George Bernard Shaw: Wikis


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George Bernard Shaw

Born 26 July 1856(1856-07-26)
Dublin, Ireland
Died 2 November 1950 (aged 94)
Hertfordshire, England
Occupation Playwright, critic, political activist
Nationality Irish
Genres Satire, black comedy
Literary movement Reformist socialist
Notable award(s) Nobel Prize in Literature

Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay
1938 Pygmalion

George Bernard Shaw (26 July 1856 – 2 November 1950) was an Irish playwright. Although his first profitable writing was music and literary criticism, in which capacity he wrote many highly articulate pieces of journalism, his main talent was for drama, and he wrote more than 60 plays. Nearly all his writings deal sternly with prevailing social problems, but have a vein of comedy to make their stark themes more palatable. Shaw examined education, marriage, religion, government, health care and class privilege.

He was most angered by what he perceived as the exploitation of the working class, and most of his writings censure that abuse. An ardent socialist, Shaw wrote many brochures and speeches for the Fabian Society. He became an accomplished orator in the furtherance of its causes, which included gaining equal rights for men and women, alleviating abuses of the working class, rescinding private ownership of productive land, and promoting healthy lifestyles.

Shaw married Charlotte Payne-Townshend, a fellow Fabian, whom he survived. They settled in Ayot St. Lawrence in a house now called Shaw's Corner. Shaw died there, aged 94, from chronic problems exacerbated by injuries he incurred by falling.

He is the first person to have been awarded both a Nobel Prize for Literature (1925) and an Oscar (1938), for his contributions to literature and for his work on the film Pygmalion (adaption of his play of the same name), respectively.[1] Shaw wanted to refuse his Nobel Prize outright because he had no desire for public honors, but accepted it at his wife's behest: she considered it a tribute to Ireland. He did reject the monetary award, requesting it be used to finance translation of Swedish books to English.[2]



George Bernard Shaw's Birthplace, Dublin.

Early years and family

George Bernard Shaw was born in Synge Street, Dublin in 1856 to George Carr Shaw (1814–85), an unsuccessful grain merchant and sometime civil servant, and Lucinda Elizabeth Shaw, née Gurly (1830–1913), a professional singer. He had two sisters, Lucinda Frances (1853–1920), a singer of musical comedy and light opera, and Elinor Agnes (1855–76).


Shaw briefly attended the Wesleyan Connexional School, a grammar school operated by the Methodist New Connexion, before moving to a private school near Dalkey and then transferring to Dublin's Central Model School. He ended his formal education at the Dublin English Scientific and Commercial Day School. He harbored a lifelong animosity toward schools and teachers, saying: "Schools and schoolmasters, as we have them today, are not popular as places of education and teachers, but rather prisons and turnkeys in which children are kept to prevent them disturbing and chaperoning their parents".[3] In the astringent prologue to Cashel Byron's Profession young Byron's educational experience is a fictionalized description of Shaw's own schooldays. Later, he painstakingly detailed the reasons for his aversion to formal education in his Treatise on Parents and Children.[4] In brief, he considered the standardized curricula useless, deadening to the spirit and stifling to the intellect. He particularly deplored the use of corporal punishment, which was prevalent in his time.

When his mother left home and followed her voice teacher, George Vandeleur Lee, to London, Shaw was almost sixteen years old. His sisters accompanied their mother[5] but Shaw remained in Dublin with his father, first as a reluctant pupil, then as a clerk in an estate office. He worked efficiently, albeit discontentedly, for several years.[6] In 1876, Shaw joined his mother's London household. She, Vandeleur Lee, and his sister Lucy, provided him with a pound a week while he frequented public libraries and the British Museum reading room where he studied earnestly and began writing novels. He earned his allowance by ghostwriting Vandeleur Lee's music column,[7][8] which appeared in the London Hornet. His novels were rejected, however, so his literary earnings remained negligible until 1885, when he became self-supporting as a critic of the arts.

Personal life and political activism

The front of Shaw's Corner as it stands today

Influenced by his reading, he became a dedicated Socialist and a charter member of the Fabian Society,[9] a middle class organization established in 1884 to promote the gradual spread of socialism by peaceful means.[6] In the course of his political activities he met Charlotte Payne-Townshend, an Irish heiress and fellow Fabian; they married in 1898. In 1906 the Shaws moved into a house, now called Shaw's Corner, in Ayot St. Lawrence, a small village in Hertfordshire; it was to be their home for the remainder of their lives, although they also maintained a residence at 29 Fitzroy Square in London.

Shaw's plays were first performed in the 1890s. By the end of the decade he was an established playwright. He wrote sixty-three plays and his output as novelist, critic, pamphleteer, essayist and private correspondent was prodigious. He is known to have written more than 250,000 letters.[10] Along with Fabian Society members Sidney Webb and Beatrice Webb and Graham Wallas, Shaw founded the London School of Economics and Political Science in 1895 with funding provided by private philanthropy, including a bequest of £20,000 from Henry Hunt Hutchinson to the Fabian Society. One of the libraries at the LSE is named in Shaw's honor; it contains collections of his papers and photographs.[11]

Final years

During his latter years, Shaw enjoyed attending to the grounds at Shaw's Corner. He died at the age of 94, of renal failure precipitated by injuries incurred by falling while pruning a tree.[12] His ashes, mixed with those of his wife, were scattered along footpaths and around the statue of Saint Joan in their garden.[13]



The International Shaw Society provides a detailed chronological listing of Shaw's writings.[14] See also George Bernard Shaw, Unity Theatre.[15] View Shaw's Works for listings of his novels and plays, with links to their electronic texts, if those exist.


Shaw became a critic of the arts when, sponsored by William Archer, he joined the reviewing staff of the Pall Mall Gazette in 1885.[16] There he wrote under the pseudonym "Corno di Bassetto" ("basset horn")—chosen because it sounded European and nobody knew what a corno di bassetto was. In a miscellany of other periodicals, including Dramatic Review (1885–86), Our Corner (1885–86), and the Pall Mall Gazette (1885–88) his byline was "GBS".[17] From 1895 to 1898, Shaw was the drama critic for Frank Harris' Saturday Review, in which position he campaigned brilliantly to displace the artificialities and hypocrisies of the Victorian stage with a theater of actuality and thought. His earnings as a critic made him self-supporting as an author and his articles for the Saturday Review made his name well-known.

He had a very high regard for both Irish stage actor Barry Sullivan's and Johnston Forbes-Robertson's Hamlets, but despised John Barrymore's. Barrymore invited him to see a performance of his celebrated Hamlet, and Shaw graciously accepted, but wrote Barrymore a withering letter in which he all but tore the performance to shreds. Even worse, Shaw had seen the play in the company of Barrymore's then-wife, but did not dare voice his true feelings about the performance aloud to her.[18]

Much of Shaw's music criticism, ranging from short comments to the book-length essay The Perfect Wagnerite, extols the work of the German composer Richard Wagner.[19] Wagner worked 25 years composing Der Ring des Nibelungen, a massive four-part musical dramatization drawn from the Teutonic mythology of gods, giants, dwarves and Rhine maidens; Shaw considered it a work of genius and reviewed it in detail. Beyond the music, he saw it as an allegory of social evolution where workers, driven by "the invisible whip of hunger", seek freedom from their wealthy masters. Wagner did have socialistic sympathies, as Shaw carefully points out, but made no such claim about his opus. Conversely, Shaw disparaged Brahms, deriding A German Requiem by saying "it could only have come from the establishment of a first-class undertaker".[20] Although he found Brahms lacking in intellect, he praised his musicality, saying "...nobody can listen to Brahms' natural utterance of the richest absolute music, especially in his chamber compositions, without rejoicing in his natural gift". In the 1920s, he recanted, calling his earlier animosity towards Brahms "my only mistake".[19] Shaw's writings about music gained great popularity because they were understandable and fair, as well as pleasantly light-hearted and free of affectation, thus contrasting starkly with the dourly pretentious pedantry of most critiques in that era.[21] All of his music critiques have been collected in Shaw's Music.[22] As a drama critic for the Saturday Review, a post he held from 1895 to 1898, Shaw championed Henrik Ibsen whose realistic plays scandalized the Victorian public. His influential Quintessence of Ibsenism was written in 1891.[23]


Shaw wrote five unsuccessful novels at the start of his career between 1879 and 1883. Eventually all were published.

Shaw in 1925, when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature

The first to be printed was Cashel Byron's Profession (1886),[24] which was written in 1882. Its eponymous character, Cashel, a rebellious schoolboy with an unsympathetic mother, runs away to Australia where he becomes a famed prizefighter. He returns to England for a boxing match, and falls in love with erudite and wealthy Lydia Carew. Lydia, drawn by sheer animal magnetism, eventually consents to marry despite the disparity of their social positions. This breach of propriety is nullified by the unpresaged discovery that Cashel is of noble lineage and heir to a fortune comparable to Lydia's. With those barriers to happiness removed, the couple settles down to prosaic family life with Lydia dominant; Cashel attains a seat in Parliament. In this novel Shaw first expresses his conviction that productive land and all other natural resources should belong to everyone in common, rather than being owned and exploited privately. The book was written in the year when Shaw first heard the lectures of Henry George who advocated such reforms.

Written in 1883, An Unsocial Socialist was published in 1887.[25] The tale begins with a hilarious description of student antics at a girl's school then changes focus to a seemingly uncouth laborer who, it soon develops, is really a wealthy gentleman in hiding from his overly affectionate wife. He needs the freedom gained by matrimonial truancy to promote the socialistic cause, to which he is an active convert. Once the subject of socialism emerges, it dominates the story, allowing only space enough in the final chapters to excoriate the idle upper class and allow the erstwhile schoolgirls, in their earliest maturity, to marry suitably.

Love Among the Artists was published in the United States in 1900 and in England in 1914,[26] but it was written in 1881. In the ambiance of chit-chat and frivolity among members of Victorian polite society a youthful Shaw describes his views on the arts, romantic love and the practicalities of matrimony. Dilettantes, he thinks, can love and settle down to marriage, but artists with real genius are too consumed by their work to fit that pattern. The dominant figure in the novel is Owen Jack, a musical genius, somewhat mad and quite bereft of social graces. From an abysmal beginning he rises to great fame and is lionized by socialites despite his unremitting crudity.

The Irrational Knot was written in 1880 and published in 1905.[27] Within a framework of leisure class preoccupations and frivolities Shaw disdains hereditary status and proclaims the nobility of workers. Marriage, as the knot in question, is exemplified by the union of Marian Lind, a lady of the upper class, to Edward Conolly, always a workman but now a magnate, thanks to his invention of an electric motor that makes steam engines obsolete. The marriage soon deteriorates, primarily because Marian fails to rise above the preconceptions and limitations of her social class and is, therefore, unable to share her husband's interests. Eventually she runs away with a man who is her social peer, but he proves himself a scoundrel and abandons her in desperate circumstances. Her husband rescues her and offers to take her back, but she pridefully refuses, convinced she is unworthy and certain that she faces life as a pariah to her family and friends. The preface, written when Shaw was 49, expresses gratitude to his parents for their support during the lean years while he learned to write and includes details of his early life in London.

Shaw's first novel, Immaturity, was written in 1879 but was the last one to be printed in 1931.[28] It relates tepid romances, minor misfortunes and subdued successes in the developing career of Robert Smith, an energetic young Londoner and outspoken agnostic. Condemnation of alcoholic behavior is the prime message in the book, and derives from Shaw's familial memories. This is made clear in the books's preface, which was written by the mature Shaw at the time of its belated publication. The preface is a valuable resource because it provides autobiographical details not otherwise available.

Short stories

Shaw writing in a notebook at the time of first production of his play Pygmalion.

A collection of Shaw's short stories, The Black Girl in Search of God and Some Lesser Tales, was published in 1934.[29] The Black Girl, an enthusiastic but misguided convert to Christianity, goes searching for God, whom she believes to be an actual person. Written as an allegory, somewhat reminiscent of Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, Shaw uses her adventures to expose flaws and fallacies in the religions of the world. At the story's happy ending, the Black Girl quits her searchings in favor of rearing a family with the aid of a red-haired Irishman who has no metaphysical inclination.

