George Bernard Shaw, known as Bernard Shaw, was an Irish critic, playwright, political activist, and polemicist. He started influencing the theater, politics, and culture of the West from the 1880s till his death, and even after his death. Bernard Shaw contributed more than sixty plays to English literature. His major works include Man and Superman, Saint Joan, and Pygmalion. Bernard Shaw was the leading dramatist of his time.  He incorporates historical allegory and satire in his plays. He received the Nobel Prize in Literature for his dramas in 19925.   

The views that Bernard Shaw expressed in his works were, most of the time, argumentative. Shaw supported the alphabet and eugenics reforms. He was strongly against organized religion and vaccination.  He became ill-known for his denouncement of both sides of the First World War. He asserts that both sides of the World War are equally guilty. Even though Bernard Shaw was not a republican, he criticized the policies of the British in Ireland in the post-war period. These views and stances, though, had affected his popularity and productivity as a dramatist, it was not long-lasting.

In the inter-war period, Shaw published numerous ambitious plays. These plays achieved the success of various degrees. Shaw also wrote a film version of his screenplay Pygmalion in 1938. He received an Academy Award for his film. He was continuously in politics. He was highly interested in building controversies around him. For instance, in the 1920s, he renounced the gradualism of the Fabian Society. He also wrote and spoke in favor of the right and left dictatorship. He expressed approval for both Stalin and Mussolini. Though in the final years of his life, he did not make many statements, he continued to write regularly. He does not accept any state honors; even in 1946, he refused to take Order of Merit.

Bernard Shaw is rated second to Shakespeare among British Dramatists and playwrights. The critical and scholarly opinions about his works varied greatly. He has greatly influenced the playwrights of his coming generations. In order to encapsulate the ideas of Bernard Shaw, the term “Shavian” has entered the English language.

A Short Biography of George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw was born on 26th July 1856 in Dublin, Ireland. He was the third child of the family. He got his early education from his clerical uncle’s tutoring sessions.

Under the guidance of his mother, Bernard Shaw recognized the art world. He would also pay regular visits to the National Gallery of Ireland. In 1872, Shaw’s parents got separated. Shaw’s mother took her two daughters along with them to London and left Shaw with his father. After four years, Shaw also followed them. In the meantime, his younger sister had died.

By this time, Shaw had already decided to become a writer. Shaw was financially unstable and could not afford to live. When he was working on his first novels in the British Museum reading room, his mother supported him financially.

Though Shaw spent a lot of time writing his novels, they were, unfortunately, failed miserably. His novels were extensively rejected by the publishers. Dishearten by this, Shaw shifted his attention to politics. He focused on the activities of the British intelligentsia, and in 1884, he also joined the Fabian Society. He also edited the famous book Fabian Essays in Socialism published by the group in 1889.

The following year, Shah also wrote some writings in the form of theater criticism, art, music, and book reviews. In 1895, Shaw started writing his own plays.

Shaw published his first plays in volumes Plays Unpleasant and Plays Pleasant. The volume Plays Unpleasant includes Mrs. Warren’s Profession, The Philanderer, and Widower’s Houses. While the volume Plays Pleasant includes You can Never Tell, The of Destiny, Candida, and Arms and the Man. Shaw employed his signature wit in his plays. He accompanied his wit with the strong doses of social criticism. This social criticism was inspired by the learning of the Fabian Society.

Though these plays did not achieve great success but laid the ground for his career as a dramatist.

In 1898, Shaw wrote one of the best plays, Caesar and Cleopatra. It was a mature work of Shaw. Shaw wrote Man and Superman in 1903. The third of this play, “Don Juan in Hell,” was regarded more than the whole play. This act is also staged as a separate play. Shaw wrote plays for the next fifty years of his life. The plays he wrote at the beginning of the twentieth century are one of his best plays and established his fame as the best dramatist next to Shakespeare. 

His best plays include The Doctor’s Dilemma, Major Barbara, Pygmalion, Saint Joan, and Androcles. All these plays were published in the first two decades of the twentieth century. His vast contributions to dramas to English literature made him win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1925.

Shaw also wrote a film version of his screenplay Pygmalion in 1938. He received an Academy Award for his film. Pygmalion was also adapted into a musical that was also hit. 

Bernard Shaw died on 2nd November 1950 at the age of 94. At that time, he was working on a play.

