Ideas and the Theatre; George Bernard Shaw
The program will be what is George Bernard Shaw propagandizing for the series ideas and the theater. The actual views and voices you will hear drama critics Brooks Atkinson Richard Watts Jr. John Beauford and Dr. Joan Tellus and nurse authors scholars Eric Bentley Edmund fuller Martin network and Jeffrey White and you will also hear playwrights. Arthur Miller and Garvey Dall those who make this series possible. The University of Minnesota radio station am in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center. And now here is the producer of ideas and the theater critic at large Philip go. George Bernard Shaw was accused of being a propagandist perhaps more than any other playwright. And yet very few people ask what Shaw's propagandizing for. And of this small group. Still fewer seem at all inclined to find out whether or not Shaw was at all effective in this propagandizing for something.
Somehow or other this political propaganda label is pinned on Shaw and that is that. Some people do it quite nicely. For example here's novelist scholar and lecturer Geoffrey Wagner. Well I think sure again you have another. Another writer who is not satisfied in the twentieth century with simply being a writer but who wants to influence society when we know the very understandable and indeed very notable. Others are a little harder on Mr Shaw than Jeffrey Wagner for example Dr Joan Dulles and nurse drama critic for the Catholic News. I felt sure I had something of the mind of a very clever fellow. He just takes potshots at things. He becomes a kind of an intellectual butterfly popping aloof the human being and not saying anything too conclusive but too profound.
That was Dr. John Thomas a nurse drama critic for the Catholic News Go read I'll present still another view was a lack of effectiveness as a propagandist. Mr B dollars a writer in his own right is a novelist TV and motion picture writer and author of the Broadway hit comedy visit to a small planet. Here now is Gore Vidal. It would be nice to think that one's plays were an active influence on society but I don't really think they are. People come to the theater in a mood I suppose to be entertained. And the best one can do is what but it sure as you know in my plays actually are very bitter social pills and playwriting is just a sugar coating to which a friend of yours once said how clever of the public to lick off the coating and reject the pill and I'm afraid you know who said it was the greatest playwright of our time.
In a practical sense had practically no influence at all on his time as an as a thinker and as a busy Fabian. He had much more just being the head of committees and he ever did through his plays. Well it feels as a political propagandist as Mr. Vidar points out. Where does Shaw succeed. For some answers let's listen now to two of New York's top drama critics as they reveal two of the four sharp plays presented in New York during the one thousand fifty six fifty seven season. First here is Brooks Atkinson drama critic for The New York Times as he discusses in good King Charles's golden days and Major Barbara by George Bernard Shaw. Mr. Brooks Atkinson. Much of in good King Charles's golden days is short and his most immolating form as a dramatist of abstract ideas all his great thinkers sound like Shaw when they start wrangling and the spectacle of a
scientist a religious leader and an artist learning from one another is thoroughly exhilarating. These professions of applying I want to go to St. Bernard's golden days. About major of Barbara parish cascading away at high speed undermining religion turning morality upside down deriding idealism you know saying poverty is a crime sanctifying wealth and power and as usual doing what he ought not to do with lightness mockery and dexterity. That was the New York Times drama critic Brooks Atkinson. When I discuss Shaws Major Barbara with Richard Watts Jr. drama critic for The New York Post I think we hit upon some major reasons for Shaw's success as a playwright and his failure as a propagandist. Here is drama critic Richard Watts. The remarkable thing about Major Barber is it isn't produced more often. Forty
certainly one of Bernard Shaw's brightest slyest most provocatively outrageous and most timeless comedies one of the characteristically Shavian qualities of Major Barber is a way it demonstrates that the author can be as entertaining and almost as persuasive when he is defending nonsense as when he is arguing on behalf of sound or causes the perfect devil's advocate. He can maybe make out a case for a ruthless manufacture of munitions with as much diabolically convincing logic as he sets down his central figure is more sensible view of the poverty is the greatest of crime. Whatever side he takes he presents it with the wit and the gusto that are incomparable. Major Barber isn't it sardonic viewpoint as perverse outrageous and provocatively cynical a comedy show ever wrote in a word it's completely Shavian. I mean as a man of ideas I know this again is a characteristic I think and English and think about apartments and universities that shot is outdated in his ideas be so clever he excepted I just
can't see it. For example the eye and idea in this show that poverty is a crime is outdated it should be not outdated No it is most assuredly isn't. Now what can we give Leeds won some victories and a lot of those things are. So it's easy to say that his ideas are outdated. But no I certainly don't think they are. What do you do. He got his hearing because he was a suburban showman and now you have to suffer from it to a certain extent that people just think of him as a weak outraise when he doesn't mean these things at all. Richard Watts Jr. a drama critic for The New York Post suggests two reasons I think for Shaw's failure as a propagandist. One his messages get lost in his wit and brilliance as a writer and too far from being outdated. We may dismiss Shaw's messages because they still may be too potent and too timely for us even to accept today. One of Shaw's most inescapable messages is his idea of poverty as the worst of crimes an idea that several of our critics already have mentioned.