One of the Lesser Tales is The Miraculous Revenge (1885), which relates the misadventures of an alcoholic investigator while he probes the mystery of a graveyard—full of saintly corpses—that migrates across a stream to escape association with the body of a newly buried sinner. The story is so different from Shaw's ordinary style that it is hard to believe he wrote it.


The texts of plays by Shaw mentioned in this section, with the dates when they were written and first performed can be found in Complete Plays and Prefaces.[30]  Shaw began working on his first play destined for production, Widowers' Houses, in 1885 in collaboration with critic William Archer, who supplied the structure. Archer decided that Shaw could not write a play, so the project was abandoned. Years later, Shaw tried again and, in 1892, completed the play without collaboration. Widowers' Houses, a scathing attack on slumlords, was first performed at London's Royalty Theatre on 9 December 1892. Shaw would later call it one of his worst works, but he had found his medium. His first significant financial success as a playwright came from Richard Mansfield's American production of The Devil's Disciple (1897). He went on to write 63 plays, most of them full-length.

Often his plays succeeded in the United States and Germany before they did in London. Although major London productions of many of his earlier pieces were delayed for years, they are still being performed there. Examples include Mrs. Warren's Profession (1893), Arms and the Man (1894), Candida (1894) and You Never Can Tell (1897).

Shaw's plays, like those of Oscar Wilde, were fraught with incisive humor, which was exceptional among playwrights of the Victorian era; both authors are remembered for their comedy.[31] However, Shaw's wittiness should not obscure his important role in revolutionizing British drama. In the Victorian Era, the London stage had been regarded as a place for frothy, sentimental entertainment. Shaw made it a forum for considering moral, political and economic issues, possibly his most lasting and important contribution to dramatic art. In this, he considered himself indebted to Henrik Ibsen, who pioneered modern realistic drama, meaning drama designed to heighten awareness of some important social issue. Significantly, Widowers' Houses — an example of the realistic genre — was completed after William Archer, Shaw's friend, had translated some of Ibsen's plays to English and Shaw had written The Quintessence of Ibsensism.[32]

As Shaw's experience and popularity increased, his plays and prefaces became more voluble about reforms he advocated, without diminishing their success as entertainments. Such works, including Caesar and Cleopatra (1898), Man and Superman (1903), Major Barbara (1905) and The Doctor's Dilemma (1906), display Shaw's matured views, for he was approaching 50 when he wrote them. From 1904 to 1907, several of his plays had their London premieres in notable productions at the Court Theatre, managed by Harley Granville-Barker and J. E. Vedrenne. The first of his new plays to be performed at the Court Theatre, John Bull's Other Island (1904), while not especially popular today, made his reputation in London when King Edward VII laughed so hard during a command performance that he broke his chair.[33]

By the 1910s, Shaw was a well-established playwright. New works such as Fanny's First Play (1911) and Pygmalion (1912)—on which the famous, award-winning musical My Fair Lady (1956) is based—had long runs in front of large London audiences. A musical adaptation of Arms and the Man (1894)—The Chocolate Soldier by Oscar Straus (1908)—was also very popular, but Shaw detested it and, for the rest of his life, forbade musicalization of his work, including a proposed Franz Lehár operetta based on Pygmalion; the Broadway musical My Fair Lady could be produced only after Shaw's death. There is, however, a sharp difference between The Chocolate Soldier and My Fair Lady which Shaw never anticipated, and perhaps never could have; The Chocolate Soldier uses none of Shaw's own dialogue, while My Fair Lady, despite having a few speeches entirely written by librettist Alan Jay Lerner, uses generous chunks of Shaw's dialogue unchanged.

Shaw's outlook was changed by World War I, which he uncompromisingly opposed despite incurring outrage from the public as well as from many friends. His first full-length piece, presented after the War, written mostly during it, was Heartbreak House (1919). A new Shaw had emerged—the wit remained, but his faith in humanity had dwindled. In the preface to Heartbreak House he said:

"It is said that every people has the Government it deserves. It is more to the point that every Government has the electorate it deserves; for the orators of the front bench can edify or debauch an ignorant electorate at will. Thus our democracy moves in a vicious circle of reciprocal worthiness and unworthiness."[34]

The movable hut in the garden of Shaw's Corner, where Shaw wrote most of his works after 1906, including Pygmalion.

Shaw had previously supported gradual democratic change toward socialism, but now he saw more hope in government by benign strong men. This sometimes made him oblivious to the dangers of dictatorships. Near his life's end that hope failed him too. In the first act of Buoyant Billions (1946–48), his last full-length play, his protagonist asks:

"Why appeal to the mob when ninetyfive per cent of them do not understand politics, and can do nothing but mischief without leaders? And what sort of leaders do they vote for? For Titus Oates and Lord George Gordon with their Popish plots, for Hitlers who call on them to exterminate Jews, for Mussolinis who rally them to nationalist dreams of glory and empire in which all foreigners are enemies to be subjugated."[35]

In 1921, Shaw completed Back to Methuselah, his "Metabiological Pentateuch". The massive, five-play work starts in the Garden of Eden and ends thousands of years in the future; it showcases Shaw's postulate that a "Life Force" directs evolution toward ultimate perfection by trial and error. Shaw proclaimed the play a masterpiece, but many critics disagreed. The theme of a benign force directing evolution reappears in Geneva (1938), wherein Shaw maintains humans must develop longer lifespans in order to acquire the wisdom needed for self-government.

Methuselah was followed by Saint Joan (1923), which is generally considered to be one of his better works. Shaw had long considered writing about Joan of Arc, and her canonization in 1920 supplied a strong incentive. The play was an international success, and is believed to have led to his Nobel Prize in Literature.[36] The citation praised his work as "...marked by both idealism and humanity, its stimulating satire often being infused with a singular poetic beauty". At this time Prime Minister David Lloyd George was considering recommending to the King Shaw's admission to the Order of Merit, but the place was instead given to J. M. Barrie.[36] Shaw rejected a knighthood.[36] It was not until 1946 that the government of the day arranged for an informal offer of the Order of Merit to be made: Shaw declined, replying that "merit" in authorship could only be determined by the posthumous verdict of history.[36]

He wrote plays for the rest of his life, but very few of them are as notable—or as often revived—as his earlier work. The Apple Cart (1929) was probably his most popular work of this era. Later full-length plays like Too True to Be Good (1931), On the Rocks (1933), The Millionairess (1935), and Geneva (1938) have been seen as marking a decline. His last significant play, In Good King Charles Golden Days has, according to St. John Ervine,[37] passages that are equal to Shaw's major works.

Shaw's published plays come with lengthy prefaces. These tend to be more about Shaw's opinions on the issues addressed by the plays than about the plays themselves. Often his prefaces are longer than the plays they introduce. For example, the Penguin Books edition of his one-act The Shewing-up Of Blanco Posnet (1909) has a 67-page preface for the 29-page playscript.


In a letter to Henry James dated 17 January 1909,[38] Shaw said:

"I, as a Socialist, have had to preach, as much as anyone, the enormous power of the environment. We can change it; we must change it; there is absolutely no other sense in life than the task of changing it. What is the use of writing plays, what is the use of writing anything, if there is not a will which finally moulds chaos itself into a race of gods."[39]

Thus he viewed writing as a way to further his humanitarian and political agendas. His works were very popular because of their comedic content, but the public tended to disregard his messages and enjoy his work as pure entertainment. He was acutely aware of that. His preface to Heartbreak House (1919) attributes the rejection to the need of post-World War I audiences for frivolities, after four long years of grim privation, more than to their inborn distaste of instruction. His crusading nature led him to adopt and tenaciously hold a variety of causes, which he furthered with fierce intensity, heedless of opposition and ridicule. For example, Common Sense about the War (1914) lays out Shaw's strong objections at the onset of World War I.[40] His stance ran counter to public sentiment and cost him dearly at the box-office, but he never compromised.[41]

Shaw joined in the public opposition to vaccination against smallpox, calling it "a particularly filthy piece of witchcraft",[42][43] despite having nearly died from the disease when he contracted it in 1881. In the preface to Doctor’s Dilemma he made it plain he regarded traditional medical treatment as dangerous quackery that should be replaced with sound public sanitation, good personal hygiene and diets devoid of meat. Shaw became a vegetarian while he was twenty-five, after hearing a lecture by H.F. Lester.[44] In 1901, remembering the experience, he said "I was a cannibal for twenty-five years. For the rest I have been a vegetarian."[45] As a staunch vegetarian, he was a firm anti-vivisectionist and antagonistic to cruel sports for the remainder of his life. The belief in the immorality of eating animals was one of the Fabian causes near his heart and is frequently a topic in his plays and prefaces. His position, succinctly stated, was "A man of my spiritual intensity does not eat corpses."[46]

As well as plays and prefaces, Shaw wrote long political treatises, such as Fabian Essays in Socialism (1889),[47] and The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism and Capitalism (1912),[48] a 495-page book detailing all aspects of socialistic theory as Shaw interpreted it. Excerpts of the latter were republished in 1928 as Socialism and Liberty,[49] Late in his life he wrote another guide to political issues, Everybody's Political What's What (1944).


Shaw corresponded with an array of people, many of them well-known. His letters to and from Mrs. Patrick Campbell were adapted for the stage by Jerome Kilty as Dear Liar: A Comedy of Letters,[50] as was his correspondence with the poet Lord Alfred 'Bosie' Douglas (the intimate friend of Oscar Wilde), into the drama Bernard and Bosie: A Most Unlikely Friendship by Anthony Wynn. His letters to the prominent actress, Ellen Terry,[51] to the boxer Gene Tunney,[52] and to H.G. Wells,[53] have also been published. Eventually the volume of his correspondence became insupportable, as can be inferred from apologetic letters written by assistants.[54] Shaw campaigned against the executions of the rebel leaders of the Easter Rising, and he became a personal friend of the Cork-born IRA leader Michael Collins, whom he invited to his home for dinner while Collins was negotiating the Anglo-Irish Treaty with Lloyd George in London. After Collins's assassination in 1922, Shaw sent a personal message of condolence to one of Collins's sisters. He had an enduring friendship with G. K. Chesterton, the Roman Catholic-convert British writer.[55] Shaw also enjoyed a personal friendship with T.E. Lawrence, known most notably for his book Seven Pillars of Wisdom and his role as liaison for the Arab revolt during World War I. Lawrence even took the name Shaw sometime after the war.

Another friend was the composer Edward Elgar. The latter dedicated one of his late works, Severn Suite, to Shaw; and Shaw exerted himself (eventually with success) to persuade the BBC to commission from Elgar a third symphony, though this piece remained incomplete at Elgar's death. Shaw's correspondence with the motion picture producer Gabriel Pascal, who was the first to successfully bring Shaw's plays to the screen and who later tried to put into motion a musical adaptation of Pygmalion, but died before he could realize it, is published in a book titled Bernard Shaw and Gabriel Pascal.,[56] A stage play by Hugh Whitemore, The Best of Friends, provides a window on the friendships of Dame Laurentia McLachlan, OSB (late Abbess of Stanbrook) with Sir Sydney Cockerell and Shaw through adaptations from their letters and writings. A television adaptation of the play, aired on PBS, starred John Gielgud as Cockerell, Wendy Hiller as Laurentia, and Patrick McGoohan as Shaw. It is available on DVD.


Shaw bought his first camera in 1898 and was an active amateur photographer until his death in 1950. Prior to 1898 Shaw had been an early supporter of photography as a serious art form and includes reviews of photographic exhibitions among his writings.

The photographs document a prolific literary and political life - Shaw's friends, travels, politics, plays, films and home life. It also records his experiments with photography over 50 years and for the photographic historian provides a record of the development of the photographic and printing techniques available to the amateur photographer between 1898 and 1950.


