Wednesday, May 28, 2014


Richard Dietrich, treasurer and webmaster of the ISS, asked me a few weeks ago about whether Shaw had ever said the following words: 

"The English are not very spiritual people, so they invented cricket to give them some idea of eternity."

Although we all know Bernard Shaw was very interested in all sorts of methods to keep healthy and fit - including his passion for certain sports, such as boxing - he did not hold many other sports and games in high esteem. Cricket seems to be one of the latter. 

As for the alleged quotation, it is true that Shaw always saw some sort of connection between religion and cricket. For instance, in the introduction to the second volume of Dan H. Laurence's Bernard Shaw: Collected Letters, the editor mentions a letter to The Times in which Shaw 

on the subject of political electioneering by the Church, argued that, although it was quite Protestant and independent and proper, still, regarded as elec­tioneering, “it is not cricket.”

Similarly, on a more serious note, as we can read in the preface to Back to Methuselah, cricket is the equivalent of Marx's opium of the people, in the sense that it is one of the various activities and interests that kept the British people "[in]capable of serious reflection on the nature and attributes of God" or "on Darwin's discoveries." In his own words, 

"I have pointed out elsewhere that the British nation does not consist of atheists and Plymouth Brothers; and I am not now going to pretend that it ever consisted of Darwinians and Lamarckians. The average citizen is irreligious and unscientific: you talk to him about cricket and golf, market prices and party politics, not about evolution and relativity, transubstantiation and predestination."

Curiously enough, Back to Methuselah also deserved cricke-like consideration for some critics. As James Agate recounts in My Theatre Talks (1933)

"Mr. Will Rogers, the new American humorist, has said that Back to Methuselah is like a test match: nobody can finish it."

Even Shaw himself resorted to cricket metaphors to describe his crafting of dramatic conversation. Thus, in a letter to his German translator, Siegfried Trebitsch (p.36), he states that

"Half the art of dialogue consists in the echoing of words—the tossing back & forwards of phrases from one actor to another like a cricket ball."

However (there's always a however, isn't there?), the quotation that Richard Dietrich looks for - and which, incidentally, has been published unsourced as a Shaw one-liner in The Shavian 10 (3) - is nowhere to be found. At any rate, it is suspiciously similar to the words used by Lord Mancroft in his biography Bees in Some Bonnets (1979) p. 185. Specifically, Lord Mancroft says that cricket is

"a game which the English, not being a spiritual people, have invented in order to give themselves some conception of eternity"

It may still be possible to discover that Lord Mancroft was actually quoting Shaw, but he does not cite him in the book. In fact, several reputed dictionaries of quotations attribute these words to Mancroft's book. I hope I can update this post one day with a Shavian source, but for now the quotation must remain Mancroft's. 

Colne Cricket Club, 1910

Monday, May 26, 2014


The above quotation belongs to one of the lesser-known Shavian one-acts: The Jesus-Pilate Scene. This brief (3,116 words) conversation between the two eponymous characters, included in the preface to On the Rocks, takes place when Jesus was taken before Pilate for trial. 

The whole rationale behind the scene lies on the great differences in perspective, which often remain unnoticed, that derive from whether one is a reader or an spectator. In Shaw's words, 

"It may be asked why the incident of the trial and execution must fail on the stage, seeing that the gospel narrative is so pathetic, and so many of us have read it without disappointment. The answer is very simple: we have read it in childhood; and children go on from horror to horror breathlessly, knowing nothing of the constitutional questions at issue. Some of them remain in this condition of intellectual innocence to the end of their lives, whilst the cleverer ones seldom reconsider the impressions they have received as little children."

In order to justify Pilate's decision, and make it dramatically plausible, Shaw puts in his mouth the above words, explicitly indicating that Pilate was not a man of faith or a philosopher, but simply an administrator of justice. Hence his retort to Jesus's idea that "the peace of God is beyond our understanding." 

Pilate: [...] "If you were a responsible governor instead of a poetic vagrant, you would soon discover that my choice must lie, not between truth and falsehood, neither of which I can ever ascertain, but between reasonable and well informed opinion and sentimental and ill informed impulse."

Apart from the illuminating content of this speech, it is interesting to note how the word "truth" vertebrates the whole narrative of the scene, given that "truth" and "true" occur 39 times in this brief text; that is, more than in any other play of the Shavian canon. Statistically, this figure is even more salient, given that the average occurrence-to-1,000 words ratio in all of Shaw's plays is roughly 0,9 - compare that to more than 12 in the Jesus-Pilate Scene

When it came to separating the wheat from the chaff in Scripture, Shaw was sure to claim that "the truth shall make you free."

Brooklyn Museum - Jesus Before Pilate Second Interview (Jésus devant Pilate. Deuxième entretien) - James Tissot

Friday, May 23, 2014


We all know Shaw was kind of on the side of women. Very often, that "feminist in spite of himself" would show his forward ideas about the role of women in society by subverting chauvinistic clichés that had hitherto been associated to women. 

For example, it was a common notion at the time that women were too sensitive and would resort to tears and "hysterics" to have their way. Hence, the narrator of Millicent's Children (1883) (Vol. I. p. 152) describes Mrs. Duerdon's pleas as "a woman's last resource" when she starts crying. Likewise, Arthur Conan-Doyle uses the same phrase in his Uncle Bernac (1897) to illustrate Josephine's reaction. In Doyle's words, she "had taken refuge in a woman's last resource, and was crying bitterly."