I asked Eric Bentley to comment on this further. Mr. Bentley is a professor of dramatic literature at Columbia University and author of the book Bernard Shaw one of the most exciting and widely acclaimed publications on Shaw. Here is Mr. Eric Bentley. I think running show is almost the only playwright who has really been able to toss ideas to and fro on the stage and set up a real opponent. For instance take Arthur Miller he defends his own ideas and plays but when was there ever a powerful statement I mean intellectually powerful for an opposing position when could you imagine a middle life giving in and giving a strong statement for McCarthyism. But Mr. Shaw in saying goes out of his way to be fair to the Inquisitor representing the opposite point of view. Some people think you're so fair that it gives the case away some danger of that and Major Barbara whether villain of the piece is a millionaire and capitalist
would charge such a lot of liking for him that many people saw the Charles Laughton version and came away thinking it was and the fans of her didn't really fault the play does rather fall into the hot when perhaps in the subject of the pitfalls of the dramatist of ideas only thought possibly And in the case of Shar and I one of the ideas expressed in major driver is that poverty is the worst evil it seems to me that is just a problem with most of the world and what I'm getting at is the common feeling well yes Charlie's where being clever but as some of his ideas are outdated I'm wondering if some of them are not still too. Incisive rest take I think the position he takes in Major Barber is partly the expected one. That is what you expect from a radical author is that he will be against poverty for the abolition of poverty. But the reasons he gave as a rather unexpected and turn out to have more in common with what we often
think of as conservative and so the play can be quite confusing to an audience in that he talks about abolishing the poor and so forth I mean meaning abolishing them as poor making them rich. It's a socialistic play in which a great deal of sympathy shown for the capitalistic central figure. As to your point it's still being talked Biechele of course most of the world is still poor. It is the populations of Asia and Africa which together comprise a more than half the people in the world poor. Therefore we shouldn't think because we are luckily having a boom that the world is having a boom the world has never had a boom not for the population at large. And in this sense I'm sure his play. If it were given in Asia for the first time we'd seen the startling and Awakenings out of a document that censored still a very radical play.
I am more than inclined to agree with Eric Bentley here. In fact I'd like to read just a short bit from the article entitled The boys who rule the world written by Kenneth Rexroth as published in the of Ember second 1957 issue of The Nation magazine. In this article Mr Rex Ross is reporting on the convention of capital as that was held in San Francisco in the fall of 57. He writes The earnest and immensely civilized Brahmin bankers and millionaires an arch conservatives in their own countries tried to explain what was happening in the world. Over and over again. The seven hundred were told that in the have not three quarters of the world population is exploding. The standard of living is falling. Capital accumulation lags far behind the most elementary needs. The old peasant economies are dead dying or demoralized. Outside a part of Europe. The United
States Britain her dominions and a few other places. The free world is turning into an immense slum. Not only is there more poverty than 50 years ago but today the people of the former colonial nations are acutely aware of their poverty. They measure it against the luxurious life they see in the American movies. And unless something is done soon to increase their productive powers there will be serious disturbances. And that given this all enveloping poverty major capital investment can only be undertaken by the state. There are not even the human resources to handle it in any other way. And that's the end of the quotation from that nation article. Well I think if Shaw foretold no more than this he could hardly be dismissed as unimportant or outdated. My own feeling is that the greatness of George Bernard Shaw as a social propagandist or prophet is yet to be measured.
