Shaw. George Bernard,1856–1950
Shaw, George Bernard was born in 1856 in Dublin, in a lower-middle-class family of Scottish-Protestant ancestry. He revolutionized the Victorian stage, then dominated by artificial melodramas, by presenting vigorous dramas of ideas. The lengthy prefaces to Shaw's plays reveal his mastery of English prose. In 1925 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature
(In his own words, Shaw said he was a writing machine). He wrote 65 plays & was an avid pamphleteer writing on such subjects as Drama, Women & Feminism, Stimulants, Vivisection, Natural Selection, Music, Marriage, Capital Punishment, The Soviet Union. The list is almost endless. Shaw took an active role in the productions of his plays & made sure that not a single word was added or taken out. He was adamant about each vowel being pronounced correctly & not forced. Apart from writing, Shaw loved to speak on the radio. The musical Irish tones perfectly exubing his daring wit. What the audience perceived as a joke, Shaw actually meant. He used comedy as a way of translating what he seriously thought about society & it worked. People of all social classes stood up & took note, many of them taking an active role to improve the social structure. George Bernard Shaw was a sensative man who looked upon poverty & social injustice in disbelief. To Shaw, all living things, human or animal were equals & should be treated with equal respect. In his world all humans (men & women), (rich & poor), were equals & have the right to bring out the best in themselves, no matter what class you were born into. Even so long after his death in 1950 at the age of 94,Shaw's influnce is still with us & his contribution making it's way in our society.
In 1876, Shaw left Dublin and his father and moved to London, moving in with his mother's menage. There he lived off of his mother and sister while pursuing a career in journalism and writing. The first medium he tried as a creative writer was prose, completing 5 novels, before any of them were published. He read voraciously, in public libraries and in the British Museum reading room. And he became involved in progressive politics. Standing on soapboxes, at Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park and at socialist rallies, he learned to overcome his stage fright and his stammer. And, to hold the attention of the crowd, he developed an energetic and aggressive speaking style that is evident in all of his writing.
With Beatrice and Sidney Webb, Shaw founded the Fabian Society, a socialist political organization dedicated to transforming Britain into a socialist state, not by revolution but by systematic progressive legislation, bolstered by persuasion and mass education. The Fabian society would later be instrumental in founding the London School of Economics and the Labour Party. As a journalist, Shaw worked as an art critic, then as a music critic (writing under the pseudonym "Corno di Bassetto"), and finally, from 1895 to 1898, as Theatre Critic.
In 1891, at the invitation of J.T. Grein, a merchant, theatre critic, and director of a progressive private new-play society, The Independent Theatre, Shaw wrote his first play, Widower's Houses. For the next 12 years, he wrote close to a dozen plays, though he generally failed to persuade the managers of the London Theatres to produce them. A few were produced abroad.
In 1898, after a serious illness, Shaw resigned as theatre critic, and moved out of his mother's house (where he was still living) to marry Charlotte Payne-Townsend, an Irish woman of independent means. Their marriage lasted until Charlotte's death in 1943.
In 1904, Harley Granville Barker, an actor, director and playwright 20 years younger than Shaw who had appeared in a private theatre society's production of Shaw's Candida, took over the management of the Court Theatre on Sloane Square in Chelsea and set up it up as an experimental theatre specializing in new and progressive drama. Over the next 3 seasons, Barker produced 10 plays by Shaw, and Shaw began writing new plays with Barker's management specifically in mind. Over the next 10 years, all but 1 of Shaw's plays was produced either by Barker or by Barker's friends and colleagues in the other experimental theater managements around England. With royalties from his plays, Shaw, who had become financially independent on marrying, now became quite wealthy. Throughout the decade, he remained active in the Fabian Society, in city government and on committees dedicated to ending dramatic censorship, and to establishing a subsidized National Theatre.
The outbreak of war in 1914 changed Shaw's life. For Shaw, the war represented the bankruptcy of the capitalist system, the last desperate gasps of the 19th century empires, and a tragic waste of young lives, all under the guise of patriotism. He expressed his opinions in a series of newspaper articles under the title Common Sense About the War. These articles proved to be a disaster for Shaw's public stature
After the war, Shaw found his dramatic voice again and rebuilt his reputation, first with a series of 5 plays about "creative evolution," he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Shaw's plays were regularly produced and revived in London. Several theatre companies in the United States began producing his plays, old and new, on a regular basis (most notably the Theatre Guild in New York, and the Hedgerow Theatre, in Rose Valley, PA, which became internationally known for its advocacy of the plays of Shaw and the Irish playwright Sean O'Casey). In the late 1920s, a Shaw festival was established in England
Shaw lived the rest of his life as an international celebrity, traveling the world, continually involved in local and international politics. And he continued to write thousands of letters and over a dozen more plays. In 1950, Shaw fell off a ladder while trimming a tree and died a few days later of complications from the injury, at age 94. He had been at work on yet another play.