George Bernard Shaw: Man of the Century

By Archibald Henderson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 31
The Drama Critic

ARCHER, WALKLEY AND Shaw WERE THE THREE MUSKETEERS WHO MANNED the barricades of English drama criticism in the nineties. Archer and Shaw were friends of long standing, and were constantly thrown together. Walkley and Shaw were spoken of by Barrie as "bearded ruffians disguised as initials"; and he demanded in a spirit of fair play, to enable him to see what they were up to, that they "shave their beards and come out into the open." They were constantly chaffing each other, poking fun at the others' standards of dramatic art. Shaw declared that, in the theater, Archer was like a "child in fairyland who has never learnt to live in the world, and who resents the intrusion of moral problems as angrily as it joyfully welcomes the advent of poetic glamor." On the other hand Archer constantly asserted that Shaw had no real love of art, no enjoyment of it, only a faculty for observing performances, and an interest in the intellectual tendency of plays. To Archer the theater was an enchanted palace, to Walkley an amusement booth, to Shaw a house of correction. To Archer the drama was a mirror of life, to Walkley a game with rules, to Shaw an interpretation of the mirror's haphazards. To Archer drama criticism was a campaign, to Walkley a sport, to Shaw a crusade.

Shaw and Archer stood shoulder to shoulder in waging the terrific battle for Ibsen, with Walkley as a lukewarm aid. Archer fought for Ibsen the poet and dramatist, Shaw fought for Ibsen the philosopher and social thinker. Indeed, Shaw was interested in the theater primarily as a vehicle of ideas, and conducted his crusades under that banner. Walkley, the classical scholar and Gallic wit, taunted Shaw, under the name of Euthyphro, with being an impossibilist:

Euthyphro hardly falls into Mr. Grant Allen's category of "serious intellects," for none has ever known him to be serious, but about his intellect there is, as the Grand Inquisitor says

No probable possible shadow of doubt,
No possible doubt whatever.

A universal genius, a brilliant political economist, a Fabian of the straitest sect of the Fabians, a critic (of other arts than the dramatic) comme il y en a peu, he persists where the stage is concerned, in crying for the moon, and

-410-

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