The Playwrighting Self of Bernard Shaw

The Playwrighting Self of Bernard Shaw

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by John A. Bertolini
     
 

Bernard Shaw claimed that he built his plays from “atoms of dust.” Showing where these atoms are and explaining how they fit together to form meaning, Berto­lini demolishes the conventional argu­ment that Shaw was not a meticulous, self-conscious writer.

Bertolini provides close, subtle readings of six of Shaw’s major plays:

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Overview

Bernard Shaw claimed that he built his plays from “atoms of dust.” Showing where these atoms are and explaining how they fit together to form meaning, Berto­lini demolishes the conventional argu­ment that Shaw was not a meticulous, self-conscious writer.

Bertolini provides close, subtle readings of six of Shaw’s major plays: Caesar and Cleopatra, Man and Superman, Major Barbara, The Doctor’s Dilemma, Pygmal­ion, and Saint Joan. He also devotes a full chapter to the one-act plays.

Focusing sharply on details of language and—to a greater extent than any other Shavian—stage directions, Bertolini probes dramatic structure, examines motifs, and points out patterns to demon­strate Shaw’s artistry and to develop a co­herent picture of the playwrighting self of Bernard Shaw. His triumph is to piece together a portrait of the artist from the clues provided by the artist.

To complete this portrait, Bertolini ex­amines the many authors, artists, or art­ist-figures who are characters in Shaw’s plays. Through these dramatic creations, Bertolini contends, Shaw reveals his ideas and feelings about himself as an artist and about the art of writing plays.

In his chapter on Pygmalion, for exam­ple, Bertolini argues that the mother-fix­ated (Shaw’s term) Henry Higgins seeks to create a duchess out of Eliza Doolittle as a way of denying his creation by his mother. This characterization of Higgins expresses Shaw’s anxiety about his own originality, an apprehension fueled by his sense of rivalry with Shakespeare.

Bertolini presents a Shaw who is less iconoclastic, less abrasive, than the Shaw of legend. He sees Bernard Shaw not as a political writer, but as a traditional liter­ary link in the long line of comic classical dramatists that includes Shakespeare, Molière, and Sheridan.

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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
A portrait of the playwright derived from close readings of six major plays and the one-act plays. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780809316502
Publisher:
Southern Illinois University Press
Publication date:
01/24/1991
Edition description:
1st Edition
Pages:
224
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.75(d)
Lexile:
1370L (what's this?)

Meet the Author

John A. Bertolini is Professor of English at Middlebury College. He has published articles in such journals as Renaissance Drama, Shaw: The Annual of Bernard Shaw Studies, and Twentieth Century Lit­erature.

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