Shaw's Settings: Gardens and Libraries

Shaw's Settings: Gardens and Libraries

Shaw's Settings: Gardens and Libraries

Shaw's Settings: Gardens and Libraries


"Sheds light on a heretofore almost completely unsuspected aspect of Shaw's playwriting methods."--Peter Gahan, author of Shaw Shadows: Rereading the Texts of Bernard Shaw

"Stafford analyzes with acuity the heretofore unexplored leitmotifs of gardens and libraries that form a rich subtext in nine important plays."--Michel Pharand, author of Bernard Shaw and the French

"The author's enthusiasm for Shaw and in-depth knowledge of his works shine out. Stafford not only shows the surprising frequency of gardens and libraries as settings in Shaw's plays, but he uses the interpretation of these scenes to explore aspects of the plays that are generally overlooked, adding significant new thematic insights, as well as underlining the importance of scenery in the understanding of stage plays."--Christopher Innes, editor of The Cambridge Companion to Bernard Shaw

Picture the young George Bernard Shaw spending long days in the Reading Room of the British Museum, pursuing a self-taught education, all the while longing for the green landscapes of his native Ireland. It is no coincidence that gardens and libraries often set the scene for Shaw's plays, yet scholars have seldom drawn attention to the fact until now.

Exposing the subtle interplay of these two settings as a key pattern throughout Shaw's dramas, Shaw's Settings fills the need for a systematic study of setting as significant to the playwright's work as a whole. Each of the nine chapters focuses on a different play and a different usage of gardens and libraries, showing that these venues are not just background for action, they also serve as metaphors, foreshadowing, and insight into characters and conflicts. The vital role of Shaw's settings reveals the astonishing depth and complexity of the playwright's dramatic genius.


In recent years the concert readings of Shaw’s plays done by the ShawChicago Theater Co. and Project Shaw in New York (by the Gingold Theatrical Group) have convincingly shown that the language of Shaw’s plays is so powerfully evocative that it can stand alone. In these productions, actors with minimal or no costuming standing before microphones on bare stages, using few or no props, speaking with appropriate facial expressions and the slightest body movement, deliver Shaw’s lines with great effect. Yet this sort of minimalist production succeeds partly because the words themselves manage to adequately convey what has been left out, most notably the visual element provided by actors moving about the stage amid the settings described in the stage directions, which in various ways are realized in full productions.

That settings are crucial to Shaw’s meanings, whether physically present on the stage or suggested to the imagination in readings, has not been so systematically demonstrated as it is in Tony Stafford’s Shaw’s Settings: Gardens and Libraries. To achieve this within a single volume, Professor Stafford has focused on the most meaningful of frequently used settings, that of gardens and libraries, meaningful especially because of their frequent interrelationships in the same play. From Widowers’ Houses to Back to Methuselah, Stafford illustrates his thesis in a significant number of representative plays that as well reveal a sequence of development in Shaw’s dramaturgy over his entire career.

Stafford finds in these interrelationships a semiotics of interpretation that sheds considerable light upon Shaw’s dramatic intentions and accomplishments as it relates Shaw’s particular usages of gardens and libraries to . . .

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