Shaw asserted that each social class strove to serve its own ends, and that the upper and middle classes won in the struggle while the working class lost. He condemned the democratic system of his time, saying that workers, ruthlessly exploited by greedy employers, lived in abject poverty and were too ignorant and apathetic to vote intelligently.[57] He believed this deficiency would ultimately be corrected by the emergence of long-lived supermen with experience and intelligence enough to govern properly. He called the developmental process elective breeding but it is sometimes referred to as shavian eugenics, largely because he thought it was driven by a "Life Force" that led women—subconsciously—to select the mates most likely to give them superior children.[58] The outcome Shaw envisioned is dramatised in Back to Methuselah, a monumental play depicting human development from its beginning in the Garden of Eden until the distant future.[59]

In 1882, influenced by Henry George's views on land nationalization, Shaw concluded that private ownership of land and its exploitation for personal profit was a form of theft, and advocated equitable distribution of land and natural resources and their control by governments intent on promoting the commonwealth. Shaw believed that income for individuals should come solely from the sale of their own labour and that poverty could be eliminated by giving equal pay to everyone. These concepts led Shaw to apply for membership of the Social Democratic Federation (SDF), led by H. M. Hyndman who introduced him to the works of Karl Marx. Shaw never joined the SDF, which favoured forcible reforms. Instead, in 1884, he joined the newly formed Fabian Society, which accorded with his belief that reform should be gradual and induced by peaceful means rather than by outright revolution.[60] Shaw was an active Fabian. He wrote many of their pamphlets,[47] lectured tirelessly on behalf of their causes and provided money to set up the The New Age, an independent socialist journal. As a Fabian, he participated in the formation of the Labour Party. The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism and Capitalism[48] provides a clear statement of his socialistic views. As evinced in plays like Major Barbara and Pygmalion, class struggle is a motif in much of Shaw's writing. He wrote that those who were not productive were of no value to society nor to themselves, stating:

"You must all know half a dozen people at least who are no use in this world, who are more trouble than they are worth. Just put them there and say Sir, or Madam, now will you be kind enough to justify your existence? If you can’t justify your existence, if you’re not pulling your weight in the social boat, if you’re not producing as much as you consume or perhaps a little more, then, clearly, we cannot use the organizations of our society for the purpose of keeping you alive, because your life does not benefit us and it can’t be of very much use to yourself." [61]

Shaw opposed the execution of Sir Roger Casement in 1916. He wrote a letter "as an Irishman"[62] to The Times, which they rejected, but it was subsequently printed by both the Manchester Guardian on 22 July 1916, and by the New York American on 13 August 1916.

After visiting the USSR in the 1930s where he met Stalin, Shaw became a supporter of the Stalinist USSR. On 11 October 1931 he broadcast a lecture on American national radio telling his audience that any 'skilled workman...of suitable age and good character' would be welcomed and given work in the Soviet Union.[63] Tim Tzouliadis asserts that hundreds of Americans responded to his suggestion and left for the USSR.[64]

The preface to Shaw's play On the Rocks (1933) includes a criticism of the pogroms conducted by the State Political Directorate (OGPU). He compares their logic to that of other societies throughout human history, and writes:

"When the horrors of anarchy force us to set up laws that forbid us to fight and torture one another for sport, we still snatch as every excuse for declaring individuals outside the protection of law and torturing them to our hearts' content. [...] The concentration of British and American attention on the intolerances of Fascism and Communism creates an illusion that they do not exist elsewhere; but they exist everywhere, and must be met, not with ridiculous hotheaded attacks on Germany, Italy, and Russia, but by a restatement of the case for Toleration in general."

The preface concludes:

"Put shortly and undramatically the case is that a civilization cannot progress without criticism, and must therefore, to save itself from stagnation and putrefaction, declare impunity for criticism. This means impunity not only for propositions which, however novel, seem interesting, statesmanlike, and respectable, but for propositions that shock the uncritical as obscene, seditious, blasphemous, heretical, and revolutionary."[65]

In an open letter to the Manchester Guardian in 1933, he dismissed stories of a Soviet famine as slanderous, and contrasts them with the hardships then-current in the West during the Great Depression:

"We desire to record that we saw nowhere evidence of such economic slavery, privation, unemployment and cynical despair of betterment as are accepted as inevitable and ignored by the press as having “no news value” in our own countries."[66]

In the preface to On The Rocks he wrote:

"It sounds simple; but the process requires better planning than is always forthcoming (with local famines and revolts as the penalty); for while the grass grows the steed starves; and when education means not only schools and teachers, but giant collective farms equipped with the most advanced agricultural machinery, which means also gigantic engineering works for the production of the machinery, you may easily find that you have spent too much on these forms of capitalization and are running short of immediately consumable goods, presenting the spectacle of the nation with the highest level of general culture running short of boots and tightening its belt for lack of sufficient food. I must not suggest that this has occurred all over Russia; for I saw no underfed people there; and the children were remarkably plump. And I cannot trust the reports; for I have no sooner read in The Times a letter from Mr Kerensky assuring me that in the Ukraine the starving people are eating one another, than M. Herriot, the eminent French statesman, goes to Russia and insists on visiting the Ukraine so that he may have ocular proof of the alleged cannibalism, but can find no trace of it. Still, between satiety and starvation mitigated by cannibalism there are many degrees of shortage; and it is no secret that the struggle of the Russian Government to provide more collective farms and more giant factories to provide agricultural machinery for them has to be carried on against a constant clamor from the workers for new boots and clothes, and more varied food and more of it: in short, less sacrifice of the present to the future."[67]

He included an attack on Lysenkoism in a brief letter to Labour Monthly, in which he wrote: "Marxism seems to have gone as mad as Weismannism; and it is no longer surprising that Marx had to insist that he was not a Marxist."[68]

Position on eugenics

Shaw was a proponent of a position now known as "Shavian eugenics", after himself, believing that human beings would naturally tend toward biological improvement, without the need for political intervention.[69] [70] He wrote that "the only fundamental and possible Socialism is the socialization of the selective breeding of Man";[71] personal incomes were to be made equal, thus allowing the selection of partners "without consideration of rank or wealth".[72]

He was a critic of the use of force for eugenic purposes, and especially of the racist employment of eugenic logic [73]. At a meeting of the Eugenics Education Society of 3 March 1910 he lampooned parts of the eugenics movement by mockingly suggesting the need to use a "lethal chamber" to solve the problem. Shaw said: "We should find ourselves committed to killing a great many people whom we now leave living, and to leave living a great many people whom we at present kill. We should have to get rid of all ideas about capital punishment …" This was an example of Shaw satirically employing the reductio ad absurdum argument against the eugenicists' wilder dreams, although many in the press took his words out of their satirical context. Dan Stone wrote: "Either the press believed Shaw to be serious, and vilified him, or recognised the tongue-in-cheek nature of his lecture."[74][75]


In his will, Shaw stated that his "religious convictions and scientific views cannot at present be more specifically defined than as those of a believer in creative revolution." He requested that no one should imply that he accepted the beliefs of any specific religious organization, and that no memorial to him should "take the form of a cross or any other instrument of torture or symbol of blood sacrifice."[76]


A statue of Shaw in Niagara-on-the-Lake

In his old age, Shaw was a household name both in Britain and Ireland, and was famed throughout the world. His ironic wit endowed English with the adjective "Shavian", used to characterize observations such as: "My way of joking is to tell the truth. It's the funniest joke in the world." Concerned about the vagaries of English spelling, Shaw willed a portion of his wealth (probated at £367,233 13s)[77] to fund the creation of a new phonemic alphabet for the English language.[78] However, the money available was insufficient to support the project, so it was neglected for a time. This changed when his estate began earning significant royalties from the rights to Pygmalion after My Fair Lady—the musical adapted from Pygmalion by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe—became a hit. However, the Public Trustee found the intended trust to be invalid because its intent was to serve a private interest instead of a charitable purpose, and as a non-charitable purpose trust, it could not be enforced because it failed to satisfy the beneficiary principle.[79] In the end an out-of-court settlement granted only £8600 for promoting the new alphabet, which is now called the Shavian alphabet. The National Gallery of Ireland, RADA and the British Museum all received substantial bequests.

Shaw's home, now called Shaw's Corner, in the small village of Ayot St Lawrence, Hertfordshire is a National Trust property, open to the public.[80] The Shaw Theatre, Euston Road, London, opened in 1971, was named in his honour.[81] Near its entrance, opposite the new British Library, a contemporary statue of Saint Joan commemorates Shaw as author of that play.

The Shaw Festival, an annual theater festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada began as an eight week run of Don Juan in Hell (as the long third act dream sequence of Man And Superman is called when staged alone) and Candida in 1962, and has grown into an annual festival with over 800 performances a year, dedicated to producing the works of Shaw and his contemporaries.[82]

He is also remembered as one of the pivotal founders of the London School of Economics, whose library is now called the British Library of Political and Economic Science. The Fabian Window designed by Shaw, hangs in the Shaw Library in the main building of the LSE.



Short stories



  • Quintessence of Ibsenism (1891)
  • The Perfect Wagnerite, Commentary on the Ring (1898)
  • Maxims for Revolutionists (1903)
  • Preface to Major Barbara (1905)
  • How to Write a Popular Play (1909)
  • Treatise on Parents and Children (1910)
  • Common Sense about the War (1914)
  • The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism and Capitalism (1928)
  • Dictators - Let Us Have More of Them (1938)
  • "Shaw's Music: The Complete Musical Criticism Of Bernard Shaw in Three Volumes" (1955)
  • "Shaw on Shakespeare: An Anthology of Bernard Shaw's Writings" (1961)


  • Shaw v. Chesterton, a debate between George Bernard Shaw and G. K. Chesterton (2000) Third Way Publications Ltd. ISBN 0-9535077-7-7. E-text
  • Do We Agree, a debate between G. B. Shaw and G. K. Chesterton with Hilaire Belloc as chairman (1928)

