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George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) was born in Dublin by a middle-class protestant family; he then moved to London and joined debating societies. He was a successful journalist and joined the Fabian society, which rejected the revolutionary action in favor of gradual reforms and the spread of education; that’s why most of his plays have a didactic vein.
He wrote “The Quintessence of Ibsenism” because he was very impressed by the works of Henrik Ibsen. His comedies are “problem comedies” that deal with social problems; there often are long speeches, whose aim is to confirm or deny something. When the First World War broke up, he criticized both England and Germany, and attacked every attempt to sentimentalize and romanticize the war.
His works can be divided in two categories:
- Plays unpleasant, such as “Widower’s houses”, on the exploitation of the poor in the slums; “Mrs. Warren’s profession”, about prostitution; “The Philanderer”.
- Plays pleasant, such as “Arms and the man”, which mocks soldiers’ heroic behavior; “The man of destiny”, on Napoleon; “You never can tell”, on the relationship between parents and children; “Candida, a mistery”, on the conflict between two men in love with the heroine.
Other plays are:
- “Man and superman”: play on the theory of life force, a natural active power that impels man to procreation (cfr. Nietzsche). Even if he was a misogynist, Shaw believed that women had a great life force.
- “Mayor Barbara”, on the contrast between rich and poor
- “The doctor’s dilemma”
- “Pygmalion”. Title that comes from the Greek myth: a sculptor made a beautiful statue and fell in love with his creation, so Zeus gave life to it. There’s the theme of appearance and of the importance of the language, which reveals your social status and helps people to emancipate: thanks to the language Liza becomes from dependent on men to total independent.
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