George Bernard Shaw's Major Barbara

By Harold Bloom | Go to book overview

Shaw's Comedy and
Major Barbara

William G. McCollom

Shaw once remarked that if he tried to explain his plays to his confused public, they would be ten times more confused. Of course he did explain them, often with misleading effect. If his plays were as intellectually haughty and uncompromising as his prefaces, essays, and statements to the press, he would be remembered primarily as a satirist, not as a comic dramatist. Despite the trumpet blasts introducing his comedy, the plays themselves, no mere expositions of his contempt for error and folly, prove that he was continually seduced by the absurdity of the human spectacle.

In 1897, Shaw reviewed George Meredith's Essay on Comedy when it appeared in book form, twenty years after the lecture on which it was based. The occasion was rich in ironic comedy. What would the impossible Irishman, the socialist author of a half-dozen plays including Mrs. Warren's Profession and The Devil's Disciple, have to say about this refined presentation of comedy as an essentially conservative art reflecting the common sense of a civilized society? What would he think of Meredith's Comic Spirit poised over the heads of congregated ladies and gentlemen, instructing them so nicely about vanity and affectation that they are ready, on signal, to smile with unequalled politeness or break into silvery laughter? Shaw's response was disingenuous in the extreme. The Essay is "perfectly straightforward and accurate," as one would expect from "perhaps the highest living au‐

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From The Divine Average: A View of Comedy. © 1971 by the Press of Case Western Reserve University.

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George Bernard Shaw's Major Barbara
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Modern Critical Interpretations *
  • George Bernard Shaw's Major Barbara *
  • Contents *
  • Editor's Note vii
  • Introduction 1
  • Sainthood for Millionaires 13
  • Shaw's Comedy and Major Barbara 33
  • Skeptical Faith 49
  • The Marriage of Contraries 75
  • Shaw's Moral Vision 103
  • Shaw's Own Problem Play 133
  • Shaw's Comedy of Disillusionment 153
  • Chronology 165
  • Contributors 167
  • Bibliography 169
  • Acknowledgments 175
  • Index 177
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