See also


  1. ^ Al Gore also won a Nobel Prize (but not for Literature), and starred in an Academy Award-winning documentary, but the latter was not awarded to him personally.
  2. ^ Gibbs, A. M. (2005). Bernard Shaw: A Life (pp. 375–376). Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida. pp. 554. ISBN 0-8130-2859-0. 
  3. ^ George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950), Anglo-Irish playwright, critic. Letter, August 7, 1919, to Thomas Demetrius O'Bolger. Sixteen Self Sketches: Biographers' Blunders Corrected, pp. 89–90. Constable and Co., London (1949)
  4. ^ Shaw, Bernard (1914). Misalliance, the Dark Lady of the Sonnets, and Fanny's First Play. With a Treatise on Parents and Children. London: Constable and Co.. pp. 210. 
  5. ^ Holroyd, Michael (1988). Bernard Shaw Vol. I, pp. 49–51. New York: Random House. pp. 486. ISBN 0-394-52577-9. 
  6. ^ a b Mazer, Cary M.. "Bernard Shaw: a Brief Biography". University of Pennsylvania's English Department. Retrieved 2007-06-03. 
  7. ^ Morrow, Laurie. "The Playwright in Spite of Himself". The World & I. Retrieved 2007-07-03. 
  8. ^ Minney, R. J. (1969). The Bogus Image of Bernard Shaw, p. 18. London: Leslie Frewin. pp. 223. ISBN 09096280 X. 
  9. ^ Pease, Edward R.; Paavo Cajander (trans.) (2004). The History of the Fabian Society. Project Gutenberg. Retrieved 2008-03-30. 
  10. ^ Laurence, Dan H. (1965). Bernard Shaw: Collected Letters, 1874–1897. London & Beccles: William Clowes & Sons, Ltd.. Introduction xi. 
  11. ^ "Bernard Shaw papers at LSE Archives". London School of Economics Library. Retrieved 2008-03-29. 
  12. ^ Holroyd, Michael (1991). Bernard Shaw. The Lure of Fantasy: 1918–1951. Random House, New York. pp. 509–511. ISBN 0-394-57554-7(v.3). 
  13. ^ Holyroyd, p. 515.
  14. ^ Pharand, Michael (2004). "Chronology of (Shaw's) Works". International Shaw Society. Retrieved 2007-08-15. 
  15. ^ "George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)". Unity Theatre. Retrieved 2007-08-16. 
  16. ^ Shaw, George Bernard (1949). Sixteen Self Sketches: Nine Years of Failure as a Novelist Ending in Success as Critic. (pp. 39–41). London: Constable and Company, Ltd.. pp. 133. 
  17. ^ Cox, Gareth. "Shaw and the Don". Limerick Philosophical Society. Retrieved 2007-06-03. 
  18. ^
  19. ^ a b Shaw, George Bernard (1909). The Perfect Wagnerite. New York: Brentano's. Brahms p. 143. 
  20. ^ Thuleen, Nancy. "Ein deutsches Requiem: Misconceptions of the Mass". Nancy Thuleen's Official Website. Retrieved 2007-06-03. 
  21. ^ Holroyd, Michael (1988). Bernard Shaw, Volume I (1856-1898). New York: Random House. pp. 230–246. ISBN 0-394-52577-9. 
  22. ^ Shaw, George Bernard (1981). Laurence, Dan H.. ed. Shaw's Music. London: Bodley Head Ltd. ISBN 0370302494. 
  23. ^ Shaw, George Bernard (1891). The Quintessence of Ibsenism. New York: Brentano's. 
  24. ^ Shaw, George Bernard (1886). Cashel Byron's Profession. London: The Modern Press. 
  25. ^ Shaw, George Bernard (1887). An Unsocial Socialist. London: Swan Sonnenschein, Lowry & Co.. 
  26. ^ Shaw, George Bernard (1900 & 1914). Love Among the Artists. Chicago & London: Herbert Stone & Co.. 
  27. ^ Shaw, George Bernard (1905). The Irrational Knot, Being the Second Novel of His Nonage (revised). New York: Brentano's. 
  28. ^ Shaw, George Bernard (1931). Immaturity. London: Constable. 
  29. ^ Shaw, George Bernard (1934). The Black Girl in Search of God and Some Lesser Tales. London: Constable. pp. 305. 
  30. ^ Shaw, Bernard (1963). Complete Plays and Prefaces, Volumes I–VI. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company. 
  31. ^ Holroyd, Michael (1991). Bernard Shaw Vol. III The Lure of Fantasy (pp. 190–194). New York: Random House, Inc.. pp. 544. ISBN 0-394-57554-7. 
  32. ^ Minney, R. J. (1969). The Bogus Image of Bernard Shaw (pp. 66–7). London: Leslie Frewin Publishers, Ltd.. pp. 223. ISBN 0-0909-6280-X. 
  33. ^ Holroyd, Michael (1997). Bernard Shaw. The One-Volume Definitive Edition (p. 311). New York: Random House, Inc.. pp. 833. ISBN 0-0909-6280-X. 
  34. ^ Shaw, George Bernard; The Public Trustee (Executor of Shaw's Estate) (1962). Bernard Shaw: Complete Works with Prefaces, Volume I, p.452. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company. pp. 804. 
  35. ^ Shaw, George Bernard; The Public Trustee (Executor of Shaw's Estate) (1962). Bernard Shaw: Complete Works with Prefaces, Volume I, Act I p. 757. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company. pp. 804. 
  36. ^ a b c d Martin, Stanley (2007). "George Bernard Shaw". The Order of Merit: one hundred years of matchless honour. London: Taurus. p. 484. ISBN 9781860648489. 
  37. ^ Ervine, St. John (1949). Bernard Shaw: His Life, Work and Friends. London: Constable and Company Limited. pp. 383. 
  38. ^ Shaw, Bernard; Dan H. Laurence (editor) (1972). Collected Letters, 1898–1910. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company. pp. 827–8. 
  39. ^ "George Bernard Shaw". Spartacus Educational. Retrieved 2007-06-03. 
  40. ^ Shaw, George Bernard (November 29, 1914), "Common Sense About the War", The New York Times, 
  41. ^ Holroyd, Michael (1989). Bernard Shaw Vol. II The Pursuit of Power (p. 354). New York: Random House, Inc.. pp. 420. ISBN 0-394-57553-9. 
  42. ^ "Smallpox Resistance". U.S. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved 2007-07-13. 
  43. ^ Tucker, Jonathan B. (2002). Scourge: The Once and Future Threat of Smallpox. Berkeley, California: Atlantic Monthly Press. p. 34. ISBN 0-87113-830-1. 
  44. ^ Henderson, Archibald (1956). George Bernard Shaw: Man of the Century. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts Inc.. 
  45. ^ Shaw, George Bernard (1949). Who I am, and What I think: Sixteen Self Sketches. Constable. 
  46. ^ Pearson, Hesketh (1963). Bernard Shaw: His Life and Personality. Atheneum Press. 
  47. ^ a b Shaw, George Bernard (1889). Fabian Essays in Socialism. New York: The Humboldt Publishing Co.. Retrieved 2007-09-12. 
  48. ^ a b Shaw, George Bernard (1928). Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism and Communism. New York: Bretano's Publishers. 
  49. ^ "Socialism and Liberty". Marxists Internet Archive. Retrieved 2007-07-13. 
  50. ^ Kilty, Jerome (1960). Dear liar; a comedy of letters adapted by Jerome Kilty from the correspondence of Bernard Shaw and Mrs. Patrick Campbell. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company. pp. 95. 
  51. ^ St. John, Cristopher (1931). Ellen Terry and Bernard Shaw: A Correspondence. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons: Knickerbocker Press. pp. 334. 
  52. ^ Green, Benny (1978). Shaw’s champions : G. B. S. & prizefighting from Cashel Byron to Gene Tunney. London: Elm Tree Books. pp. 210. ISBN 0241897351. 
  53. ^ Smith (Editor), J. Percy (1995). Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. pp. 242. ISBN 0802030017. 
  54. ^ "Mr. Shaw regrets". Boston College Magazine. Retrieved 2007-06-03. 
  55. ^ The e-text of their famed debate, Shaw V. Chesterton is available, as is a book, Shaw V. Chesterton, a debate between George Bernard Shaw and G. K. Chesterton.
  56. ^ Dukore (Editor), Bernard F. (September 1996). Bernard Shaw and Gabriel Pascal: Selected Correspondence of Bernard Shaw, Vol. 3. University of Toronto Press. pp. 224. ISBN 0802030025. 
  57. ^ Shaw, George Bernard (1930). An UnsocialSocialist. New York: Wm. H. Wise & Company. pp. 269. 
  58. ^ Shaw, George Bernard; Lewis Casson (Intro.) (1969). Man and Superman. New York: Heritage Press. 
  59. ^ Shaw, George Bernard (2007). Back to Methuselah—a Metabiological Penateuch. Hicks press. pp. 388. ISBN 1408631040. 
  60. ^ Shaw, George Bernard (1949). Sixteen Self Sketches: How I Became a Public Speaker, p. 58. London: Constable and Company, Ltd.. pp. 133. 
  61. ^ Edvīns Šnore (Director, Writer); Kristaps Valdnieks (Producer). (May 5, 2008) (Motion Picture). (Clip) The Soviet Story. (Clip). 
  62. ^ Shaw, GB. "Letter from GB Shaw". Stephen-Stratford. Retrieved 2008-09-26. 
  63. ^ Tim Tzouliadis: The Forsaken, p.10; London, 2009
  64. ^ ibid, p. 12
  65. ^ Shaw, George Bernard (1934), "On The Rocks", 
  66. ^ "Letters to the Editor: Social Conditions in Russia by George Bernard Shaw, published in The Manchester Guardian, 2 March 1933". Gareth Jones' Memorial Website. Retrieved 2007-06-03. 
  67. ^ Shaw, George Bernard (1934), "On The Rocks", 
  68. ^ Shaw, George Bernard (January 1949), "The Lysenko Muddle", Labour Monthly, 
  69. ^ Gray, Paul (January 11), "Cursed by eugenics", Time Magazine,,9171,17697,00.html 
  70. ^ Shaw, George Bernard (January 11), "Back to Methuselah", Time Magazine,,9171,17697,00.html 
  71. ^ Shaw, George (2008), Man and Superman, pp. 192, ISBN 1434477800, 
  72. ^ Searle, Geoffrey Russell (1976). Eugenics and politics in Britain, 1900-1914. Groningen, Netherlands: Noordhoff International. p. 58. ISBN 9789028602366. 
  73. ^ Shaw, George Bernard (1934), "On The Rocks", 
  74. ^ Stone, Dan (2002). "The Lethal Chamber in Eugenic Thought". Breeding superman: Nietzsche, race and eugenics in Edwardian and interwar Britain. Liverpool, England: Liverpool University Press. p. 127. ISBN 9780853239970. "Either the press believed Shaw to be serious, and vilified him, or recognised the tongue-in-cheek nature of his lecture … only The Globe and the Evening News also recognised it as a skit on the dreams of the eugenicists." 
  75. ^ Searle (1976: 92): "This was widely felt to be a joke in the worst possible taste".
  76. ^ [1]
  77. ^ Holroyd, Michael (1998). Bernard Shaw: A Biography. Vintage. 
  78. ^ Holroyd, Michael (1997). Bernard Shaw: The One-Volume Definitive Edition, Appendix (p.794). New York: Random House, Inc.. pp. 833. ISBN 0-375-50049-9. 
  79. ^ Mowbray Q.C., John. "Chapter 03: Trusts Created Expressly". Todd & Watt's Cases and Materials on Equity and Trusts. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2008-04-09. 
  80. ^ The National Trust, Shaw's Corner,, retrieved 2006-04-09 .
  81. ^ Off Westend Theatres, London, Shaw's Theatre,, retrieved 2006-04-09 .
  82. ^ Holmes (editor), Katherine (1986). Celebrating Twenty-Five Years on the Stage at the Shaw Festival. Erin Canada: Boston Mills Press. pp. 64. ISBN 0-919783-48-1. 


  • Barzun, Jacques. “A Jacques Barzun Reader: Selections from his works”. Harper Collins, 2002
  • Brown, G.E. “George Bernard Shaw”. Evans Brothers Ltd, 1970
  • Chappelow, Alan. "Shaw the Villager and Human Being — a Biographical symposium", with a preface by Dame Sybil Thorndike, (1962). "Shaw — the 'Chucker-Out", 1969. ISBN 0-4040-8359-5
  • Evans, T.F. “Shaw: The Critical heritage”. The Critical Heritage series. Routlege & Kegan Paul, 1976
  • Gibbs, A.M (Ed.). “Shaw: Interviews and Recollections”.
  • Gibbs, A.M. "Bernard Shaw, A Life". University of Florida Press, 2005. ISBN 0-8130-2859-0
  • Henderson, Archibald. “Bernard Shaw: Playboy and Prophet”. D. Appleton & Co., 1932
  • Holroyd, Michael (Etd). “The Genius of Shaw: A symposium”, Hodder & Stoughton, 1979
  • Holroyd, Michael. "Bernard Shaw: The One-Volume Definitive Edition", Random House, 1998. ISBN 978-0393327182
  • Hubenka, Lloyd J. (Editor). “Bernard Shaw: Practical Politics: Twentieth-century views on politics and economics”. University of Nebraska Press, 1976
  • Minney, R.J. “The Bogus Image of Bernard Shaw”. London, Frewin, 1969. ISBN 0-0909-6280-X
  • Ohmann, Richard M. "Shaw: The Style and the Man". Wesleyan University Press, 1962. ASIN: B000OKX9H2
  • Owen, Harold. “Common sense about the Shaw”. George Allen and Unwin, 1915
  • Peters, Sally. “Bernard Shaw: The Ascent of the Superman”. Yale University Press, 1996 ISBN 978-0300060973
  • Rider, Dan. “Adventures with Bernard Shaw”. Morley and Mitchell Kennerley Junior.
  • Smith, J. Percy. “Unrepentant Pilgrim: A study of the development of Bernard Shaw”. Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1965
  • Strauss, E. “Bernard Shaw: Art and Socialism”. Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1942
  • Weintraub, Stanley. “Bernard Shaw 1914–1918: Journey to Heartbreak”. Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973
  • Weintraub, Stanley. “The Unexpected Shaw: Biographical approaches to G.B.S and his work”. Frederick Ungar Publishing Co, 1982 ISBN 080442974X
  • West, Alick. “A good man fallen among Fabians: A study of George Bernard Shaw” Lawrence and Wishart, 1974 ISBN 9780853152880
  • Watson, Barbara Bellow: “A Shavian Guide to the intelligent women”. Chatto and Windus, 1964
  • Wilson, Colin. "Bernard Shaw: A Reassessment". Athenum, 1969.
  • Winsten, Stephen. “Jesting Apostle: The Life of Bernard Shaw”. Hutchinson and Co Ltd, 1956
  • Winsten, Stephen. “Salt and his circle: With a preface by Bernard Shaw”. Hutchinson and Co Ltd, 1951

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

I hear you say "Why?" Always "Why?" You see things; and you say "Why?" But I dream things that never were; and I say "Why not?"