Enter Shaw. When he published Press Cuttings (1909), not only did he make sure to attack one of the leading politicians of his day by naming one of his characters Mitchener, but he also reversed the two chauvinistic clichés we've just mentioned, precisely against this character. 

MITCHENER. But I cant allow anything of the sort, madam. I shall stand no such ridiculous nonsense. Im perfectly determined to put my foot down.
LADY CORINTHIA. Dont be hysterical, General.
MITCHENER. Hysterical!
MRS. BANGER. Do you think we are to be stopped by these childish exhibitions of temper. They are useless; and your tears and entreaties—a man's last resource—will avail you just as little. I sweep them away, just as I sweep your plans of campaign "made in Germany—"

Using the word "hysterical" and the phrase "tears are a man's last resource" on a character representing the summit of male chauvinism and political power must have been quite a shock at the time. It should come as no surprise that Shaw's opinions during the Great War earned him a terrible reputation among the political leaders of his age. But then again, that's why we love Shaw, isnt' it?

Thursday, May 22, 2014


One of the many clichés that exist about Bernard Shaw states that he is an author incapable of expressing deep feelings and emotions in his works, and much less in his personal life. See, for example, p. 112 of Michael Holroyd's Bernard Shaw: The Search for Love, 1856-1898, and elsewhere in that volume. 

[From Miss Lockett, Alice Lockett's uninspiring alter ego for Shaw, whom she was courting at the time] "I consider you an object to be pitied - but the truth is I might just as well speak to a stone. Nothing affects you: you are a machine, and perfectly incapable of feeling of any kind whatever."

However, it is worth noting that around that time Shaw was writing An Unsocial Socialist (1883), a novel just as relatively unsuccessful as the rest, in which we can find touching quotations like this, nonetheless: 

No relation involving divided duties and continual intercourse between two people can subsist permanently on love alone. Yet love is not to be despised when it comes from a fine nature. 

Sure the author was being practical about love and marriage, as usual, but the overwhelming feelings of the untrained young writer are there in spite of everything. One need only read some of the letters Shaw wrote to Alice Lockett, like this one, to realize that their relationship was full of romance. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


What better way to resume my posts than to celebrate the recent Chicago Shaw Symposium, a fantastic event with the usual atmosphere of ISS gatherings, and during which we had the privilege of seeing ShawChicago's production of Man and Superman

So, I thought, let's do a little research on Shaw's mentions of the Windy CityAll of the quotations below are extracted from Dan H. Laurence's Bernard Shaw Collected Letters (Volume II), and they are all dated in 1900. The first one, from a letter to Richard Mansfield (Jan. 7th) is an acid acknowledgement of the cultural vigor Chicago had at the time: 

"All this may sound needlessly fierce; but the fact is, America, having read a great deal about art, and not knowing anything about it, is being duped most frightfully by intense young people who are resolved to make Chicago flower with a fifteenth century luxuriance, and who will find one day that, as Wagner put it, they have grasped at art and let their lives slip by them."

In fact, he later admits to considering Chicago a place where his drama was held in high esteem. That is why he writes to Ellen Terry (Feb. 9th) that "Chicago is a comparatively enlightened town: my plays get good houses there."

Shaw had also something to say about the character and accent of the average Chicagoan, the type of speech that was perfect for the role of Captain Hamlin Kearney (Captain Brassbound's Conversion), for which Granville Barker was rehearsing. In Dec. 6th, he wrote to his friend and colleague to remind him of how difficult the part would be for him, because:

"You have the intona­tion of an English gentleman, and rather smart & snappy at that; and the lines wont go to it: they are pure Chicagoan, not Piccadilly. For Redbrook it would be perfection; and you are much more likely to get bread & butter engagements in the Redbrook tone than in the captain’s tone, which any old actor who is a good mimic & has heard enough of Chicagoan could hit off."

It seems that Shaw could have safely said, in the famous words from Terence's Heauton Timorumenos, that "I consider nothing that is human alien to me."

The Oriental Theatre in Chicago

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


These were the words Shaw wrote to the Nobel Prize administrators in a letter dated Nov. 18 1926. A transcript of the letter can be read in Vol. 4 of Dan H Laurence's Bernard Shaw Collected Letters (p. 34). He considered that the award was a great honor, but the prize was quite a different thing. In his own words, 

My readers and audiences provide me with more than sufficient money for my needs; and as to my renown it is greater than is good for my spiritual health. 

That is why he ventured "to propose to you that the money which accompanies the award be funded by the Royal Academy or by the Swedish Minister in London and the annual proceeds be used to encourage intercourse and understanding in literature and art between Sweden and the British Isles."

As we all know, this initial idea is what led to the instauration of The Bernard Shaw Prize for Swedish Translations. Although no award was given this year, you can find a list of past winners here.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014


One, I guess, is to be quoted; and the other, to be misquoted. 
The truth is that Bernard Shaw indeed put the following words in the mouth of one of his characters - Mendoza, the Spanish brigand from Man and Superman (1903): 
  • MENDOZA. [advancing between Violet and Tanner] Sir: there are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart's desire. The other is to get it.
It is also true, however, that one may arguably trace these words back to Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan (1892), in which Dumby utters a very similar sentence: 
  • DUMBY. I congratulate you, my dear fellow. In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it. The last is much the worst, the last is a real tragedy!
In view of these data, and the intertextual connection therein (something others had noticed long before me), one should take alleged Shaw quotations in cheesy teen TV series with a pinch of salt. 

Regardless of how many times Shaw had his heart broken, it was Mendoza who said the words, not Shaw. Besides, never underestimate the teachings of Man and Superman; after all, it is one of Lisa Simpson's favorite books: