Reader's Encyclopedia

Shaw, George Bernard (1856-1950)

Irish dramatist, critic, and social reformer. Idealistic, prudish, afraid of intimacy, often shy, Shaw ' s public image was his own created caricature: " G.B.S. " The beard, the mysticism, the eccentricities all belonged to G.B.S., whom Shaw used as the spokesman for his social, moral, and literary theories. Political and economic socialism, a new religion of creative evolution, antivivisection, vegetarianism, and spelling reform were a few of his causes. His plays and essays, never written solely to entertain, were the vehicles for Shaw's theories; G.B.S. was his press agent.

Shaw had written five unsuccessful socialist novels by 1884 when he met William Archer, who urged him to write modern, purposeful dramas as Ibsen had done. Through Archer, Shaw became music critic for a London newspaper. He was well known for his music reviews long before he became famous as a dramatist. He began to write for the stage in 1885. With most of his early plays either banned by the censor or refused production, Shaw sought a reading audience with his first published collection, Plays Pleasant and Unpleasant (1898), the pleasant plays being Arms and the Man, Candida, The Man of Destiny, and You Never Can Tell; the unpleasant, The Philanderer, Mrs. Warren's Profession, and his first play, Widowers ' Houses. It was for this volume that Shaw began the practice of writing the challenging, mocking, eloquent prefaces to his plays, the prefaces sometimes being longer than the plays themselves and covering a diversity of topics.

By 1900, some of Shaw's plays had been produced in the U.S. and in Germany, but not in England. His next collection of plays, Three Plays for Puritans (1900), contained The Devil's Disciple, Caesar and Cleopatra, and Captain Brassbound's Conversion.

Before the outbreak of the World War I, and largely through the efforts of H. Granville - Barker, Shaw had been accepted in England; his position as a playwright was secure, and his fame, worldwide.

Because of his attacks on British policy during the war and his continual irritation to reactionary elements in England, Shaw was widely unpopular for a time, but his international fame allowed him to speak his mind and write what he pleased.

Shaw wrote his best plays prior to, during, and shortly after World War I. They include Man and Superman, John Bull 's Other Island (written at the request of William Butler Yeats for the Irish Literary Theatre), Major Barbara, Fanny's First Play (1912), Androcles and the Lion (1912), Pygmalion, Heartbreak House, Back to Methuselah, and Saint Joan. He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1925.

A member of the Fabian Society from its founding (1883), Shaw wrote many essays on socialism, politics, and economics and one longer work, The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism and Capitalism (1928).

He wrote less as he grew older, but never stopped completely; he was at work on a comedy when he died at the age of ninety - four. His last full - length play, Buoyant Billions, was produced in Zurich in 1948 " before a respectful if uncomprehending audience. "

Always outspoken, with a barbed humor and wit, never satisfied with the conventional, Shaw conducted himself so that the adjective Shavian is descriptive of an iconoclastic way of life, rather than a literary form.

His fame and popularity rest on his plays, but John Mason Brown has observed, " This astonishing Mr. Shaw has been greater than anything even he has written. "