George Bernard Shaw: Man of the Century

By Archibald Henderson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 43
Divertissements

AT VARIOUS TIMES, DURING THE LAST FIFTY YEARS OF HIS LIFE, Shaw TOSSED OFF amusing jests in dramatic form--skits, boutades, jeux d'esprit, even a translation and transposition from the German, and burlesques of his own work. These remind us of the girl with the curl down the middle of her forehead. When they are good, they are very good indeed; and when they are bad, well--!

Shaw declares that blank verse is the easiest of all known modes of literary expression, and that this explains Shakespeare's remarkable productivity. On being challenged to write in blank verse himself, Shaw replied: "I can write blank verse myself more swiftly than prose, and that, too, of full Elisabethan quality plus the Shakespearean sense of the absurdity of it as expressed in the lines of Antient Pistol. What is more,--I have done it, published it, and had it performed on the stage with huge applause."1

Blank verse permits the author a liberty, amounting to license, "to use all sorts of words, colloquial, technical, rhetorical, and obscurely technical, to indulge in the most far-fetched ellipses, and to impress ignorant people with every possible extremity of fantasy and affectation." Liking the "melodious sing-song, the clear, simple, one-line and two-line sayings, and the occasional rhymed tags, like the half-closes in an eighteenth-century symphony, in Peele, Kid, Greene, and the histories of Shakespear," Shaw mischievously "poetasted The Admirable Bashville in the rigmarole style." After illustrating how unspeakably bad Shakespearean blank verse is, Shaw ludicrously claims that his own is "just as good." Nor can one successfully deny that his blank verse scintillates with the Shavian sense of its absurdity. In The Admirable Bashville it is ingeniously, if transparently interlarded with pat paraphrases from Shakespeare, Marlowe and Henry Carey--"so that if any man dared quote me derisively, he should do so in peril of inadvertently lighting on a purple patch from Hamlet or Faustus." Thus Cashel:

A thousand victories cannot wipe out
That birthstain. Oh, my speech bewrayeth it:
My earliest lesson was the player's speech

____________________
1
G. Bernard Shaw, "Bernard Shaw Abashed," abstract of address on Shakespeare at Kensington Town Hall, Daily News, April 17, 1905.

-563-

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