Bernard Shaw: A Critical View by Nicholas Grene (auth.)

By Nicholas Grene (auth.)

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Shaw moved from Unpleasant to Pleasant plays, from a tactic of confrontation to one of compromise with his audience's expectations, not for practical but for temperamental reasons. Even in the Unpleasant plays, he found it hard to be truly rebarbitive. In the change of tone from Widowers' Houses to Mrs Warren's Prrifession we can see his preference for a less offensive dramatic strategy and a pleasanter cast of characters. In Arms and the Man he discovered his great gift for stage comedy, and from then on he was determined to put it to use.

Sergius in Arms and the Man is a striking case in point. Sergius's Byronism is intended to be a much more important comic objectlesson than the vaguer Romanticism which afflicts the other characters. Shaw describes him at length in an introductory stagedirection. By his brooding on the perpetual failure, not only of others, but of himself, to live up to his ideals; by his consequent cynical scorn for humanity; by his jejeune credulity as to the absolute validity of his concepts and the unworthiness of the world in disregarding them; by his wincings and mockeries under the sting of the petty disillusions which every hour spent among men brings to his sensitive observation, he has acquired the half tragic, half ironic air, the mysterious moodiness, the suggestion of a strange and terrible history that has left nothing but undying remorse, by which Childe Harold fascinated the grandmothers of his English contemporaries.

Pleasant/ Unpleasant 21 Whether or not we agree with this analysis, it is cogently and dramatically argued in Mrs Warren. What gives the play more depth and more interest than Widowers' Houses, however, is the relationship between Vivie and her mother which is its emotional dynamic. Shaw was developing here what was only a hint in a scene between Blanche and Sartorius. When Sartorius realises how completely his daughter despises the working-classes from which her father came, he comments '[coldlY and a little wistfullY] I see I have made a real lady of you, Blanche' (CP, I, 110).

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