Well perhaps we should ask how she compares then to some of our more accepted more profits or social commentators in the theater saying such as TS Eliot and other Miller. First to compare Ashar and Elliot. Here is the drama critic for The Christian Science Monitor Mr. John Beaufort. It was like comparing the devil's disciple in an archdeacon. When you get to attempting a comparison between show and Eliot I've never considered such a comparison myself before. SCHORR of course achieved his greatest play in Saint Joan which is a deeply religious. We felt a spiritual play T.S. Eliot has always been concerned in not only his plays but in so much of his poetry with
problems of religion. But I suppose the Great or a great difference between the two is that shore was always the social critic and that Elliot is probably more concerned with individual destiny than you might say the salvation of the so. I mean I don't think that you would ever find Elliot saying that the greatest crime of all is poverty which sure does say the framework of thinking is is much more. I want to circumscribe but much more defined by his personal religious believes. I don't think he ranges the feel assured. That was John Bull for drama critic for The Christian Science Monitor. He cites the familiar charge of Shaw as a possible propagandist for
socialism. And yet I would like to call your attention Mr Rex Ross quotation in terms of the way the economic problems are being handled in the world or could be handled. And also that Gore v. Dahl already has pointed out how non influential it was in this pursuit of being a socialist propagandist. Perhaps Shaw's fundamental view is something liberal. Let us say like Arthur Miller's. Martin has to work and critique for a progressive magazine looked at Shaw and Arthur Miller for us. However he saw a type of character as a major important difference between Miller and Shaw. Here is author critic and scholar Martin as Dworken. You must realize that despite the fact that Sean may be a greater playwright and author Millan I don't know all the returns on this election certainly aren't in yet because all the votes haven't been cast. Miller hasn't done his work yet. Sure has. But the point here is that
Shores characters are very much his own and I don't think Shaw has a real villain anyway in this case this is a familiar problem again you know you remember of course Lincoln Steffens in his autobiography. Making as a working journalist this wonderful argument for the admiration for the big criminal and big Rocketeer the big practice sort of corruption because the Stephens pointed out they were fundamentally men of great capability to Stephany's the problem was a social problem as of his muckraking group of. Men being led where the prizes were home. And he condemned society for hanging the prizes in a fashion to make corruption pay off so well. Now to a certain extent sure is saying the same thing and has the same kind of admiration for these men who are after all terrific men to him.
Of course especially the inquisitor and change especially the inquisitor. Who is actually not so much a full oil as a massive creation of an articulate alternative. But in the case of a comedy such as Major Bob Ray it's not a real problem to say that people walk out of the theater admiring one character or another. Who shore is really. Supposed to be pure putting on the pillory. The question there is that if one likes you or one likes everything shows that. Even the villains speak very beautifully. Is it really only Shaw the playwright speaking in his plays as Martin to arc and
suggests. Are Shaw's characters only Shavian. When I pass these questions on to Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Arthur Miller. I started by asking Mr. Miller to analyze the psychological truths of the characters as portrayed by our Perhaps too most intellectual playwrights T.S. Eliot and Shaw. Here is Arthur Miller. I don't think I would even claim that he is creating characters in the realistic sense of the word it's a different theme. It doesn't mean that he can't do it I don't think he can but I don't think he's trying to do what I think he's trying to dramatize quite simply a moral religious dilemma. The same is true of Bernard Shaw excepting for occasional characters usually. Women in his plays they are more psychologically real than anything of course.
His attitude is done to my knowledge excepting pipes for murder and cathedral. But the aim in these plays is not. The aim of salesmen or of most American work. It is the setting for US of A. And irony. I don't know Emma. More or less in its own terms I think all the characters and shore can be reduced to two or three really and nobody would mind particularly You always know that shore speaking no matter what side of the argument is being set for the next part of the charm. I think his great success is due to the fact that he made no pretense to do otherwise. He was observing the issues in the dilemma of life rather than the psychology of human beings. Let me get in on that and simply say that I think Sean might be writing real people but they speak more eloquently or more intellectually than real people. But
essentially I'm not sure that. In Pygmalion father isn't isn't real I don't think anybody would talk like that but I think it is motives are real. I think hers are. I think Higgins is a real person I think simply is shot is not happy with the way he in ability of people to express himself and so he says I will do it for them but I never really felt that Shahs people were were not people. I would put it this way he is impatient with the insignificance of most human speech most human thought the most human preconceptions. And so what shore does really it's not that they're not people they aren't. In significant people the way you who's who we are and when you strip from a human being. Everything that is not of significance. You may get a valid moment out of them.
A valid set of speech is a valid set of attitudes. But in the normal naturalistic concept they aren't real because the bulk of reality is of course out of boredom and its insignificance and its irrelevancy. In short it is absolutely uninterested in that and consequently if you just take the significant part of a character that will be true of him but it is lifted out of the rest of his psychology you can only speak in terms of normal psychological writing. I happen to like it. I'm not criticizing. I think it's a great thing to be able to do. But it isn't. The tapestry work. Let us see. Hamlet where you are carried through moment to moment from one thought to the next. Including the boredom including the irrelevancies including the contradictions within him which on not thematic. That is they
have very little to do with his conflict with the King or his mother. You read Shore's play and see how rarely people get off the subject. That's what I mean when I say that it isn't psychology as following it is the theme. Arthur Miller here suggests something I think we should analyze. What might be a big theme in his writings be. This is really only a way of restating our original question. Just what is Shaw propagandizing for. Does he for example dare to presume that man can even start to conquer such an gulping problem as poverty. Just what is Shaw's view of man. I asked this of Edmund foller an outstanding scholar was also written a fine book on Shaw. In addition to his recently published man in modern fiction here is author and teacher Edmund Fuller.
