CliffsNotes on Shaw's Man and Superman

CliffsNotes on Shaw's Man and Superman

CliffsNotes on Shaw's Man and Superman

CliffsNotes on Shaw's Man and Superman

Excerpt

In the stimulating and amusing Epistle Dedicatory, a letter addressed to Arthur Bingham Walkley. dramatic critic of The Times, Shaw provides, among other things, the details relating to the genesis of Man and Superman and an exegesis of his current philosophy and of certain dominant ideas in the play. Although Walkley had praised Shaw as “a man who can give us a refined intellectual pleasure,” he did not rate his friend very highly as a dramatist. Since Shaw had been conducting a running battle against current romantic drama, Walkley playfully suggested that Shaw show how the love theme should be developed by writing a Don Juan play. And the dramatist complied. Aware that Walkley believed that he wrote dialectic, not drama, which (in the words of Aristotle) should be an imitation of an action, Shaw wittily concedes that he has the “temperament of a schoolmaster” and identifies himself as a reformer expressing his annoyance at the fact that people remain comfortable when they ought to be uncomfortable. The implication is clear: When one is comfortable, he has no desire for change, and thus progress is impossible. “If you don’t like my preaching you must lump it,” Shaw concludes. All these give some insight into Shaw’s comic theory. In his Praise of Comedy, Mr. James Feibleman defines comedy as the “satiric criticism of the present limited historical order and a campaign for the unlimited logical order.” This involves a departure from an older view which called for approval of the conventional. Shaw would have endorsed Feibleman’s view. To be sure, brilliant comedies had been based on the older theory. Henri Bergson, developing his ideas of the comic chiefly with reference to the plays of Molière, insisted that such ridiculous figures as Harpagon and Tartuffe placed themselves outside the pale of the conventional because they suffered from an inelasticity — they had become automations and thus invited derisive laughter. Shaw went further. He believed that it was not just the occasional individual who made himself ridiculous; it was the larger society, and it was the conventional itself which often was absurd. So long as it was so afflicted, society had no right to be comfortable.

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