Blaming the Bard
THE PERSON WHO DISMISSES Shaw AS A SORT OF MALICIOUS IMP DELIBERATELY sneering at England's glory, Shakespeare, out of sheer perversity and envy, is deaf, dumb and blind. Deaf, because he has not heard Shaw lecture on Shakespeare and also express, privately, his real views of "the Bard"; dumb, because he is stupid (that is what "dumb" means now); blind, because he has not read the many thousands of words which Shaw has written about Shakespeare. Shaw's crusade against Bardolatry, which he himself calls his "onslaught on Shakespeare," is one of the most amusing of his campaigns to attract attention. Shakespearean Bull-Baiting was sure-fire journalism. The British public to a man started up in horror and dismay, whenever Shaw opened up his machine- gun fire on the Swan of Avon. Nothing delighted the mischievous and bantering Shaw quite so much as this convulsive start of the British public, like that of the "edgy" patient when the dentist strikes a nerve.
Shaw's acquaintance with Shakespeare covered the amazingly lengthy period of eighty-five years. This extended experience was rich, varied and stimulating. As a boy he read all of Shakespeare, could quote freely from any of the plays, and knew almost all of Hamlet by heart. His style was profoundly influenced by the Bible, Shakespeare, and Bunyan; and he has said that he had to struggle to throw off the influence of Shakespearean blank verse upon his own style.1 By the time he was thirty, he had matured many original views, prejudices, and prepossessions regarding Shakespeare which he entertained and vehemently expressed on every convenient occasion. It is scarcely to be doubted that the native Irish influence of traditional and habitual hostility to everything English molded, dominated and warped his opinions concerning Shakespeare. Along with a deep admiration for Shakespeare's style, the music of his poetry, the magic and charm of his narrative skill, and the genius of his character portrayal, there was ever at work in Shaw a caustic critical sense alert to detect abundant faults which escaped the eyes of so many readers, blinded by the dazzling aura of his resplendent fame.2____________________