Drama: From Ibsen to Eliot

By Raymond Williams | Go to book overview

4
Bernard Shaw

(i)

THE Thing, which was foretold in the Metabiological Pentateuch, almost Happened. In 1950, Shaw, the younger contemporary of Ibsen, the contemporary of Strindberg and Chekhov, the elder contemporary of Synge and Pirandello, was still with us. The man, whom we all respected, and whose death, in spite of all his irreverence to death, was strangely moving, had outlived his epoch. In a very proper paradox, the great purveyor of iconoclasm had become, in his great age, one of the most unassailable of popular ikons. "Greater than Shakespeare" scandalised in its day; "Shaw is not great" is today a wider scandal.

The social context of his reputation is responsible for much that in other terms would be inexplicable. Shaw was the great literary figure in a society which was largely uninterested in literature. Criticism, the very breath of Shaw's own being, was more or less ineffective in a situation which as much as anyone Shaw himself confused. Shaw's reputation, it is clear, was less a literary reputation than, in all senses, literary-political; (was he not, indeed, a principal designer of the fashion in literary politics that the shortest cut to greatness is, on every available occasion, to assume and proclaim it?) From so formidable a confusion criticism might well--as it often does, quail. But now, while we honour the memory of the man, the attempt at revaluation of the dramatist had better again be made.


(ii)

The Quintessence of Ibsenism was published in 1891, and became the prelude to Shaw's dramatic career. Shaw's book, as I have argued elsewhere, has to do with Ibsen only in the sense that it seriously misrepresents him; but the book was one of the forces which produced what was known at the time as the "new drama"--a movement which was identified with Mr.

-138-

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Drama: From Ibsen to Eliot
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Foreword v
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction 11
  • Part I 39
  • I - Henrik Ibsen 41
  • 2 - August Strindberg 98
  • 3 - Anton Chekhov 126
  • 4 - Bernard Shaw 138
  • 5 - J. M. Synge 154
  • 6- Two Social Plays 175
  • 7 - Luigi Pirandello 185
  • 8 - Jean Anouilh: a Comment 196
  • Part II 203
  • I - W. B. Yeats 205
  • 2 - T. S. Eliot 223
  • 3 - Some Verse Dramatists 247
  • 4 - Criticism into Drama 269
  • Index 279
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