ONE OF THE STRANGEST AND MOST INEXPLICABLE OF PHENOMENA IN THE THEATER, during the past half century and more, has been the extraordinary failure of drama criticism to cope with the disconcerting qualities and pardoxical character of Shaw's plays, in face of their unmistakable global success. The critics in English-speaking countries, no less and perhaps even more than those of foreign countries, have been unable to fit Shaw's plays into familiar categories rigidly established by formalists and pedants, from Aristotle to Filon, from Hebbel to Lemaitre, from Freytag to Croce, from Schlegel to Walkley, from Hazlitt to Archer. This mental confusion, a timidity evoked by novelty of genre and strangeness of philosophy, is probably more conspicuous in France than in any other country. Eduard Guzot, who fully expected to find something shocking in plays which had aroused so much critical violence and animadversion in England, was surprised to discover, as he put it, that while Shaw cultivated a satanic appearance and wore unconventional clothes, his plays made you feel that they had been written by a man in a stiff collar. Another French critic voiced disappointment that his characters somehow always said the exact opposite of what one expected them to say. Maurice Muret was perturbed to discover that his characters, who exhibited the willless character of automata, gave the impression of vocal puppets, directed by a master intellect and activated to speech by an expert ventriloquist. While Shaw's dialogue ran with "parfaite désinvolture," this glibness proved to be a costly asset: the characters, by devoting all their time to conversation, found no opportunity to live.
It can scarcely be doubted that Shaw's famous confession regarding his view of art and philosophy of life, beginning "I have, I think, always been a Puritan in my attitude towards Art. . .,"1 gives us the clue to his strangeness in the theater. The average man or woman is the slave of feelings and convictions which are taken over from conventional views, in society and especially in the theater. In matters of religion, for example, reverence is customarily shown to Christianity, Christ, and the sayings of the Bible. In Androcles and the Lion, all such subjects are treated lightly, gaily, and in effect,____________________