George Bernard Shaw’s Writing Style

George Bernard Shaw was a rationalist, anti-romantic, and a realist writer. His plays never achieved widespread popularity or were not general recognition in the theater. His plays are difficult to understand without glossary or explanation. His plays do not follow the conventional merits of playwriting. His plays are short of prefaces, characterization, and extended stage-directions.

G. B. Shaw as a Revolutionary Dramatist

Shaw considered it as his job to satirize every custom, tradition, value, or faith. Bernard Shaw shows a unique revolt against all these traditional beliefs. He was a great admirer of revolt since early youth. However, he did not revolt blindly against anything. His revolt was made safe by common and sense and rationalized. Shaw was a realist in his action, absolutist in his mental processions. That is why he was apparently inconsistent. Dickenson comments on his weary and unusual attitude by saying that the mind and pen of Bernard Shaw were free, but his person and body had to live in the world.

The personality and writing of Bernard Shaw have been understood variously. Many critics regard him as the second greatest dramatist/playwright after Shakespeare. However, T.H. Dickenson asserts that Shaw can be anything not primarily a dramatist. He started writing plays after he expressed himself in lectures. He also writes of the economic and social topics, critics, and novelists. Shaw primarily serves his other purposes in fields of argument and exposition. 

George Bernard Shaw as a Critic

Bernard Shaw is a critic. In his criticism, he searches the underlying ideas and concepts of objects. He then subjects those ideas and tests them by the logic of events. He has made two types of criticism: art criticism, and social criticism. In art criticism, he criticizes literature, music, drama, and painting. While in social criticism, he criticizes the ideas formulated by religion, morality, and politics.

For Shaw, art is the expression of the hidden logic of life in resolute self-control. The only function or art, for him, is the interpretation and systemizing forces of life. He did not care about other functions of art as a source of entertainment, the pleasure of illustration of beauty. After his unfortunate attempt as a novelist, he shifted himself to dramatic and musical criticism. In his dramatic and musical criticism, he inculcates all those faculties of mind that he employed in his novels.

No Technicality in Art

Shaw does not regard any technical and form contemplations in art. For him, art and music bear a stimulating and renovating method. Likewise, he also criticizes the socially accepted ideas of religion, customs, and tradition in the same way. He examines art as if it were men and men, as if it were art. In his criticism, he tends to shift away from fixed codes of virtue and vice, and formulas of beliefs. He would always keep his mind liberated from interweaving associations of enthusiasm or faith.

Bernard Shaw also informs his readers about his commodities. Shaw has the amalgamation of originality and honesty in his ideas and distributes them with extraordinary ability. For Shaw, thinking with honesty is as worthy as the delivery of honest merchandise. He expresses his policy by saying that people should make all efforts to know the right things to communicate, then express it with most tiresome humor. To popularize his ideas and ideals, Shaw employed the instrument of waggery (humor).

Bernard Shaw never achieved command on any literary technique. His ideas have been so reckless that it was difficult for Bernard Shaw to express them artistically. The novels he wrote between 1880 and 1883 illustrate his reckless ideas and his difficulty to manage them. His ideas in the novels are criticism of the sane institutions that he later criticizes in his plays.

Drama as the Medium to Convey his Thoughts

In his novels, Shaw talks about the middle-class narrow-mindedness, persuasion of men by women, pallid-ascetic artist, the problems of wealth, the sensible breaking of moral codes, ridiculous ideas of heroism and sports, poverty as crime, and many more. These topics are also discussed in his plays. However, the way he constructs these topics/themes in the novels appears to be unfit for the genre.

He appears to be struggling between the requirements of providing the medium for the action of the narrative and the requirements of expanding the mental fights. Bernard Shaw needed to look for a medium of art in which he would express his theoretical ideas more with less narrative. Therefore, he opted to express his ideas in drama. Dickenson claims that Shaw has personally no affection for drama; he held it as a medium to express his ideas, which was not possible with any other medium.

Bernard Shaw regarded drama as an instrument. This fact is revealed through the way he handled it. Bernard Shaw never made his play self-sufficient. He associates it with all other forms that are necessary to express his ideas. Bernard Shaw avails the opportunity to express in many poi to views without making any specific. The characters in the drama are speaking of themselves, not of the author’s mind. In this way, Bernard Shaw makes himself safe, which was not possible with novels.


Bernard Shaw throws his own ideas into his characters to play with. Bernard Shaw would summon up his own contribution to show his own interest in the discussion of the preface. Sometimes, his preface is as long as the length of the play. A new kind of play has been produced with this instrumental treatment.

