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G.B.Shaw is the father of revolutionary playwrights who dared to create in English drama
an atmosphere for discussions and ideas. Before Shaw the field of reform was limited to
religious and political personalities. But, with Shaw the social reforms became a theme for
creative writers. In the words of Earnest Reynolds, “ The English Drama was an ostrich
unwilling to draw its head out of the comfortable golden sands of force, pageantry and
poetic melodrama into the rational area of discussion and intellectual progress. It is only
due to Shaw that this unwilling ostrich compelled to breathe this fresh air.” Shaw’s sense of
life was histrionic and in the drama, he found the only literary genre which could all satisfy
his demand for life and art. He never bothered to achieve greatness of art; rather he
utilized his art as a medium to transmit his ides to the world.
To play, Socrates says that the modern metropolis required new techniques of argument, a
vast fund of highly liberal knowledge, a fast and gay mind, a personality visible from a
greater distance, brilliance, charm and comic gift. These requirements specify the formula
of Shaw’s primal invention, the Shavian persona.
G.B. Shaw invented himself in much the same way that he invented his long procession of
vital, talky characters. Mrs. Warren, Candida, lady Cicely, Saint Joan, john Tames,
Undershaft, Lisa etc.
He knew that in the words of repressed and conventionalized responses, of dead moral
reflexes, a measure of solvent anger was crucial to raise the temperature of perception. He
wanted strong reactions to himself and to his art. His art is one of productive strife between
official sentiments and actual feelings even more than it is a comedy of ideas. The fact is
that Shaw was historically awake earlier, more persistently and with less compromise than
any of his contemporaries. He was more rather than less serious than other men, as comic
geniuses are. Shaw’s conviction that the theater can be a place of truth, if the playwright
knows enough about the two essentials which make drama vital human circumstances and
the craft of the theater. “Shaw was more aggressively intelligent than most artists.” Says
K.J.kaufman. His literary preoccupation does not separate him from life. Shaw was a born
rebel and iconoclast who was out to destroy old and accepted conventions in order to make
reform for new and fresh ideas. In this regard Nichol has observed in his book “English
Drama” as:
“The key notes to Shaw’s works are rationalism and critical rebellion. He was a social
reformer but his socialism is not of the emotional kind but a rational one.”
“Major Barbra” together with “Man and Superman” and “John Bull’s other Island”
forms part of a trilogy of philosophical comedies, all of which deal with the brute facts of
sex, nationalism and poverty. In “Major Barbra”, the Salvation Army heroine finds that in
her work for the poor, she is forced to accept assistance from both a whisky magnet and
her millionaire father, Undershafts, who has created himself an ideal little society of his
own from the proceeds of his ornament factory. Shaw has his eyes on the real lines of force,
involving money, good and evil do not in practice exist apart from the context of money
and Under Shaft’s wealth. Such powers we must respect, expending the evil into good.
Advance depends on such men as Undershaft, we need more and not less of them and the
revolutionary who thinks otherwise impedes progress. The Shavian critique of morality is
basically a plea that we be rather more discriminating (in realizing that poverty is a
“Crime” e.g.), then people usually are in making such judgments. In the second edition of
the “Quintessence” Shaw had insisted that conduct must justify itself by its effect upon life
and not by its conformity to any thing.
The morality of Major Barbra is the same when bill maker refuses to give his name to
Barbra; she puts him down as the man who “struck poor little enemy Hill-in-the mouth.”
Instead of the emotions of lower and mistress, Shaw renders the emotions of parents and
children and particularly the emotions of the child rejection of the parents. Major Barbra
is perhaps the grandest example of this archetype, aristocratic, self assertive, spirit and
natural masterfulness at odds with these ideals. It is clear from the following dialogue:
“And my family, thank heavens, is not pig headed
Tory one. We are Whigs and believe in liberty. Let
Selfish people say what they please. Barbra shall marry not
The man they like, but the man I like.”
Then she says:
“I’ve always made you my companions and friends
and always you perfect freedom to do, and say
whatever you liked, so long as you liked what I
could approve of.”
Then snobbish attitude is apparent in these lines:
“It is only in the middle classes, Stephen, that people
get into a state of dumb helpless horror when they
find that there are wicked people in the world.”
Shaw’s dramatic technique throughout relies on starling, comic surprises, replaces the
tensions, suspense and expediencies of tragedy.
Shaw added humour to his plays because otherwise they would have been indigestible. He
says very serious things in a comic manner. He lacks the seriousness of an artist. He was
called “irresponsible jester”, “super fiction” and “naughty” by the critics. Contemporary
indifference to his work in art reflects a European tradition of finding comedy indigestible.
But in spite of all this he is a social reformer and his philosophy lies in his comic art. His
voices have logical relevance with one constant theme of reforming society.

Written& Composed By:

Prof. A.R. Somroo
M.A. English& Education.
Cell: 03339971417

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