Plays & Players; Essays on the Theatre

Plays & Players; Essays on the Theatre

Plays & Players; Essays on the Theatre

Plays & Players; Essays on the Theatre

Excerpt

'It is the capacity for making good or bad art a personal matter that makes a man a critic. . . . When people do less than their best, and do that less at once badly and self-complacently, I hate them, loathe them, detest them, long to tear them limb from limb and strew them in gobbets about the stage or platform. . . . In the same way, really fine artists inspire me with the warmest personal regard. . . . When my critical mood is at its height, personal feeling is not the word: it is passion: the passion for artistic perfection--for the noblest beauty of sound, sight, and action--that rages in me.'--Bernard Shaw in The World, 3 September 1890 (reprinted in Music in London 1890-94, vol. i, p. 54, 1931).

THERE is much of Shaw himself in the John Tanner of Man and Superman, particularly in the speech telling of the birth in him of 'moral passion'. Tanner speaks also of the passion of the artist and the passion of the thinker, and in these three passions--moral passion, aesthetic passion, intellectual passion--are the roots of Shaw's uniqueness as a critic. In all his writings he was, consistently and persistently, a critic: a critic of art, a critic of life. Art in any form was to him a function of life, and as a creator, in his plays, he employed the shaping hand of the artist upon the raw material of experience.

It is less controversial and therefore less time-wasting to speak of Shaw's uniqueness among dramatic critics, than of his pre-eminence. There is no infallible criterion of judgement to determine whether he is better or less good than Hazlitt, Leigh Hunt, Lamb, or any other of the notable writers on plays and acting; but it is beyond question that no one else has written dramatic criticism like Shaw's, though not for want of trying. Those who have attempted to imitate him have failed through the false assumption that Shaw's renown as a critic depended upon the exploitation of . . .

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