George Bernard Shaw's Major Barbara

By Harold Bloom | Go to book overview
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The Marriage of Contraries

J. L. Wisenthal

Since Shaw's preface to Major Barbara is presented as an explanation of the play, one might begin a discussion of the play by looking at it. The opening section of the preface is entitled "First Aid to Critics," and the next begins by saying that Shaw is driven "to help [his] critics out with Major Barbara by telling them what to say about it." In accepting Shaw's help, however, critics might bear in mind his own critical dictum that "the existence of a discoverable and perfectly definite thesis in a poet's work by no means depends on the completeness of his own intellectual consciousness of it." And what Shaw says about the play in the preface does not, in any case, necessarily represent his whole view of it. His explanations of everything are deliberately one‐ sided : he brings to his public's attention the aspects of a question which he wishes them to consider.

The aspect of Major Barbara which Shaw wished his readers to consider, or which he himself saw as the essence of the play, is the economic one. The second section of the preface is entitled "The Gospel of St Andrew Undershaft," and this gospel has to do with money and poverty—according to the preface. After his statement that he will tell critics what to say about the play, Shaw begins to do so: "In the millionaire Undershaft I have represented a man who has become intellectually and spiritually as well as practically conscious of the irresistible natural truth which we all abhor and repudiate: to wit,

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From The Marriage of Contraries: Bernard Shaw's Middle Plays. © 1974 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Harvard University Press, 1974.

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