At the same theatre was produced (20th of November 1906) The Doctor's Dilemma, a satire on the medical profession, and How He lied to Her Husband (Feb. 1905), which had been previously played in New York. Later plays were: Getting Married (1908), The Showing-up of Blanco Posnet (1909) and Press-cuttings (1909). Among Mr Shaw's later writings on economics are: Socialism for Millionaires (1901), The Common Sense of Municipal Trading (1904), and Fabianism and the Fiscal Question (1904). Although an energetic member of the South St Pancras borough council, he failed to secure election to the London County Council when he stood as a candidate in 1904. Mr Shaw married in 1898 Miss Charlotte Frances Payne-Townshend.
There are essays on his work by H. L. Mencken (Boston and London, 1905), by E. E. Hale (Dramatists of To-Day. London, 1906), &c.; “The Plays of Mr Bernard Shaw,” in the Edinburgh Review (April 1905); “Mr Bernard Shaw's Counterfeit Presentment of Women,” in the Fortnightly Review (March 1906); “Bernard Shaw as Critic,” in the Fortnightly Review (June 1907); and an appreciation by Holbrook Jackson, Bernard Shaw (1907).