George Bernard Shaw: Man of the Century

By Archibald Henderson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 33
Candida Accepted, Rejected

WRITTEN IN THE AUTUMN OF 1894, Candida WAS NOT PRODUCED ON THE STAGE until 1897. It was read to the famous English comedy actor, Charles Wyndham, who dropped a tear over the final scene, but assured Shaw that it would be twenty-five years before such a play would be possible on the London stage. George Alexander, the handsomest of the actor-managers, offered to play the part of the "penny-poet," if Shaw would make him blind to secure sympathy. Many actresses were fascinated by the title part; but Shaw had made the great mistake of promising it to Janet Achurch, whose pre-emption kept the play from the regular stage for several years. In 1895, Cyril Maude, actor-manager of the Haymarket Theatre, London, asked Shaw to be allowed to examine this play; but Shaw, knowing the requirements of the Haymarket Theatre, complied by writing You Never Can Tell. Shaw had purposely contrived Candida in such a way as to make the expense of representation insignificant: the play fulfills the three dramatic unities.

After Richard Mansfield rejected The Philanderer, Shaw recommended Candida, with the unhappy suggestion that Mansfield play Marchbanks as a sort of tour de force, and engage Janet Achurch to play the title rôle.

29 Fitzroy Square. London W. 22nd February 1895

MY DEAR MANSFIELD

Now let me ask you whether you can play a boy of eighteen--a strange creature--a poet--a bundle of nerves--a genius--and a rattling good part. The actor-managers here can't get down to the age. The play, which is called Candida, is the most fascinating work in the world--my latest--in three acts, one cheap scene, and with six characters. The woman's part divides the interest and the necessary genius with the poet's. There are only two people in the world possible for it: Janet Achurch, for whom it was written, and Mrs. Kendal. If Janet creates it here, will you pay her fare out and back and give her 300 dollars a week or so for the sake of covering yourself with new and strange fascinations as the poet? By the way, there's probably no money in the piece; but it's a charming work of art; and the money would fly somehow.

-432-

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