George Bernard Shaw (1856-07-261950-11-02) was an Irish playwright, who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925.

My method is to take the utmost trouble to find the right thing to say, and then to say it with the utmost levity.
See also: Man and Superman.



My specialty is being right when other people are wrong.
There is only one religion, though there are a hundred versions of it.
The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that's the essence of inhumanity.
Must then a Christ perish in torment in every age to save those that have no imagination?
The apparent multiplicity of Gods is bewildering at the first glance; but you presently discover that they are all the same one God in different aspects and functions and even sexes. There is always one uttermost God who defies personification.
One man that has a mind and knows it can always beat ten men who haven't and don't.
The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.
  • Patriotism is, fundamentally, a conviction that a particular country is the best in the world because you were born in it…
    • The World (15 November 1893)
  • Pasteboard pies and paper flowers are being banished from the stage by the growth of that power of accurate observation which is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it…
    • The World (18 July 1894), Music in London 1890-1894 being criticisms contributed week by week to The World (New York: Vienna House, 1973)
  • My method is to take the utmost trouble to find the right thing to say, and then to say it with the utmost levity.
    • Answers to Nine Questions (September 1896), answers to nine questions submitted by Clarence Rook, who had interviewed him in 1895.
  • We have no more right to consume happiness without producing it than to consume wealth without producing it.
  • I'm only a beer teetotaler, not a champagne teetotaler. I don't like beer.
    • Candida, Act III
  • We don't bother much about dress and manners in England, because as a nation we don't dress well and we've no manners.
  • The great advantage of a hotel is that it's a refuge from home life.
    • You Never Can Tell, Act II
  • My specialty is being right when other people are wrong.
    • You Never Can Tell, Act IV
  • There is only one religion, though there are a hundred versions of it.
    • Plays Pleasant and Unpleasant, Vol. II, preface (1898)
  • Why should you call me to account for eating decently?
    • The Vegetarian (15 January 1898)
  • The novelties of one generation are only the resuscitated fashions of the generation before last.
    • Three Plays for Puritans, Preface (1900)
  • The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that's the essence of inhumanity.
  • Martyrdom, sir, is what these people like: it is the only way in which a man can become famous without ability.
    • The Devil's Disciple, Act II
  • You must not suppose, because I am a man of letters, that I never tried to earn an honest living.
    • The Irrational Knot, Preface (1905)
  • [Chess] is a foolish expedient for making idle people believe they are doing something very clever, when they are only wasting their time.
    • The Irrational Knot (1905)
  • To understand a saint, you must hear the devil's advocate; and the same is true of the artist.
    • The Sanity of Art: An Exposure of the Current Nonsense about Artists being Degenerate (1908)
  • Assassination is the extreme form of censorship.
    • The Shewing Up of Blanco Posnet (1909): The Rejected Statement, Pt. I
  • Why was I born with such contemporaries?
    • The Dark Lady of the Sonnets, Preface (1910)
  • The word morality, if we met it in the Bible, would surprise us as much as the word telephone or motor car.
  • That proves it's not by Shaw, because all Shaw's characters are himself: mere puppets stuck up to spout Shaw.
    • Fanny's First Play, Epilogue
  • As long as I have a want, I have a reason for living. Satisfaction is death.
    • Overruled (1912)
  • Custom will reconcile people to any atrocity; and fashion will drive them to acquire any custom.
    • Killing For Sport, Preface (1914)
  • All great truths begin as blasphemies.
    • Annajanska (1919)
  • You'll never have a quiet world till you knock the patriotism out of the human race.
    • O'Flaherty V.C. (1919)
  • Scratch an Englishman and find a Protestant.
    • Saint Joan : A Chronicle Play In Six Scenes And An Epilogue (1923)
  • God is on the side of the big battalions.
    • Saint Joan : A Chronicle Play In Six Scenes And An Epilogue (1923)
  • Must then a Christ perish in torment in every age to save those that have no imagination?
    • Saint Joan : A Chronicle Play In Six Scenes And An Epilogue (1923)
  • Our natural dispositions may be good; but we have been badly brought up, and are full of anti-social personal ambitions and prejudices and snobberies. Had we not better teach our children to be better citizens than ourselves? We are not doing that at present. The Russians are. That is my last word. Think over it.
  • One man that has a mind and knows it can always beat ten men who haven't and don't.
    • The Apple Cart (1928), Act I
  • God help England if she had no Scots to think for her!
    • The Apple Cart (1928), Act II
  • No public man in these islands ever believes that the Bible means what it says: he is always convinced that it says what he means.
    • Our Theatres In The Nineties (1930)
  • I have defined the 100 per cent American as 99 per cent an idiot.
  • An American has no sense of privacy. He does not know what it means. There is no such thing in the country.
    • Speech at New York (11 April 1933)
  • You in America should trust to that volcanic political instinct which I have divined in you.
    • Speech at New York (11 April 1933)
  • The sex relation is not a personal relation. It can be irresistibly desired and rapturously consummated between persons who could not endure one another for a day in any other relation.
    • letter, 24 June 1930, to Frank Harris "To Frank Harris on Sex in Biography" Sixteen Self Sketches (1949)
  • The quality of a play is the quality of its ideas.
    • "The Play of Ideas", New Statesman(6 May 1950)
  • The apparent multiplicity of Gods is bewildering at the first glance; but you presently discover that they are all the same one God in different aspects and functions and even sexes. There is always one uttermost God who defies personification. This makes Hinduism the most tolerant religion in the world, because its one transcendent God includes all possible Gods… Hinduism is so elastic and so subtle that the profoundest Methodist and the crudest idolater are equally at home in it.
    Islam is very different, being ferociously intolerant. What I may call Manifold Monotheism becomes in the minds of very simple folk an absurdly polytheistic idolatry, just as European peasants not only worship Saints and the Virgin as Gods, but will fight fanatically for their faith in the ugly little black doll who is the Virgin of their own Church against the black doll of the next village. When the Arabs had run this sort of idolatry to such extremes ... they did this without black dolls and worshipped any stone that looked funny, Mahomet rose up at the risk of his life and insulted the stones shockingly, declaring that there is only one God, Allah, the glorious, the great… And there was to be no nonsense about toleration. You accepted Allah or you had your throat cut by someone who did accept him, and who went to Paradise for having sent you to Hell. Mahomet was a great Protestant religious force, like George Fox or Wesley….
    There is actually a great Hindu sect, the Jains, with Temples of amazing magnificence, which abolish God, not on materialist atheist considerations, but as unspeakable and unknowable, transcending all human comprehension.
    • Letter to the Reverend Ensor Walters (1933), as quoted in Bernard Shaw : Collected Letters, 1926-1950 (1988) by Dan H. Laurence, p. 305; Shaw actually errs here in characterizing Jainism as simply a sect of Hinduism, as it is usually regarded as a separate and independent tradition, though Hindu and Jain philosophers have long had influence on each other, as well as other traditions.
  • I have always held the religion of Muhammad in high estimation because of its wonderful vitality. It is the only religion which appears to me to possess that assimilating capability to the changing phase of existence which can make itself appeal to every age. The world must doubtless attach high value to the predictions of great men like me. I have prophesied about the faith of Muhammad that it would be acceptable to the Europe of tomorrow as it is beginning to be acceptable to the Europe of today. The medieval ecclesiastics, either through ignorance or bigotry, painted Muhammadanism in the darkest colours. They were in fact trained both to hate the man Muhammad and his religion. To them Muhammad was Anti-Christ. I have studied him — the wonderful man, and in my opinion far from being an Anti-Christ he must be called the Saviour of Humanity. I believe that if a man like him were to assume the dictatorship of the modern world he would succeed in solving its problems in a way that would bring it the much-needed peace and happiness. But to proceed, it was in the 19th century that honest thinkers like Carlyle, Goethe and Gibbon perceived intrinsic worth in the religion of Muhammad, and thus there was some change for the better in the European attitude towards Islam. But the Europe of the present century is far advanced. It is beginning to be enamoured of the creed of Muhammad.
  • I hold the Prophet of Arabia in great esteem and I can quite understand that it would have been impossible to restrain and wean that illiterate and perverse race, sunk in the miasma of utter moral depravity, from committing the most heinous of crimes, and imbue its people with enthusiasm to strive after righteousness and assimilate high morals and virtues, without projecting such a terrible and intensely awe inspiring spectacle of Hell and an equally captivating and enticing image of a land flowing with milk and honey to represent Heaven before their vision.
  • A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.
    • Everybody's Political What's What (1944) Ch. 30
  • The road to ignorance is paved with good editions. Only the illiterate can afford to buy good books now.
  • The secret of success is to offend the greatest number of people.
    • As quoted in Days with Bernard Shaw (1949) by Stephen Winsten
  • Consistency is the enemy of enterprise, just as symmetry is the enemy of art.
    • As quoted in Bernard Shaw : The Lure of Fantasy (1991) by Michael Holroyd
  • The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.
    • As quoted in Leadership Skills for Managers (2000) by Marlene Caroselli, p. 71

Quintessence Of Ibsenism (1891; 1913)

The liar's punishment is, not in the least that he is not believed, but that he cannot believe any one else.
A review of the works and ideas of Henrik Ibsen
  • I have never admitted the right of an elderly author to alter the work of a young author, even when the young author happens to be his former self. In the case of a work which is a mere exhibition of skill in conventional art, there may be some excuse for the delusion that the longer the artist works on it the nearer he will bring it to perfection. Yet even the victims of this delusion must see that there is an age limit to the process, and that though a man of forty-five may improve the workmanship of a man of thirty-five, it does not follow that a man of fifty-five can do the same.
    When we come to creative art, to the living word of a man delivering a message to his own time, it is clear that any attempt to alter this later on is simply fraud and forgery. As I read the old Quintessence of Ibsenism I may find things that I many things then unnoted by me that they take on a different aspect. But though this may be a reason for writing another book, it is not a reason for altering an existing one.
    • Preface to the 1913 edition
  • Just as the liar's punishment is, not in the least that he is not believed, but that he cannot believe any one else; so a guilty society can more easily be persuaded that any apparently innocent act is guilty than that any apparently guilty act is innocent.
    • The Two Pioneers

The Philanderer (1893)

The test of a man or woman's breeding is how they behave in a quarrel.
  • It's well to be off with the Old Woman before you're on with the New.
    • Act II
  • The fickleness of the women I love is only equaled by the infernal constancy of the women who love me.
    • Act II
  • The test of a man or woman's breeding is how they behave in a quarrel.
    • Act IV

Mrs. Warren's Profession (1893)

  • People are always blaming circumstances for what they are. I don't believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can't find them, make them.
    • Vivie, Act II
  • There are no secrets better kept than the secrets everybody guesses.
    • Crofts, Act III
  • I know Miss Warren is a great devotee of the Gospel of Getting On.
    • Praed, Act IV

Caesar and Cleopatra (1898)

