Dan Laurence

Plays Pleasant
  • Plays Pleasant

  • One of Bernard Shaw’s most glittering comedies, Arms and the Man is a burlesque of Victorian attitudes to heroism, war and empire. In the contrast between Bluntschli, the mercenary soldier, and the brave leader, Sergius, the true nature of valour is revealed. Shaw mocks deluded idealism in Candida, when a young poet becomes infatuated with the wife of a Socialist preacher. The Man of Destiny is a witty war of words between Napoleon and a ‘strange lady’, while in the exuberant farce You Never Can Tell a divided family is reunited by chance. Although Shaw intended Plays Pleasant to be gentler comedies than those in their companion volume, Plays Unpleasant, their prophetic satire is sharp and provocative.

BERNARD SHAW was born in Dublin in 1856. After his arrival in London in 1876 he became an active Socialist and a brilliant platform speaker. He wrote on many social aspects of the day: on Common Sense about the War (1914), How to Settle the Irish Question (1917) and The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism (1928). He undertook his own education at the British Museum and consequently became keenly interested in cultural subjects. Thus his prolific output included music, art and theatre reviews, which were collected into several volumes such as Music in London 1890–1894 (3 vols, 1931); Pen Portraits and Reviews (1931); and Our Theatres in the Nineties (3 vols, 1931). He also wrote five novels and some shorter fiction, including The Black Girl in Search of God and Some Lesser Tales and Cashel Byron’s Profession, both published in Penguin’s Bernard Shaw Library. He conducted a strong attack on the London theatre and was closely associated with the intellectual revival of British theatre. His plays fall into several categories: ‘Plays Pleasant’; ‘Plays Unpleasant’; comedies; chronicle-plays; ‘metabiological Pentateuch’ (Back to Methuselah, a series of plays); and ‘political extravaganzas’. Bernard Shaw died in 1950.

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