‘A tearing, flaring, revivalist drama’ was how Desmond MacCarthy described The Shewing-up of Blanco Posnet. Set in America’s Wild West and aptly subtitled ‘A Sermon in Crude Melodrama’, this single-act play concerns the conversion of a horse thief desperate to ‘keep the devil’ in him and die game. Published in 1909, it brought Shaw into conflict with the Lord Chamberlain of England, who banned it on the grounds of alleged blasphemy, and it was twelve years before the play was performed in a London theatre. In an interview Shaw commented, ‘I am sorry that Fanny’s First Play has destroyed the cherished legend that I am an unpopular playwright … for the first time I have allowed a play of mine to run itself to death … And the worst of it is it will not die.’ First performed in 1911, the play is a delightful farce in which Shaw debates some of his favourite subjects: middle-class morality, marriage, parents and children and women’s rights. And, deliberately concealing his authorship, Shaw took the opportunity to satirize contemporary drama critics who, he claimed, ‘do not know dramatic chalk from dramatic cheese when it is no longer labelled for them.’
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About the Author
BERNARD SHAW was born in Dublin in 1856. After his arrival in London in 1876 he became an active Socialist and a brilliant platform speaker. He wrote on many social aspects of the day: on Common Sense about the War (1914), How to Settle the Irish Question (1917) and The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism (1928). He undertook his own education at the British Museum and consequently became keenly interested in cultural subjects. Thus his prolific output included music, art and theatre reviews, which were collected into several volumes such as Music in London 1890–1894 (3 vols, 1931); Pen Portraits and Reviews (1931); and Our Theatres in the Nineties (3 vols, 1931). He also wrote five novels and some shorter fiction, including The Black Girl in Search of God and Some Lesser Tales and Cashel Byron’s Profession, both published in Penguin’s Bernard Shaw Library.
He conducted a strong attack on the London theatre and was closely associated with the intellectual revival of British theatre. His plays fall into several categories: ‘Plays Pleasant’; ‘Plays Unpleasant’; comedies; chronicle-plays; ‘metabiological Pentateuch’ (Back to Methuselah, a series of plays); and ‘political extravaganzas’. Bernard Shaw died in 1950.