My way hither was the way of destiny; for I am he of whose genius you are the symbol: part brute, part woman, and part God— nothing of man in me at all. Have I read your riddle, Sphinx?
  • Hail, Sphinx: salutation from Julius Caesar! I have wandered in many lands, seeking the lost regions from which my birth into this world exiled me, and the company of creatures such as I myself. I have found flocks and pastures, men and cities, but no other Caesar, no air native to me, no man kindred to me, none who can do my day's deed, and think my night's thought.
    • Act I
  • My way hither was the way of destiny; for I am he of whose genius you are the symbol: part brute, part woman, and part God — nothing of man in me at all. Have I read your riddle, Sphinx?
    • Act I
  • THEODOTUS: Caesar: you are a stranger here, and not conversant with our laws. The kings and queens of Egypt may not marry except with their own royal blood. Ptolemy and Cleopatra are born king and consort just as they are born brother and sister.
    BRITANNUS (shocked): Caesar: this is not proper.
    THEODOTUS (outraged): How!
    CAESAR (recovering his self-possession): Pardon him. Theodotus: he is a barbarian, and thinks that the customs of his tribe and island are the laws of nature.
    • Act II; sometimes paraphrased as: The customs of your tribe are not laws of nature.
  • Again, there is the illusion of "increased command over Nature," meaning that cotton is cheap and that ten miles of country road on a bicycle have replaced four on foot. But even if man's increased command over Nature included any increased command over himself (the only sort of command relevant to his evolution into a higher being), the fact remains that it is only by running away from the increased command over Nature to country places where Nature is still in primitive command over Man that he can recover from the effects of the smoke, the stench, the foul air, the overcrowding, the racket, the ugliness, the dirt which the cheap cotton costs us.
    • Notes

Love Among the Artists (1900)

If you leave your art, the world will beat you back to it. The world has not an ambition worth sharing, or a prize worth handling...
  • The way to deal with worldly people is to frighten them by repeating their scandalous whisperings aloud.
  • The public want actresses, because they think all actresses bad. They don't want music or poetry because they know that both are good. So actors and actresses thrive and poets and composers starve.
  • There are some men who are considered quite ugly, but who are more remarkable than pretty people. You often see that in artists.
  • All very fine, Mary; but my old-fashioned common sense is better than your clever modern nonsense.
  • If you leave your art, the world will beat you back to it. The world has not an ambition worth sharing, or a prize worth handling. Corrupt successes, disgraceful failures, or sheeplike vegetation are all it has to offer. I prefer Art, which gives me a sixth sense of beauty, with self-respect: perhaps also an immortal reputation in return for honest endeavour in a labour of love.
  • Perhaps woman's art is of woman's life a thing apart, 'tis man's whole existence; just as love is said to be the reverse — though it isn't.
  • I hate singers, a miserable crew who think that music exists only in their own throats.
  • A man's own self is the last person to believe in him, and is harder to cheat than the rest of the world.
  • Composers are not human; They can live on diminished sevenths, and be contented with a pianoforte for a wife, and a string quartet for a family.
  • Geniuses are horrid, intolerant, easily offended, sleeplessly self-conscious men, who expect their wives to be angels with no further business in life than to pet and worship their husbands. Even at the best they are not comfortable men to live with; and a perfect husband is one who is perfectly comfortable to live with.

Man and Superman (1903)

See also: Man and Superman.
The only man I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measurements anew each time he sees me. The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them.
  • The only man I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measurements anew each time he sees me. The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them.
  • There is no love sincerer than the love of food.
  • The confusion of marriage with morality has done more to destroy the conscience of the human race than any other single error.
    • This has also been paraphrased as: Confusing monogamy with morality has done more to destroy the conscience of the human race than any other error.

Major Barbara (1905)

  • The greatest of evils and the worst of crimes is poverty.
    • Preface
  • The faults of the burglar are the qualities of the financier: the manners and habits of a duke would cost a city clerk his situation.
    • Preface
  • It is quite useless to declare that all men are born free if you deny that they are born good. Guarantee a man's goodness and his liberty will take care of itself. To guarantee his freedom on condition that you approve of his moral character is formally to abolish all freedom whatsoever, as ever man's liberty is at the mercy of a moral indictment which any fool can trump up against everyone who violates custom, whether as a prophet or as a rascal.
    • Preface
  • Society, with all its prisons and bayonets and whips and ostracisms and starvations, is powerless in the face of the Anarchist who is prepared to sacrifice his own life in the battle with it. Our natural safety from the cheap and devastating explosives which every Russian student can make ... lies in the fact that brave and resolute men, when they are rascals, will not risk their skins for the good of humanity, and, when they are sympathetic enough to care for humanity, abhor murder, and never commit it until their consciences are outraged beyond endurance. The remedy is, then, simply not to outrage their consciences.
    • Preface
  • I can't talk religion to a man with bodily hunger in his eyes.
    • Act II
  • You cannot have power for good without having power for evil too. Even mother's milk nourishes murderers as well as heroes.
  • Undershaft: You have made for yourself something that you call a morality or a religion or what not. It doesnt fit the facts. Well, scrap it. Scrap it and get one that does fit. That is what is wrong with the world at present. It scraps its obsolete steam engines and dynamos; but it wont scrap its old prejudices and its old moralities and its old religions and its old political constitutions. Whats the result? In machinery it does very well; but in morals and religion and politics it is working at a loss that brings it nearer bankruptcy every year.
  • Cusins: Call you poverty a crime?
    Undershaft: The worst of crimes. All the other crimes are virtues beside it: all the other dishonors are chivalry itself by comparison. Poverty blights whole cities; spreads horrible pestilences; strikes dead the very souls of all who come within sight, sound or smell of it. What you call crime is nothing: a murder here and a theft there, a blow now and a curse then: what do they matter? they are only the accidents and illnesses of life: there are not fifty genuine professional criminals in London. But there are millions of poor people, abject people, dirty people, ill fed, ill clothed people. They poison us morally and physically: they kill the happiness of society: they force us to do away with our own liberties and to organize unnatural cruelties for fear they should rise against us and drag us down into their abyss. Only fools fear crime: we all fear poverty.
  • Undershaft: My religion? Well, my dear, I am a Millionaire. That is my religion.
    • Act II
  • You have learnt something. That always feels at first as if you had lost something.
    • Act III
  • It is not the sale of my soul that troubles me: I have sold it too often to care about that. I have sold it for a professorship. I have sold it for an income. ... What is all human conduct but the daily and hourly sale of our souls for trifles?

John Bull's Other Island (1907)

  • A healthy nation is as unconscious of its nationality as a healthy man of his bones. But if you break a nation's nationality it will think of nothing else but getting it set again.
    • Preface
  • You can't be a hero without being a coward.
    • Preface
  • What really flatters a man is that you think him worth flattering.
  • My way of joking is to tell the truth. It's the funniest joke in the world.
    • Act II

Getting Married (1908)

Full text online
Religion is a great force — the only real motive force in the world; but what you fellows dont understand is that you must get at a man through his own religion and not through yours.
  • There is no subject on which more dangerous nonsense is talked and thought than marriage. If the mischief stopped at talking and thinking it would be bad enough; but it goes further, into disastrous anarchical action. Because our marriage law is inhuman and unreasonable to the point of downright abomination, the bolder and more rebellious spirits form illicit unions, defiantly sending cards round to their friends announcing what they have done. Young women come to me and ask me whether I think they ought to consent to marry the man they have decided to live with; and they are perplexed and astonished when I, who am supposed (heaven knows why!) to have the most advanced views attainable on the subject, urge them on no account to compromise themselves without the security of an authentic wedding ring.
    • Preface
  • Home life as we understand it is no more natural to us than a cage is natural to a cockatoo.
    • Preface
  • When two people are under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive, and most transient of passions, they are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal, and exhausting condition continuously until death do them part.
    • Preface
  • Monogamy has a sentimental basis which is quite distinct from the political one of equal numbers of the sexes. Equal numbers in the sexes are quite compatible with a change of partners every day or every hour Physically there is nothing to distinguish human society from the farm-yard except that children are more troublesome and costly than chickens and calves, and that men and women are not so completely enslaved as farm stock. Accordingly, the people whose conception of marriage is a farm-yard or slave- quarter conception are always more or less in a panic lest the slightest relaxation of the marriage laws should utterly demoralize society; whilst those to whom marriage is a matter of more highly evolved sentiments and needs (sometimes said to be distinctively human, though birds and animals in a state of freedom evince them quite as touchingly as we) are much more liberal, knowing as they do that monogamy will take care of itself provided the parties are free enough, and that promiscuity is a product of slavery and not of liberty.
  • The whole strength of England lies in the fact that the enormous majority of the English people are snobs.
    • Hotchkiss
  • You don't learn to hold your own in the world by standing on guard, but by attacking, and getting well hammered yourself.
    • Mrs. George
  • Religion is a great force — the only real motive force in the world; but what you fellows dont understand is that you must get at a man through his own religion and not through yours. Instead of facing that fact, you persist in trying to convert all men to your own little sect, so that you can use it against them afterwards. You are all missionaries and proselytizers trying to uproot the native religion from your neighbor's flowerbeds and plant your own in its place. You would rather let a child perish in ignorance than have it taught by a rival sectary. You can talk to me of the quintessential equality of coal merchants and British officers; and yet you cant see the quintessential equality of all the religions.
    • Hotchkiss

Misalliance (1910)

It is more dangerous to be a great prophet or poet than to promote twenty companies for swindling simple folk out of their savings.
  • It is more dangerous to be a great prophet or poet than to promote twenty companies for swindling simple folk out of their savings.
    • Preface
  • Optimistic lies have such immense therapeutic value that a doctor who cannot tell them convincingly has mistaken his profession.
    • Preface
  • A perpetual holiday is a good working definition of Hell.
  • I like a bit of a mongrel myself, whether it's a man or a dog; they're the best for every day.
    • Episode I
  • If parents would only realize how they bore their children!
    • Episode I

A Treatise on Parents and Children (1910)

  • When will we realize that the fact that we can become accustomed to anything, however disgusting at first, makes it necessary to examine carefully everything we have become accustomed to.
  • Death is for many of us the gate of hell; but we are inside on the way out, not outside on the way in.
  • A nation should always be healthily rebellious; but the king or prime minister has yet to be found who will make trouble by cultivating that side of the national spirit. A child should begin to assert itself early, and shift for itself more and more not only in washing and dressing itself, but in opinions and conduct; yet as nothing is so exasperating and so unlovable as an uppish child, it is useless to expect parents and schoolmasters to inculcate this uppishness. Such unamiable precepts as Always contradict an authoritative statement, Always return a blow, Never lose a chance of a good fight, When you are scolded for a mistake ask the person who scolds you whether he or she supposes you did it on purpose, and follow the question with a blow or an insult or some other unmistakable expression of resentment, Remember that the progress of the world depends on your knowing better than your elders, are just as important as those of The Sermon on the Mount; but no one has yet seen them written up in letters of gold in a schoolroom or nursery.
  • You are so careful of your boy's morals, knowing how troublesome they may be, that you keep him away from the Venus of Milo only to find him in the arms of the scullery maid or someone much worse. You decide that the Hermes of Praxiteles and Wagner's Tristan are not suited for young girls; and your daughter marries somebody appallingly unlike either Hermes or Tristan solely to escape from your parental protection. You have not stifled a single passion nor averted a single danger: you have depraved the passions by starving them, and broken down all the defences which so effectively protect children brought up in freedom.