Joan is a very special place in the shavin canon and is quite harmonious with Christianity but it would be difficult I think to generalize too far about Shaw's views of life on the basis of Saint Joan alone. I would define this. Most importantly I don't think there is any sense in which shop properly can be equated with Christianity formally. Even a Protestant Christianity was a mistake of a kind and he is a humanist of a kind but essentially Shaw is one of the most powerful of all the spokesman for the view of well his creative evolution which he borrowed from bags and in which he preferred to call the life force which is profoundly anti Christian in any traditional sense in as much as it essentially views. Man as on
his way to becoming God so to speak it is the view of an emergent tentative experimental God in the process of which experimental men might be seen as the spearhead and in effect the man is on the way to becoming God. Now that's the mystique essentially that lies under Man and Superman and back to Methuselah and so forth. What about this idea that Edmund fuller suggests here. What might it mean for a man to become godlike. I think we can suggest specific applications to Adman Fuller's observations into quotations of Shahs one from Shaw as a man of the theater the other from Shaw as a man. And the author's apology written in 1906. Shaw states that he believes the theatre can replace the church if the theatre will and I quote take itself seriously as a factory of thought.
A prompter of conscience and elucidate or of social conduct. And Amerie against despair and dullness. And a temple. Of The Ascent of Man. What did it mean for the man to approach the concept of God like perfection. In a word I think it meant morality. Man was more than man and she was View. With the dawning of moral passion. In the biography GVS Hesketh Pearson writes of Shaw. And again I quote. Having no longer his prayers to fall back on. Having to stand on his own feet. Shaw started thinking things out for himself. I began to have scruples Shaa said. To feel obligations to find that veracity and honor. Were no longer goody goody
expressions in the mouths of grown up people. But they were compelling principles in myself. The change that came to me was the birth in me of Morro passion. And I declare that according to my experience moral passion is the only real passion. And all the other passions were in me before. But they were idle and aimless. When these passions suddenly began to shine like newly lit flames. It was by no light of their own. But by the radiance of the dawning moral passion that passion dignified them gave them conscience and gave the meaning. Found them a mob of appetites and organized them into an army of purposes and principles. My soul. Was born of that moral passion. And that's the end of the quote by Shaw. And any kind of
final analysis I feel that this was the only propaganda wrote not troll socialism not witticism not even life force. I think moral passion. Was his ultimate message. That was Philip go producer and commentator for this series and critic at large. Next week ideas on the theater will present a discussion on the despair and religion knew the participants will be drama critics Brooks Atkinson Richard Watts Jr. Thyra Samter Winslow John Beaufort George Friedly and Dr Joan Tellus and nurse you will also hear scholars Eric Bentley E. Martin Browne and Dr. Robert Corrigan ideas and the theatre is produced by the University of Minnesota radio station KUNM under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center. This series is distributed by the National Association of educational broadcasters. Join us
again next week for a variety of authoritative views about Eugene O'Neill on ideas and the theatre. This is the end of the Radio Network.
- Ideas and the Theatre
- George Bernard Shaw
- Producing Organization
- University of Minnesota
- KUOM (Radio station : Minneapolis, Minn.)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- This program focuses on the dramatic works of George Bernard Shaw.
- Series Description
- The series presents a discussion of the current American theatre; its values, beliefs, patterns, and problems. Participants include Arthur Miller, Eric Bentley, Gore Vidal, Brooks Atkinson, Cyril Ritchard, Clinton Wilder, Tennessee Williams, and others.
- Broadcast Date
- Shaw, Bernard, 1856-1950
- Media type
Guest: Miller, Arthur, 1915-2005
Guest: Dworkin, Martin S., 1921-1996
Guest: Fuller, Edmund, 1914-2001
Guest: Atkinson, Brooks, 1894-1984
Guest: Vidal, Gore, 1925-2012
Guest: Beaufort, John
Host: Kerwin, Jonathan W.
Producer: Gelb, Philip
Producing Organization: University of Minnesota
Producing Organization: KUOM (Radio station : Minneapolis, Minn.)
Subject: Shaw, Bernard, 1856-1950
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 58-7-8 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
- Chicago: “Ideas and the Theatre; George Bernard Shaw,” 1958-01-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed November 30, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-q52fcv1c.
- MLA: “Ideas and the Theatre; George Bernard Shaw.” 1958-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. November 30, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-q52fcv1c>.
- APA: Ideas and the Theatre; George Bernard Shaw. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-q52fcv1c