Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
George Bernard Shaw
Born in Dublin to Protestant parents, Shaw moved to London during the 1870s to embark on his literary career. He wrote five novels, all of which were rejected, before finding his first success as a music critic on the Star newspaper. In the meantime he had become involved in politics, and served as a local councillor in the St Pancras district of London for several years from 1897. He was a noted socialist who took a leading role in the Fabian Society.
In 1895, he became the drama critic of the Saturday Review, and this was the first step in his progress towards a lifetime's work as a dramatist. In 1898, he married an Irish heiress, Charlotte Payne-Townshend. His first successful play, Candida, was produced in the same year. He followed this up with a series of classic comedy-dramas, including The Devil's Disciple (1897), Arms and the Man (1898), Mrs Warren's Profession (1898), Captain Brassbound's Conversion (1900), Man and Superman (1902), Caesar and Cleopatra (1901), Major Barbara (1905), Androcles and the Lion (1912), and Pygmalion (1913). After World War I, on which he took a controversial stance, he produced more serious dramas, including Heartbreak House (1919) and Saint Joan (1923). A characteristic of Shaw's published plays is the lengthy prefaces that accompany them. In these essays, Shaw wrote more about his usually controversial opinions on the issues touched by the plays than about the plays themselves. Some prefaces are much longer than the actual play.
Shaw's correspondence with Mrs. Patrick Campbell was adapted for the stage by Jerome Kilty as DEAR LIAR: A Comedy of Letters. His letters to another prominent actress, Ellen Terry, have also been published and dramatised.
By the time of his death, Shaw was not only a household name in Britain, but a world figure. His ironic wit endowed the language with the adjective "Shavian", to refer to such clever observations as "England and America are two countries divided by a common language." 
Despite the fact that he was a democratic socialist, in the 1930s Shaw approved of the dictatorship of Stalin and even made some ambiguous statements that could be interpreted as being pro-Hitler. In 1945 in his preface to his play Geneva Shaw claimed that the majority of the victims of the Nazi extermination camps had in fact died of "overcrowding". However, he also stated that Hitler had become a "mad messiah" over time: Shaw contrasted this with the situation in the Soviet Union where, according to Shaw, "Stalin... made good by doing things better and much more promptly than parliaments". Shaw also made numerous anti-semitic comments at this time, although the extent to which he was merely being ironic or provocative is unclear. His (un-ironic) pro-Stalin bias is undeniable, however, although it is rarely commented on in discussions of his work. Perhaps the kindest way of looking at Shaw's political position is that he remained in many ways an Edwardian who never fully understood the politics of a totalitarian age.
Concerned about the inconsistency of English spelling, he willed a portion of his wealth to fund the creation of a new phonemic alphabet for the English language. On his death he did not have much money to leave so no effort was made to start such a project. However, his estate began to earn significant royalties from the rights to Pygmalion when My Fair Lady, a musical based on the play, became a hit. It then became clear that the will was so badly worded that the relatives had grounds to challenge the will and in the end an out of court settlement granted a small portion of the money to promoting a new alphabet. This became known as the Shavian alphabet. The National Gallery of Ireland also received a substantial donation.
Shaw is the great uncle of author, actor, and filmmaker Scott Shaw.
The Shaw Theatre, Euston Road, London was opened in 1971 to honour G.B. Shaw.
- "The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it."
- "Whilst we have prisons it matters little which of us occupy the cells."
- "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man."
- "Do not do unto others as you expect they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same."
- "Most people would rather die sooner than think. In fact, they do so."
- "Lack of money is the root of all evil."
- "Youth is wasted on the young."
- "Democracy is a system ensuring that the people are governed no better than they deserve."
- Plays Unpleasant:
- Plays Pleasant:
- Three Plays for Puritans:
- John Bull's Other Island
- The Doctor's Dilemma
- Fanny's First Play
- Androcles and the Lion
- Major Barbara
- Man and Superman
- Saint Joan
- Back to Methuselah:
- The Apple Cart
Novels & collections of essays
- Commonsense about the War
- The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism and Capitalism
- The Black Girl in Search of God
- Biography in The World & I magazine
- Project Gutenberg e-texts of some of George Bernard Shaw's works
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