Once Shaw started writing plat, he rejected all traditional methods and techniques of playwriting. He started writing plays of his own kind. Until Shaw’s time, playwriting, on the basis of content, has been classified into three categories: realistic plays, satires of manners plays, and idealist plays. The plays of Bernard Shaw do not belong to any of these categories.

Content of G. B. Shaw’s Plays

The content of his plays is mental in which modern life dwelled. For him, in modern life, the most significant thing is the ideas out of which we construct our living world. Men and women of his plays have moved to a region of thoughts more than actions. He governs their action by the laws of their thoughts. Shaw inculcates the severities of his thoughts into their characters. Shaw also inquires his character about their views of the worlds they live in.

Certainly, all characters of the Shaw are talking. However, in the history of the play, no one has created such freely expressive characters. Shaw has given long speeches to his characters as the characters convey some sort of ideas. Many of his characters are employed with the faculty of speech. All his characters talk with enthusiasm. They talk about their own business, which is primarily everyone’s business.

Shaw employed ideas in his plays, which are debated and consented. His ideas and even when the characters talk about them become dramatic to a great extent.  Dickenson comments that in Shaw’s plays, wherever there is a struggle of wills, there is the struggle of speech and ideas.     

 Very few characters of Bernard Shaw are independent. He never made his characters live outside the ideas that they symbolized. Shaw is not interested in his characters but takes them as a source of expression of his ideas. The play stands for its material and the concepts through which characters are created, not for its characters. Similarly, the dramatic nature of Shaw’s plays is not because of the clash between his characters but because of the clash of ideas. Shaw’s expression of men and women is based on ideas. Shaw does not test men partly by his speech. So the characters never lose themselves in their discourse.

The clashes in Shaw’s dramas are mental, unforced, and dramatic. The plays of Shaw lack emotions, but when they occur, they appear as the coloring of thoughts. They shoot through ideas with the desire of life. Moreover, if someone is reading the speech of any character of Shaw, he must not think that Shaw has echoed his thoughts in the speech of the character. That character may be the most mistaken one in his gallery of characters. Shaw never projects his thoughts through his characters.

Realism in Shaw’s Plays

Shaw is regarded as the dramatist realist. He rejected the plays written by Victorians and romantics. He uses the romantic’s characteristic of free imagination in the structure of his plays. While writing his plays, he did not depend upon the prevailing forms. He is creative and outstanding in creating and arranging his plots. He takes the grace of wit and dependency upon outward appearance as a catalog of the soul from the plays of manner. Similarly, he takes the actions of men and women in their natural environment and constructs his characters as ordinary as realist plays. His characters show a structure of social suggestiveness.

Bernard Shaw delivered his ideas and characters in a unique and his own way. He does not focus on the form or necessity of production or balancing principles. Shaw doesn’t care about creating principled things, as he does not respect the art cannons; therefore, he does not pay any attention to them. He is also considered as an Ibsebian. His plays only deal with society and are based on Ibsenian and Pseudo-Ibsenian ideals.

Paradox and Wit in Shaw’s Plays

Bernard Shaw’s plays are occupied with paradox and wit. He does not ease himself by satisfying himself by any easy scheme, such as denying the apparent. He employed wit to sell his commodities among the public. His wit is also preserving his thoughts. His plays are filled with humor, turning about, and surprises. Moreover, his plays are full of harsh satire. Through his plays, Shaw let himself develop a legend of himself. He puts a white light on Caesar, on Christianity, on Love, on Patriotism, and on Napoleon.


To conclude, Bernard Shaw, as a thinker, is precedent over Bernard Shaw as a dramatist. Had he held more mastery in handling the actions, he might have been a more successful dramatist. Some of his scenes of pure magic revealed him as the best dramatist. There are several moving scenes in the play Caesar and Cleopatra; there are some delightful turns of incidents in the play The Devil’s Disciple, the victory of March’s bank in Candida, the death scene in The Doctor’s dilemma, and many more scenes are the best scenes in the English prose drama. 

All these scenes are concealed in such a new fashion that readers read them with full concentration. Indeed, Bernard Shaw has succeeded in crafting a new sort of drama that focuses on the discussion of ideas and considers it to be the most vital as actions in the drama of the past time, as well as in contemporary times.

Works Of George Bernard Shaw