Wilde and Bernard Shaw

With the background of Gilbert and Sullivan’s English comic operettas, which set the tone for turn of the 20th century drama5, the brilliantly witty Oscar Wilde shot to fame briefly before finding himself imprisoned for his then-illegal homosexual activities. His first two plays (Vera (1883) and The Duchess of Padua (1891)) shared much with the drama of the earlier half of the century in that they were dull and insignificant. However, due to his considerable powers of satire, his eye for society’s details, and his peculiarly wonderful way with insults and aphorisms, Wilde achieved great success with A Woman of No Importance (1893), An Ideal Husband (1895) and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). These followed the initial popular triumph of Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892) and have become popular again in the 1990s and 2000s.

At the start of the 20th century, a new group of playwrights emerged combining wit and thought in a way (Wilde aside) unheard of in England since the early 18th century. William Butler Yeats tried his hand at drama, adding his Irish mysticism and a lyrical element to The Countess Cathleen (1892) and The Land of the Heart’s Desire (1894). Far greater in a dramatic sense was Yeats’s friend and fellow Irishman John Millington Synge who wrote a controversial but honest comic account of the Irish character in The Playboy of the Western World (1907). Various other plays by Synge have lasted well and are worth investigation, including the tragedy Riders to the Sea (1904) and his late success Red Roses for Me (1946). In the late 1910s and 1920s, W. Somerset Maugham – already famed for his prose fiction – was inspired by the new vogue in dramatic writing and indulged with two refined comedies: Caesar’s Wife and Home and Beauty (both 1919) and various other ever more cynical and Restoration comedy- like plays.

However, it was the work of George Bernard Shaw that truly astounds and at the time re-enlivened the stage. In an extraordinarily long life and writing career, Shaw went from working as a notable critic of the theatre to being its best author with Man and Superman (1903), Pygmalion (1913), Heartbreak House (1919) and vast swathes of other exceptionally intelligent and idea-based plays in the vein of Ibsen (who he greatly admired). He wrote with ease on subjects that made others uneasy such as prostitution and narcissism, but with brave honesty expressed in the unrepressed voices of his characters. A difficult man with strong opinions, Shaw used his comedies as ammunition in his personal fight against the foolish assumptions of the masses.

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Bibliomania.com Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.