Contrasts: Shaw and Shakespeare
INDICATIVE OF SHAW'S IRRESISTIBLE TENDENCY TO IDENTIFY HIMSELF WITH HIS characters is the interesting circumstance that when he wrote The Dark Lady of the Sonnets, he projected William Shakespeare as Bernard Shaw. Divine levity, inexhaustible joy, grim delight in his own power of looking terrible facts in the face with a chuckle, are here; and Shaw actually says: "I am convinced that he was very like myself: in fact, if I had been born in 1556 instead of 1856, I should have taken to blank verse and given Shakespeare a harder run for his money than all the other Elizabethans together." No vegetarian could have given Shakespeare a run for his money: Shaw would have had to eat red meat, drink deep potations, and spout mighty oaths to please the Elizabethans. His "message" would have been too austere fare for both the groundlings and the courtiers: Socialism, sociology and Fabianism would have had to go. And what would Shaw be without a message? Shakespeare was a shameless pilferer of plots, not because he was too lazy to invent them, but because, Shaw claims, he had no convictions, no message to deliver. But we must clearly recognize that Shakespeare created his own characters, and endowed many of them with immortality. And that, like Shaw who followed him, he often created them in his own image.
For all the harsh things Shaw said about Shakespeare, he was unaffectedly fond of Shakespeare's plays, as he often told me; and pitied the man who cannot enjoy them. One might quote his expressions of admiration of Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night's Dream as "crown jewels of dramatic poetry"; of Romeo and Juliet with its "lines that tighten the heart or catch you up into the heights"; of Richard III as the best of all the "Punch and Judy" plays in which the hero delights man by provoking God and dies unrepentant and game to the last; of Julius Cæsar, in which the "dramatist's art can be carried no higher on the plane chosen"; of Othello, which "remains magnificent by the volume of its passion and the splendour of its word- music"; of the "great achievement" of Hamlet; and of Lear, than which "no greater tragedy will ever be written."
He has outlasted thousands of abler thinkers and will outlast a thousand more. His gift of telling a story (provided some one else told it to him first);