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Evaluating George Bernard Shaw As a Dramatist, Second Only to Shakespeare in English Literature

An Air Warrior and prolific writer with over 200 published short stories and 14 books on fiction

evaluating-george-bernard-shaw-as-a-dramatist-second-only-to-shakespeare-in-english-literature

Introduction

My introduction to George Bernard Shaw began almost 3 1/2 decades back when I just left school. I was in the degree college and the teachers had arranged for all the students to witness one of the plays by George Bernard Shaw. The play was 'Man and superman' and it made a deep impression on my mind. That was the beginning and I began to read all the works of the great dramatist and had the good fortune of seeing movies as well as plays based on his writings over the last three decades. I have no doubt in my mind that he was one of the greatest figures in English literature.

GB Shaw is a relatively recent phenomenon in English literature and he passed away only in 1950 which is very close to the present time unlike Shakespeare who lived many centuries back. He is a writer very close to us and our times and thus could bring forth subjects that concern the modern world. There is generally a uniform opinion that George Bernard Shaw was one of the greats of English literature and as a dramatist, many rate him higher than William Shakespeare but that is a personal opinion and is not debatable.



evaluating-george-bernard-shaw-as-a-dramatist-second-only-to-shakespeare-in-english-literature

The dramatist

George Bernard Shah's career spanned two centuries and that itself is a god-given gift. He was in a position to evaluate and comment on the changes in society. He was also a genius and there is no doubt that he revolutionized English prose.

Shaw also had an original dream which he put on paper. He was not a pessimist and had an extremely positive outlook on life. He dreamed of happiness and good things and looked upon the world as something very beautiful. His writing reveals that he considered the world as a paradise and the fact that it was not a paradise was only because of the folly of man. All credit to him for bringing forth social-political issues in his plays.

I have had a critical look at his plays and the one that really pleased me was “Mrs. Warrens Profession.” We all know what the oldest profession in the world is and it is prostitution. I won't digress further on this play and hope readers will be able to read it and watch it on the stage and conclude what a wonderful presentation is made by Shaw on a topical subject in the present age. In addition, it has survived the ravages of time.

Modern cities especially the cities which are now burgeoning have the phenomenon of slums. His presentation of slums in London when he was living there has been brought out in his play “Widower’s House”.

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GB Shaw portrayed a wide gamut of professions and socioeconomic topics in his place for that alone he must be complimented. He portrayed the dilemma in the medical profession of the doctors and conscious in the famous play “Doctor’s Dilemma."

Another topic that captivated his mind was war, because he was witness to the era of two world wars that shook Europe. He brings this out in his play “Arms and the man".

Adultery love and marriage are something that we are all familiar with and it is something that is almost like an everyday occurrence but we don't think about it. It is to the credit of Shaw that he skillfully presented all these aspects of life in his play “Candida”.

These are just the tip of the iceberg because he wrote more than sixty plays. The plays cover a wide gamut of contemporary satire and historical allegory.

evaluating-george-bernard-shaw-as-a-dramatist-second-only-to-shakespeare-in-english-literature

Assessment

Shaw is recognized as the leading dramatist of this era and it was a fitting tribute to him to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925. GB Shaw was a dramatist with a sensitive mind. He portrayed social issues but his writings concerned the secret emotions of man and life.

GB created characters that are real and present in everyday life. His plays are like debates as in ‘Arms and the Man’. In this play, there are allusions to conflict, and an undercurrent of the conflict pervades the play. This is the beauty of Shaw’s plays.

Shaw's characters portray the innermost feelings of a man. He presents both sides of the view and leaves the discussion open. Thus in ’Arms and the Man’ Shaw brings out two opposite viewpoints through his characters Sergius and Bluntschli.

He brings out a similar dilemma in the play ‘Candida’.

Where do we place Shaw now? One can say that he was a writer as great as Shakespeare. In a way, Shaw was a maverick, but a genius. His refusal to accept the Nobel Prize was part of his makeup. Shaw was a mental man and he envisaged a victory on the mental plane with logic and discussion. Thus one can see that his plays have a different genre and he in fact is a step higher than most playwriters

GB Shaw is one of the greatest writers of the English language. There is no denying this fact and decades after his death, we can understand that apart from writing impeccable English he was a man who wrote about the good things of life, believed in the beauty of life, and in that respect, his plays are on a higher plane, an intellectual plane, compared to other writers of his generation.

One other aspect of the life of Shaw is worth recounting. He was not a philanderer and lived a wonderful married life with Charlotte Frances Payne-Townshend. She had Irish origin and was a political activist. She spent her life fighting for women's rights. They were married for 45 years till her death in 1943.

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