George Bernard Shaw's Major Barbara

By Harold Bloom | Go to book overview

Shaw's Comedy of Disillusionment

Stanton B. Garner, Jr.

UNDERSHAFT: You have learnt something. That always feels at first as if you had lost something.

BARBARA: Well, take me to the factory of death; and let me learn something more. There must be some truth or other behind all this frightful irony.

A number of years ago, the New Yorker printed a remarkable cartoon, at once ludicrous and poignant. It consisted of a snowman, assembled with more eagerness than skill, stick arms propped awkwardly in its sides. Leaning slightly forward, it stared into the middle distance with an expression of alarm and despair. As the cartoon's caption explained it: "The snowman realizes what he is. "

Frozen both physically and spiritually in its icebound anagnorisis, the snowman enacts a gaze which lies at the heart of Western drama. For while drama clearly lies within what Susanne K. Langer calls "the mode of Destiny"—springing along its vectors of project and action, "always great with things to come"—it is no less characterized by those moments when forward movement halts, when the dramatic character must confront himself in the stillness and silence which uniquely characterize the theater as an artistic medium. Typically, such pauses are also moments of truth: the guiding motivation of a misperception collapses in the face of the real state of affairs, and the character must reconstruct his understanding of himself and others in light of his new realizations. Othello, driven by an increasingly blinding delusion, is brought to the point where delusion ends, in the realization of how he has been manipulated, what he has done, and how deeply it has

____________________
From Modern Drama 28, no. 4 (December 1985). © 1985 by the University of Toronto, Graduate Centre for the Study of Drama.

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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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