The Doctor's Dilemma (1911)

  • Do not try to live for ever. You will not succeed.
    • Preface
  • All professions are conspiracies against the laity.
    • Act I
  • I don't believe in morality. I'm a disciple of Bernard Shaw.
    • Act III
  • Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.
    • Act V

Pygmalion (1912)

Women upset everything. When you let them into your life, you find that the woman is driving at one thing and you're driving at another.
What is life but a series of inspired follies? The difficulty is to find them to do. Never lose a chance: it doesn't come every day.
  • It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him.
    • Preface
  • The English have no respect for their language, and will not teach their children to speak it.
    • Preface
  • He ain't a copper just look at 'is boots!
    • Act I
  • Ah-ah-ah-ah-ow-ow-oo-oo!!! I ain't dirty: I washed me face and hands afore I come, I did!
    • Act II
  • Women upset everything. When you let them into your life, you find that the woman is driving at one thing and you're driving at another.
    • Act II
  • What is life but a series of inspired follies? The difficulty is to find them to do. Never lose a chance: it doesn't come every day.
    • Act II
  • I wouldn't have ate it, only I'm too lady-like to take it out of my mouth.
    • Act II
  • I don't want to talk grammar, I want to talk like a lady.
    • Act II
  • I ask you, what am I? I’m one of the undeserving poor: thats what I am. Think of what that means to a man.
    • Act II
  • I aint such a mug as to put up my children to all I know myself.
    • Act II
  • "Not bloody"
    • Act III
  • I heard your prayers Thank God it's all over!
    • Act IV
  • You see, lots of the real people can't do it at all: they're such fools that they think style comes by nature to people in their position; and so they never learn. There's always something professional about doing a thing superlatively well.
  • Time enough to think of the future when you haven't any future to think of.
  • I have to live for others and not for myself; that's middle-class morality.
    • Act V
  • Independence? That's middle-class blasphemy. We are all dependent on one another, every soul of us on earth.
    • Act V

Androcles and the Lion (1913)

  • The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. The happiness of credulity is a cheap and dangerous quality of happiness, and by no means a necessity of life.
  • Revolutionary movements attract those who are not good enough for established institutions as well as those who are too good for them.

Back to Methuselah (1921)

I remember Lilith, who came before Adam and Eve. I was her darling as I am yours.
There are no secrets except the secrets that keep themselves.
Everything happens to everybody sooner or later if there is time enough.
You use a glass mirror to see your face: you use works of art to see your soul.
They have redeemed themselves from their vileness, and turned away from their sins. Best of all, they are still not satisfied...
I can wait: waiting and patience mean nothing to the eternal. I gave the woman the greatest of gifts: curiosity. By that her seed has been saved from my wrath; for I also am curious; and I have waited always to see what they will do tomorrow.
Of Life only is there no end; and though of its million starry mansions many are empty and many still unbuilt, and though its vast domain is as yet unbearably desert, my seed shall one day fill it and master its matter to its uttermost confines. And for what may be beyond, the eyesight of Lilith is too short. It is enough that there is a beyond.
Full text online
  • I hear you say "Why?" Always "Why?" You see things; and you say "Why?" But I dream things that never were; and I say "Why not?"
    • The Serpent, in Pt. I : In the Beginning, Act I; this is often paraphrased slightly in a few different ways, including:
You see things as they are and ask, "Why?" I dream things as they never were and ask, "Why not?"
  • I worship you, Eve. I must have something to worship. Something quite different to myself, like you. There must be something greater than the snake.
    • The Serpent, in Pt I : In the Beginning
  • Everything is possible: everything. Listen. I am old. I am the old serpent, older than Adam, older than Eve. I remember Lilith, who came before Adam and Eve. I was her darling as I am yours. She was alone: there was no man with her. She saw death as you saw it when the fawn fell; and she knew then that she must find out how to renew herself and cast the skin like me. She had a mighty will: she strove and strove and willed and willed for more moons than there are leaves on all the trees of the garden. Her pangs were terrible: her groans drove sleep from Eden. She said it must never be again: that the burden of renewing life was past bearing: that it was too much for one. And when she cast the skin, lo! there was not one new Lilith but two: one like herself, the other like Adam. You were the one: Adam was the other.
    • The Serpent, in Pt. I, Act I
  • Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire; you will what you imagine; and at last you create what you will.
    • The Serpent, in Pt. I, Act I
  • Conceive. That is the word that means both the beginning in imagination and the end in creation.
    • The Serpent, in Pt. I, Act I
  • Life must not cease. That comes before everything. It is silly to say you do not care. You do care. It is that care that will prompt your imagination; inflame your desires; make your will irresistible; and create out of nothing.
    • The Serpent, in Pt. I, Act I
  • I am very subtle; but Man is deeper in his thought than I am. The woman knows that there is no such thing as nothing: the man knows that there is no such day as tomorrow. I do well to worship them.
    • The Serpent, in Pt. I, Act I
  • THE SERPENT: The voice in the garden is your own voice.
    ADAM: It is; and it is not. It is something greater than me: I am only a part of it.
    EVE: The Voice does not tell me not to kill you. Yet I do not want you to die before me. No voice is needed to make me feel that.
    ADAM [throwing his arm round her shoulder with an expression of anguish]: Oh no: that is plain without any voice. There is something that holds us together, something that has no word —
    THE SERPENT: Love. Love. Love.
    ADAM: That is too short a word for so long a thing.
    • The Serpent, Adam, and Eve, in Pt. I, Act I
  • I make no vows. I take my chance. ... It means that I fear certainty as you fear uncertainty. It means that nothing is certain but uncertainty. If I bind the future I bind my will. If I bind my will I strangle creation.
    • The Serpent, in Pt. I, Act I
  • You can feel nothing but a torment, and believe nothing but a lie. You will not raise your head to look at all the miracles of life that surround you; but you will run ten miles to see a fight or a death.
    • Eve to Cain, in Pt. I, Act II
  • Your father is a fool skin deep; but you are a fool to your very marrow.
    • Eve to Cain, in Pt. I, Act II
  • Any sort of plain speaking is better than the nauseous sham good fellowship our democratic public men get up for shop use.
    • Franklyn, in Pt. II : The Gospel of the Brothers Barnabas
  • There are no secrets except the secrets that keep themselves.
    • Confucius, in Pt. III : The Thing Happens
  • Everything happens to everybody sooner or later if there is time enough.
    • Pt. V : As Far as Thought Can Reach
  • Silence is the perfect expression of scorn.
    • Pt. V
  • The worst cliques are those which consist of one man.
    • Pt. V
  • Life is not meant to be easy, my child but take courage: it can be delightful.
    • Pt. V; see also the later phrasing of Malcolm Fraser, "life wasn't meant to be easy".
  • THE HE-ANCIENT: When a thing is funny, search it for a hidden truth
    STREPHON: Yes; and take all the fun out of it.
    • Pt. V
  • Art is the magic mirror you make to reflect your invisible dreams in visible pictures. You use a glass mirror to see your face: you use works of art to see your soul. But we who are older use neither glass mirrors nor works of art. We have a direct sense of life. When you gain that you will put aside your mirrors and statues, your toys and your dolls.
    • The She-Ancient, in Pt. V
  • When the master has come to do everything through the slave, the slave becomes his master, since he cannot live without him.
    • The He-Ancient, in Pt. V
  • Love is a simple thing and a deep thing: it is an act of life and not an illusion. Art is an illusion.
    • Acis, in Pt. V
  • Even a vortex is a vortex in something. You cant have a whirlpool without water; and you cant have a vortex without gas, or molecules or atoms or ions or electrons or something, not nothing.
    • Acis, in Pt. V
  • The body was the slave of the vortex; but the slave has become the master; and we must free ourselves from that tyranny. It is this stuff [indicating her body], this flesh and blood and bone and all the rest of it, that is intolerable. Even prehistoric man dreamed of what he called an astral body, and asked who would deliver him from the body of this death.
    • The She-Ancient, in Pt. V
  • I am justified. For I chose wisdom and the knowledge of good and evil; and now there is no evil; and wisdom and good are one. It is enough.
    • The Serpent, in Pt. V
  • They have accepted the burden of eternal life. They have taken the agony from birth; and their life does not fail them even in the hour of their destruction.
  • I had patience with them for many ages: they tried me very sorely. They did terrible things: they embraced death, and said that eternal life was a fable. I stood amazed at the malice and destructiveness of the things I had made...
    • Lilith, in Pt. V
  • They have redeemed themselves from their vileness, and turned away from their sins. Best of all, they are still not satisfied: the impulse I gave them in that day when I sundered myself in twain and launched Man and Woman on the earth still urges them: after passing a million goals they press on to the goal of redemption from the flesh, to the vortex freed from matter, to the whirlpool in pure intelligence that, when the world began, was a whirlpool in pure force.
  • I can wait: waiting and patience mean nothing to the eternal. I gave the woman the greatest of gifts: curiosity. By that her seed has been saved from my wrath; for I also am curious; and I have waited always to see what they will do tomorrow.
  • I say, let them dread, of all things, stagnation; for from the moment I, Lilith, lose hope and faith in them, they are doomed. In that hope and faith I have let them live for a moment; and in that moment I have spared them many times. But mightier creatures than they have killed hope and faith, and perished from the earth; and I may not spare them for ever. I am Lilith: I brought life into the whirlpool of force, and compelled my enemy, Matter, to obey a living soul. But in enslaving Life's enemy I made him Life's master; for that is the end of all slavery; and now I shall see the slave set free and the enemy reconciled, the whirlpool become all life and no matter. And because these infants that call themselves ancients are reaching out towards that, I will have patience with them still; though I know well that when they attain it they shall become one with me and supersede me, and Lilith will be only a legend and a lay that has lost its meaning. Of Life only is there no end; and though of its million starry mansions many are empty and many still unbuilt, and though its vast domain is as yet unbearably desert, my seed shall one day fill it and master its matter to its uttermost confines. And for what may be beyond, the eyesight of Lilith is too short. It is enough that there is a beyond.
    • Lilith, in Pt. V

On the Rocks (1933)

