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  • 10/31/2004

George Bernard Shaw

(26 July 1856 _ 2 November 1950)

George Bernard Shaw was born in Dublin, the son of a civil servant. His education was irregular, due to his dislike of any organized training. After working in an estate agent's office for a while he moved to London as a young man (1876), where he established himself as a leading music and theatre critic in the eighties and nineties and became a prominent member of the Fabian Society, for which he composed many pamphlets. He began his literary career as a novelist; as a fervent advocate of the new theatre of Ibsen (The Quintessence of Ibsenism, 1891) he decided to write plays in order to illustrate his criticism of the English stage. His earliest dramas were called appropriatelyPlays Pleasant and Unpleasant (1898). Among these,Widower's Houses andMrs. Warren's Profession savagely attack social hypocrisy, while in plays such asArms and the Man andThe Man of Destiny the criticism is less fierce. Shaw's radical rationalism, his utter disregard of conventions, his keen dialectic interest and verbal wit often turn the stage into a forum of ideas, and nowhere more openly than in the famous discourses on the Life Force, «Don Juan in Hell», the third act of the dramatization of woman's love chase of man,Man and Superman (1903).

In the plays of his later period discussion sometimes drowns the drama, inBack to Methuselah (1921), although in the same period he worked on his masterpieceSaint Joan (1923), in which he rewrites the well-known story of the French maiden and extends it from the middle Ages to the present.

Other important plays by Shaw areCaesar and Cleopatra (1901), a historical play filled with allusions to modern times, andAndrocles and the Lion (1912), in which he exercised a kind of retrospective history and from modern movements drew deductions for the Christian era. InMajor Barbara (1905), one of Shaw's most successful «discussion» plays, the audience's attention is held by the power of the witty argumentation that man can achieve aesthetic salvation only through political activity, not as an individual.The Doctor's Dilemma (1906), facetiously classified as a tragedy by Shaw, is really a comedy the humour of which is directed at the medical profession.Candida (1898), with social attitudes toward sex relations as objects of his satire, andPygmalion (1912), a witty study of phonetics as well as a clever treatment of middle-class morality and class distinction, proved some of Shaw's greatest successes on the stage. It is a combination of the dramatic, the comic, and the social corrective that gives Shaw's comedies their special flavour.

In 1943 his wife Charlotte died and seven years later on 2 November 1950 he died himself at the age of 94. In his last will he donated his whole possesion to the development of a new phonetic alphabet.

After his death the works of George Bernard Shaw suffered a decline but his works came back in favour when his play "Pygmalion" was adapted as the Musical "My Fair Lady" in 1958.

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