Shaw was an Irish playwright and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature
in 1925. After those of William Shakespeare, Shaw's plays are some
of the most widely produced in English language theatre.
It should be noted that Shaw hated the name "George",
which was his father's first name, and never used it, either personally
or professionally: he was Bernard Shaw throughout his long career,
not George Bernard Shaw. Unfortunately, since his death it has
become customary to use all three of his names, even in reference
works - hence the heading of this article (which is, arguably,
misleading, but, just as arguably, helpful). His own usage will
be respected below.
Born at 33 Synge Street in Dublin, Ireland to rather poor Church
of Ireland parents, Bernard Shaw was educated at Wesley College,
Dublin and moved to London during the 1870s to embark on his literary
career. He wrote five novels, none of which were published, before
finding his first success as a music critic on the Star newspaper.
He wrote his music criticism under the pseudonym Corno di Bassetto.
In the meantime he had become involved in politics, and served
as a local councillor in the St Pancras district of London for
several years from 1897. He was a noted socialist who took a leading
role in the Fabian Society.
1895, Shaw became the drama critic of the Saturday Review, and
this was the first step in his progress towards a lifetime's work
as a dramatist. In 1898, he married an Irish heiress, Charlotte
Payne-Townshend. His first successful play, Candida, was produced
in the same year. He followed this with a series of classic comedy-dramas,
including The Devil's Disciple (1897), Arms and the Man (1898),
Mrs Warren's Profession (1898), Captain Brassbound's Conversion
(1900), Man and Superman (1903), Caesar and Cleopatra (1901),
Major Barbara (1905), Androcles and the Lion (1912), and Pygmalion
World War I, during which he was a staunch pacifist, he produced
more serious dramas, including Heartbreak House (1919) and Saint
Joan (1923). A characteristic of Shaw's published plays is the
lengthy prefaces that accompany them. In these essays, Shaw wrote
more about his usually controversial opinions on the issues touched
by the plays than about the plays themselves. Some prefaces are
much longer than the actual play.
political turmoil in his native country did not leave him untouched.
Shaw campaigned against the executions of the rebel leaders of
the Easter Rising, and he became a personal friend of the Cork-born
IRA leader Michael Collins, whom he invited to his home for dinner
while Collins was negotiating the Anglo-Irish Treaty with Lloyd-George
in London. After Collins's assassination in 1922, Shaw sent a
personal message of condolence to one of Collins's sisters.
correspondence with Mrs Patrick Campbell was adapted for the stage
by Jerome Kilty as DEAR LIAR: A Comedy of Letters. His letters
to another prominent actress, Ellen Terry, have also been published
the time of his death, Shaw was not only a household name in Britain,
but a world figure. His ironic wit endowed the language with the
adjective "Shavian" to refer to such clever observations
as "England and America are two countries divided by a common
about the inconsistency of English spelling, he willed a portion
of his wealth to fund the creation of a new phonemic alphabet
for the English language. On his death bed, he did not have much
money to leave, so no effort was made to start such a project.
However, his estate began to earn significant royalties from the
rights to Pygmalion when My Fair Lady, a musical adapted from
the play by his comrade film producer Gabriel Pascal, became a
hit. It then became clear that the will was so badly worded that
the relatives had grounds to challenge the will, and in the end
an-out-of-court settlement granted only a small portion of the
money to promoting a new alphabet. This became known as the Shavian
alphabet. The National Gallery of Ireland, RADA and the British
Museum all received substantial bequests.
had a long time friendship with G. K. Chesterton, the Catholic-convert
British writer, and there are many humorous stories about their
complicated relationship. Another great friend was the composer
Edward Elgar. Shaw's correspondence with the motion picture producer
Gabriel Pascal, who was the first to successfully bring Shaw's
plays to the screen and who later adapted Pygmalion into "My
Fair Lady," is published in a book titled Bernard Shaw and
is the only person ever to have won both a Nobel Prize (for Literature
in 1925) and an Academy Award (Best Screenplay for Pygmalion in
1906 until his death in 1950 at the age of 94 from natural causes,
Shaw lived at Shaw's Corner in the small village of Ayot St Lawrence,
Hertfordshire. The house is now a National Trust property, open
to the public.
Shaw Theatre, Euston Road, London was opened in 1971 and named
in his honour. The Shaw Festival, an annual theater festival in
Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, began as an eight week run of Don
Juan in Hell and Candida in 1962 and has grown into an annual
festival with over 800 performances a year, dedicated to producing
the works of Shaw and his contemporaries.
stage play based on a book by Hugh Whitemore, The Best of Friends,
provides a window on the friendships of Dame Laurentia McLachlan,
OSB (late Abbess of Stanbrook) with Sir Sydney Cockerell and Shaw
through adaptations from their letters and writings.
and political beliefs
Shaw had a vision (letter to Henry James of January 17, 1909):
as a Socialist, have had to preach, as much as anyone, the enormous
power of the environment. We can change it; we must change it;
there is absolutely no other sense in life than the task of changing
it. What is the use of writing plays, what is the use of writing
anything, if there is not a will which finally moulds chaos itself
into a race of gods.”
held that each class worked towards its own ends, and that those
from the upper echelons had won the struggle; for him, the working
class had failed in promoting their interests effectively, making
Shaw highly critical of the democratic system of his day (to the
extent that he praised Stalin in the 1930s and even published
some (possibly ironic) statements that seemed to praise Hitler.
Shaw seems to have shared the anti-semitism that was more or less
ubiquitous in the intellectual milieus in which he moved, but,
again, the extent to which he was merely being provocative is
not clear). The writing of Shaw, such as his plays Major Barbara
and Pygmalion, has a background theme of class struggle.
second career — after the theatre — was in support
of socialism. In 1882 Henry George’s lecture on land nationalization
gave depth and direction to Shaw’s political ideology. Shortly
thereafter he applied to join the Social Democratic Federation.
Its leader H. M. Hyndman introduced him to the works of Karl Marx.
Instead, in May of 1884 he joined the newly-formed Fabian Society.
He played a pivotal role with the Fabian Society and wrote a number
of their pamphlets. He argued that property was theft and for
an equitable distribution of land and capital. He was involved
with the formation of the Labour Party. For a clear statement
of his position read The Intelligent Women’s Guide to Socialism,
Capitalism, Sovietism, and Fascism.
Bernard Shaw was a noted vegetarian. The following was taken from
the archives of The Vegetarian Society UK:
Summer of 1946 seems to have been a season of anniversaries and
memorials. The Vegetarian Society itself was looking forward to
its 100th anniversary and giving its members advance warnings
of celebratory plans.”
the big story of the July issue of The Vegetarian Messenger was
the tribute to George Bernard Shaw, celebrating his 90th birthday
on the 26th of that month. He had, at that time, been a vegetarian
for 66 years and was commended as one of the great thinkers and
dramatists of his era. "No writer since Shakespearean
times has produced such a wealth of dramatic literature, so superb
in expression, so deep in thought and with such dramatic possibilities
as Shaw." The writer was a staunch vegetarian, anti-vivisectionist
and opponent of cruel sports.