On the Rocks : A Political Comedy
Take the case of the extermination of Jesus Christ. No doubt there was a strong case for it. ... By every argument, legal, political, religious, customary, and polite, he was the most complete enemy of the society of his time ever brought to the bar.
I am the embodiment of a thought of God: I am the Word made flesh ... Beware how you kill a thought that is new to you. For that thought may be the foundation of the kingdom of God on earth.
  • In this play a reference is made by a Chief of Police to the political necessity for killing people: a necessity so distressing to the statesmen and so terrifying to the common citizen that nobody except myself (as far as I know) has ventured to examine it directly on its own merits, although every Government is obliged to practise it on a scale varying from the execution of a single murderer to the slaughter of millions of quite innocent persons. Whilst assenting to these proceedings, and even acclaiming and celebrating them, we dare not tell ourselves what we are doing or why we are doing it; and so we call it justice or capital punishment or our duty to king and country or any other convenient verbal whitewash for what we instinctively recoil from as from a dirty job. These childish evasions are revolting. We must strip off the whitewash and find out what is really beneath it. Extermination must be put on a scientific basis if it is ever to be carried out humanely and apologetically as well as thoroughly.
    • Preface; Extermination
    • Ignoring the satirical elements of Shaw's rhetoric, and that he is presenting many arguments of sometimes questionable sincerity for the "humane" execution of criminals, the last sentence here has sometimes been misquoted as if it as part of an argument for exterminations for the sake of eugenics, by preceding it with a selected portion of a statement later in the essay: "If we desire a certain type of civilization, we must exterminate the sort of people who do not fit into it ... Extermination must be put on a scientific basis if it is ever to be carried out humanely and apologetically as well as thoroughly."
  • In law we draw a line between the killing of human animals and non-human ones, setting the latter apart as brutes. This was founded on a general belief that humans have immortal souls and brutes none. Nowadays more and more people are refusing to make this distinction. They may believe in The Life Everlasting and The Life to Come; but they make no distinction between Man and Brute, because some of them believe that brutes have souls, whilst others refuse to believe that the physical materializations and personifications of The Life Everlasting are themselves everlasting. In either case the mystic distinction between Man and Brute vanishes; and the murderer pleading that though a rabbit should be killed for being mischievous he himself should be spared because he has an immortal soul and a rabbit has none is as hopelessly out of date as a gentleman duellist pleading his clergy. When the necessity for killing a dangerous human being arises, as it still does daily, the only distinction we make between a man and a snared rabbit is that we very quaintly provide the man with a minister of religion to explain to him that we are not killing him at all, but only expediting his transfer to an eternity of bliss.
    • Preface; The Sacredness of Human Life
  • The extermination of what the exterminators call inferior races is as old as history. "Stone dead hath no fellow" said Cromwell when he tried to exterminate the Irish. "The only good nigger is a dead nigger" say the Americans of the Ku-Klux temperament. "Hates any man the thing he would not kill?" said Shylock naively. But we white men, as we absurdly call ourselves in spite of the testimony of our looking glasses, regard all differently colored folk as inferior species. Ladies and gentlemen class rebellious laborers with vermin. The Dominicans, the watchdogs of God, regarded the Albigenses as the enemies of God, just as Torquemada regarded the Jews as the murderers of God. All that is an old story: what we are confronted with now is a growing perception that if we desire a certain type of civilization and culture we must exterminate the sort of people who do not fit into it. There is a difference between the shooting at sight of aboriginal natives in the back blocks of Australia and the massacres of aristocrats in the terror which followed the foreign attacks on the French Revolution. The Australian gunman pots the aboriginal natives to satisfy his personal antipathy to a black man with uncut hair. But nobody in the French Republic had this feeling about Lavoisier, nor can any German Nazi have felt that way about Einstein. Yet Lavoisier was guillotined; and Einstein has had to fly for his life from Germany. It was silly to say that the Republic had no use for chemists; and no Nazi has stultified his party to the extent of saying that the new National Socialist Fascist State in Germany has no use for mathematician-physicists. The proposition is that aristocrats (Lavoisier's class) and Jews (Einstein's race) are unfit to enjoy the privilege of living in a modern society founded on definite principles of social welfare as distinguished from the old promiscuous aggregations crudely policed by chiefs who had no notion of social criticism and no time to invent it.
    • Preface; Previous Attempts Miss the Point
  • There have been summits of civilization at which heretics like Socrates, who was killed because he was wiser than his neighbors, have not been tortured, but ordered to kill themselves in the most painless manner known to their judges. But from that summit there was a speedy relapse into our present savagery.
    • Preface; Cruelty's Excuses
  • I dislike cruelty, even cruelty to other people, and should therefore like to see all cruel people exterminated. But I should recoil with horror from a proposal to punish them. Let me illustrate my attitude by a very famous, indeed far too famous, example of the popular conception of criminal law as a means of delivering up victims to the normal popular lust for cruelty which has been mortified by the restraint imposed on it by civilization. Take the case of the extermination of Jesus Christ. No doubt there was a strong case for it. Jesus was from the point of view of the High Priest a heretic and an impostor. From the point of view of the merchants he was a rioter and a Communist. From the Roman Imperialist point of view he was a traitor. From the commonsense point of view he was a dangerous madman. From the snobbish point of view, always a very influential one, he was a penniless vagrant. From the police point of view he was an obstructor of thoroughfares, a beggar, an associate of prostitutes, an apologist of sinners, and a disparager of judges; and his daily companions were tramps whom he had seduced into vagabondage from their regular trades. From the point of view of the pious he was a Sabbath breaker, a denier of the efficacy of circumcision and the advocate of a strange rite of baptism, a gluttonous man and a winebibber. He was abhorrent to the medical profession as an unqualified practitioner who healed people by quackery and charged nothing for the treatment. He was not anti-Christ: nobody had heard of such a power of darkness then; but he was startlingly anti-Moses. He was against the priests, against the judiciary, against the military, against the city (he declared that it was impossible for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven), against all the interests, classes, principalities and powers, inviting everybody to abandon all these and follow him. By every argument, legal, political, religious, customary, and polite, he was the most complete enemy of the society of his time ever brought to the bar. He was guilty on every count of the indictment, and on many more that his accusers had not the wit to frame. If he was innocent then the whole world was guilty. To acquit him was to throw over civilization and all its institutions. History has borne out the case against him; for no State has ever constituted itself on his principles or made it possible to live according to his commandments: those States who have taken his name have taken it as an alias to enable them to persecute his followers more plausibly.
    It is not surprising that under these circumstances, and in the absence of any defence, the Jerusalem community and the Roman government decided to exterminate Jesus. They had just as much right to do so as to exterminate the two thieves who perished with him.
    • Preface, Leading Case of Jesus Christ
  • All government is cruel; for nothing is so cruel as impunity.
    • Pilate, as portrayed in Preface, Difference Between Reader And Spectator
  • I am no mere chance pile of flesh and bone: if I were only that, I should fall into corruption and dust before your eyes. I am the embodiment of a thought of God: I am the Word made flesh: that is what holds me together standing before you in the image of God. ... The Word is God. And God is within you. ... In so far as you know the truth you have it from my God, who is your heavenly father and mine. He has many names and his nature is manifold. ... It is by children who are wiser than their fathers, subjects who are wiser than their emperors, beggars and vagrants who are wiser than their priests, that men rise from being beasts of prey to believing in me and being saved. ... By their fruits ye shall know them. Beware how you kill a thought that is new to you. For that thought may be the foundation of the kingdom of God on earth.
    • Jesus, as portrayed in Preface, Difference Between Reader And Spectator
  • The kingdom of God is striving to come. The empire that looks back in terror shall give way to the kingdom that looks forward with hope. Terror drives men mad: hope and faith give them divine wisdom. The men whom you fill with fear will stick at no evil and perish in their sin: the men whom I fill with faith shall inherit the earth. I say to you Cast out fear. Speak no more vain things to me about the greatness of Rome. ... You, standing for Rome, are the universal coward: I, standing for the kingdom of God, have braved everything, lost everything, and won an eternal crown.
    • Jesus, as portrayed in Preface, Difference Between Reader And Spectator
  • Law is blind without counsel. The counsel men agree with is vain: it is only the echo of their own voices. A million echoes will not help you to rule righteously. But he who does not fear you and shews you the other side is a pearl of the greatest price. Slay me and you go blind to your damnation. The greatest of God's names is Counsellor; and when your Empire is dust and your name a byword among the nations the temples of the living God shall still ring with his praise as Wonderful! Counsellor! the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
    • Jesus, as portrayed in Preface, Difference Between Reader And Spectator
  • The last word remains with Christ and Handel; and this must stand as the best defence of Tolerance until a better man than I makes a better job of it.
    Put shortly and undramatically the case is that a civilization cannot progress without criticism, and must therefore, to save itself from stagnation and putrefaction, declare impunity for criticism. This means impunity not only for propositions which, however novel, seem interesting, statesmanlike, and respectable, but for propositions that shock the uncritical as obscene, seditious, blasphemous, heretical, and revolutionary.
    • Preface, The Sacredness Of Criticism


  • If you're going to tell people the truth, you better make them laugh; otherwise they'll kill you.
    • Credited to Shaw in the lead in to the mockumentary C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America (2004), and other recent works, but this or slight variants of it are also sometimes attributed to W. C. Fields, Charlie Chaplin, and Oscar Wilde. It might be possibly derive from Shaw's statement in John Bull's Other Island (1907): "My way of joking is to tell the truth. It's the funniest joke in the world."
    • Variants:
    • If you are going to tell people the truth, you'd better make them laugh. Otherwise, they'll kill you.
    • If you're going to tell people the truth, you'd better make them laugh. Otherwise, they'll kill you.
  • To correct anyones pronunciation is to imply that he is not quite a gentleman.

Anecdotal dialogue

  • GBS: Madam, would you sleep with me for a million pounds?
  • Actress: My goodness, Well, I'd certainly think about it
  • GBS: Would you sleep with me for a pound?
  • Actress: Certainly not! What kind of woman do you think I am?!
  • GBS: Madam, we've already established that. Now we are haggling about the price.

(This dialogue is also attributed to Winston Churchill).


  • In my view, Anglo-Irish history is for Englishmen to remember, for Irishmen to forget.
    • Ireland in the New Century (1904) by Horace Plunkett
      • Often quoted as: Irish history is something no Englishman should forget and no Irishman should remember.

Quotes about Shaw

  • Shaw knows at any moment, on any subject, what he thinks, what you will think, what others have thought, what all this thinking entails; and he takes the most elaborate pains to bring these thoughts to light in a form which is by turns abstract and familiar, conciliatory and aggressive, obvious and inferential, comic and puzzling. In a word, Shaw is perhaps the most consciously conscious mind that has ever thought — certainly the most conscious since Rousseau; which may be why both of them often create the same impression of insincerity amounting to charlatanism. Yet it is by excess of honesty that Shaw himself lent color to his representation as an inconsequential buffoon bent on monopolizing the spotlight.
    • Jacques Barzun, in "Bernard Shaw in Twilight" in The Kenyon Review (Summer 1943)
  • Seeing clearly within himself and always able to dodge around the ends of any position, including his own, Shaw assumed from the start the dual role of prophet and gadfly.
    • Jacques Barzun, in "Bernard Shaw in Twilight" in The Kenyon Review (Summer 1943)
  • Shaw does not merely decorate a proposition, but makes his way from point to point through new and difficult territory.
    • Jacques Barzun, in "Bernard Shaw in Twilight" in The Kenyon Review (Summer 1943)
  • He never invested his whole moral capital in a man, a book, or a cause, but treasured up wisdom wherever it could be picked up, always with scrupulous acknowledgment ... His eclecticism saving him from the cycle of hope-disillusion-despair, his highest effectiveness was as a skirmisher in the daily battle for light and justice, as a critic of new doctrine and a refurbisher of old, as a voice of warning and encouragement. That his action has not been in vain, we can measure by how little Shaw's iconoclasm stirs our blood; we no longer remember what he destroyed that was blocking our view.
    • Jacques Barzun, in "Bernard Shaw in Twilight" in The Kenyon Review (Summer 1943)
  • Bernard Shaw remains the only model we have of what the citizen of a democracy should be: an informed participant in all things we deem important to the society and the individual.
    • Jacques Barzun "Bernard Shaw," in A Jacques Barzun Reader : Selections from his works (2002), p. 231
  • As a teacher, as a propagandist, Mr. Shaw is no good at all, even in his own generation. But as a personality, he is immortal.
  • The writers of our century delight in the weaknesses of the human condition; the only one capable of inventing heroes was Bernard Shaw.
  • "God spare you, reader, of long prefaces". That was written by Quevedo, who, in order not to commit an anachronism that would have been found out in the long run, never read Shaw´s.
  • I never read a reply by Shaw that did not leave me in better and not worse temper or frame of mind; which did not seem to come out of inexhaustible fountains of fairmindedness and intellectual geniality; which did not savor somehow of that native largeness which the philosophers attributed to Magnanimous Man.
    • G. K. Chesterton, commenting on twenty years of debate with Shaw on political, religious and other social issues.
  • I found many men to whom I felt deeply grateful — especially Guy de Maupassant, Jack London, and H. L. Mencken — but the first man to whom I felt definitely related was George Bernard Shaw. This is a presumptuous or fatuous thing to mention, perhaps, but even so it must be mentioned. ... I myself, as a person, have been influenced by many writers and many things, and my writing has felt the impact of the writing of many writers, some relatively unknown and unimportant, some downright bad. But probably the greatest influence of them all when an influence is most effective — when the man being influenced is nowhere near being solid in his own right — has been the influence of the great tall man with the white beard, the lively eyes, the swift wit and the impish chuckle. ... I have been fascinated by it all, grateful for it all, grateful for the sheer majesty of the existence of ideas, stories, fables, and paper and ink and print and books to hold them all together for a man to take aside and examine alone. But the man I liked most and the man who seemed to remind me of myself — of what I really was and would surely become — was George Bernard Shaw.

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From Wikisource

George Bernard Shaw
by Gilbert Keith Chesterton
PD-icon.svg This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923.

The author died in 1936, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 70 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

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Simple English

File:George bernard
George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw (July 26, 1856 - November 2, 1950) was an Irish writer. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1925.

His best known works are his plays, some of which were made into movies.

Saint Joan was made into a movie in 1957.

Pygmalion was made into a movie two times. The first Pygmalion movie won an Academy Award in 1938. Later, the play was made into a musical called My Fair Lady. The movie based on the musical won 8 Academy Awards in 1964.

Shaw also wrote musical criticism using the pseudonym (made-up name) Corno di Bassetto (which means: Basset horn).

Shaw was a vegetarian, did not drink alcohol, and spoke strongly about socialism and women's rights. He was also interested in making the English language easier to spell.

In his will, he left money to be used to make a new alphabet. He wanted the new alphabet to have at least 40 letters, so that each sound could be spelled with just one letter.

In 1962, his play Androcles and the Lion was printed in a two-language version. On one side of the book, the text is written using regular English. On the other side, it is written using the Shaw alphabet.

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