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F I C T I O N A L   S H A W

 

     Bernard Shaw early recognized that he was “a born actor,” but it took a while for the shy young Shaw to create the anything-but-shy GBS role he ultimately chose to play in public, the experimental piecing together of which is to be found in the five novels Shaw wrote at the beginning of his career (see Bernard Shaw’s Novels: Portraits of the Artist as Man and Superman).   One often delightful but sometimes problematic feature of the GBS role was that it often involved playing a court jester, as he himself said, who made political points to King Demos by joking around rather acrobatically and making faces, which sometimes got him into trouble, as, for example, when he was photographed giving a Heil Hitler salute!   Would that he had blotted a thousand of those, for some people even then took literally the joke that was meant figuratively, and the further we get from the original context the more of this literalism there seems to be.   A more characteristic self-fashioning is represented by the photo on the left above in which, on the set of Androcles and the Lion,  Shaw plays instructor in the art of stage sword fighting to actor Granville Barker (with Lillah McCarthy the woman in the middle in this case) and, above on the right, on the book cover of the puppet play “Shakes versus Shav” (1949), in which Shaw is represented as playing Punch & Judy with Shakespeare.  Fictions within fictions.  

The surprising thing is how many other writers found Shaw to be a born character as well as a born actor, seemingly just asking to appear in their novels, poems, and plays, which the caricatures of Shaw found in cartoons (as above) demonstrate graphically.   Hardly a year goes by without several new attempts to use Shaw as a fictional character, mostly in plays, to the extent that Shaw is now fictionalized in over a hundred works written by others.  An annotated bibliography of Shaw’s appearances as a character in the dramatic works of others is to found in the journal SHAW 12, 1992, pp. 125-146 and online at http://www.shawsociety.org/Shaw-as-Character.htm (it’s slow loading, so patience), and many new instances have occurred since 1992. 

 To encourage this fascination with Shaw as a character, the ISS will from time to time publish online, linked from this page, works in which Shaw is fictionalized.  

1.) We shall begin with a two-act play by Margot Peters, well known for her scholarly work characterizing Shaw’s relations with the famous actresses of his day, Ellen Terry being a prime example.   To read “Shaw-Terry-Irving: Woman Between,” just click on the title below:   

SHAW-TERRY-IRVING: WOMAN BETWEEN, by Margot Peters

2.) Our next offering is by Brian Murphy, a play entitled “The Importance of Being,” which has been performed in a staged reading by the Medicine Show Theatre in New York in 1997.  Dr. Murphy, graduate of Harvard and the U. of London, is now Professor Emeritus from Oakland University in Michigan.    The play’s central character is Stewart Headlam, probably the model for the Reverend James Mavor Morell in Shaw's Candida, the fervent Christian Socialist, but Shaw and Oscar Wilde also have their roles to play in the drama of Headlam’s life.  Interestingly, I’ve seen many Morells but none of them looked like Headlam!   If you’d care to learn more about Headlam before reading the play, I recommend a website that explains Headlam's Guild of St. Matthew: http://www.anglocatholicsocialism.org/matthew.html.   Or you can go straight to the play:

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING, by Brian Murphy.

 

 

 

 

 

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