List Of Contents | Contents of Man and Superman, by Bernard Shaw
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experience to be interesting to you, if not to the play-going
public of London. I have certainly shown little consideration for
that public in this enterprise; but I know that it has the
friendliest disposition towards you and me as far as it has any
consciousness of our existence, and quite understands that what I
write for you must pass at a considerable height over its simple
romantic head. It will take my books as read and my genius for
granted, trusting me to put forth work of such quality as shall
bear out its verdict. So we may disport ourselves on our own
plane to the top of our bent; and if any gentleman points out
that neither this epistle dedicatory nor the dream of Don Juan in
the third act of the ensuing comedy is suitable for immediate
production at a popular theatre we need not contradict him.
Napoleon provided Talma with a pit of kings, with what effect on
Talma's acting is not recorded. As for me, what I have always
wanted is a pit of philosophers; and this is a play for such a

I should make formal acknowledgment to the authors whom I have
pillaged in the following pages if I could recollect them a11.
The theft of the brigand-poetaster from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is
deliberate; and the metamorphosis of Leporello into Enry Straker,
motor engineer and New Man, is an intentional dramatic sketch for
the contemporary embryo of Mr H. G. Wells's anticipation of the
efficient engineering class which will, he hopes, finally sweep
the jabberers out of the way of civilization. Mr Barrio has also,
whilst I am correcting my proofs, delighted London with a servant
who knows more than his masters. The conception of Mendoza
Limited I trace back to a certain West Indian colonial secretary,
who, at a period when he and I and Mr Sidney Webb were sowing our
political wild oats as a sort of Fabian Three Musketeers, without
any prevision of the surprising respectability of the crop that
followed, recommended Webb, the encyclopedic and inexhaustible,
to form himself into a company for the benefit of the
shareholders. Octavius I take over unaltered from Mozart; and I
hereby authorize any actor who impersonates him, to sing "Dalla
sua pace" (if he can) at any convenient moment during the
representation. Ann was suggested to me by the fifteenth century
Dutch morality called Everyman, which Mr William Poel has lately
resuscitated so triumphantly. I trust he will work that vein
further, and recognize that Elizabethan Renascence fustian is no
more bearable after medieval poesy than Scribe after Ibsen. As I
sat watching Everyman at the Charterhouse, I said to myself Why
not Everywoman? Ann was the result: every woman is not Ann; but
Ann is Everywoman.

That the author of Everyman was no mere artist, but an
artist-philosopher, and that the artist-philosophers are the only
sort of artists I take quite seriously, will be no news to you.
Even Plato and Boswell, as the dramatists who invented Socrates
and Dr Johnson, impress me more deeply than the romantic
playwrights. Ever since, as a boy, I first breathed the air of
the transcendental regions at a performance of Mozart's
Zauberflote, I have been proof against the garish splendors and
alcoholic excitements of the ordinary stage combinations of
Tappertitian romance with the police intelligence. Bunyan, Blake,
Hogarth and Turner (these four apart and above all the English
Classics), Goethe, Shelley, Schopenhaur, Wagner, Ibsen, Morris,
Tolstoy, and Nietzsche are among the writers whose peculiar sense
of the world I recognize as more or less akin to my own. Mark the
word peculiar. I read Dickens and Shakespear without shame or
stint; but their pregnant observations and demonstrations of life
are not co-ordinated into any philosophy or religion: on the
contrary, Dickens's sentimental assumptions are violently
contradicted by his observations; and Shakespear's pessimism is
only his wounded humanity. Both have the specific genius of the
fictionist and the common sympathies of human feeling and thought
in pre-eminent degree. They are often saner and shrewder than the
philosophers just as Sancho-Panza was often saner and shrewder
than Don Quixote. They clear away vast masses of oppressive
gravity by their sense of the ridiculous, which is at bottom a
combination of sound moral judgment with lighthearted good
humor. But they are concerned with the diversities of the world
instead of with its unities: they are so irreligious that they
exploit popular religion for professional purposes without
delicacy or scruple (for example, Sydney Carton and the ghost in
Hamlet!): they are anarchical, and cannot balance their exposures
of Angelo and Dogberry, Sir Leicester Dedlock and Mr Tite
Barnacle, with any portrait of a prophet or a worthy leader: they
have no constructive ideas: they regard those who have them as
dangerous fanatics: in all their fictions there is no leading
thought or inspiration for which any man could conceivably risk
the spoiling of his hat in a shower, much less his life. Both are
alike forced to borrow motives for the more strenuous actions of
their personages from the common stockpot of melodramatic plots;
so that Hamlet has to be stimulated by the prejudices of a
policeman and Macbeth by the cupidities of a bushranger. Dickens,
without the excuse of having to manufacture motives for Hamlets
and Macbeths, superfluously punt his crew down the stream of his
monthly parts by mechanical devices which I leave you to
describe, my own memory being quite baffled by the simplest
question as to Monks in Oliver Twist, or the long lost parentage
of Smike, or the relations between the Dorrit and Clennam
families so inopportunely discovered by Monsieur Rigaud Blandois.
The truth is, the world was to Shakespear a great "stage of
fools" on which he was utterly bewildered. He could see no sort
of sense in living at all; and Dickens saved himself from the
despair of the dream in The Chimes by taking the world for
granted and busying himself with its details. Neither of them
could do anything with a serious positive character: they could
place a human figure before you with perfect verisimilitude; but
when the moment came for making it live and move, they found,
unless it made them laugh, that they had a puppet on their hands,
and had to invent some artificial external stimulus to make it
work. This is what is the matter with Hamlet all through: he has
no will except in his bursts of temper. Foolish Bardolaters make
a virtue of this after their fashion: they declare that the play
is the tragedy of irresolution; but all Shakespear's projections
of the deepest humanity he knew have the same defect: their
characters and manners are lifelike; but their actions are forced
on them from without, and the external force is grotesquely
inappropriate except when it is quite conventional, as in the
case of Henry V. Falstaff is more vivid than any of these serious
reflective characters, because he is self-acting: his motives are
his own appetites and instincts and humors. Richard III, too, is
delightful as the whimsical comedian who stops a funeral to make
love to the corpse's widow; but when, in the next act, he is
replaced by a stage villain who smothers babies and offs with
people's heads, we are revolted at the imposture and repudiate
the changeling. Faulconbridge, Coriolanus, Leontes are admirable
descriptions of instinctive temperaments: indeed the play of
Coriolanus is the greatest of Shakespear's comedies; but
description is not philosophy; and comedy neither compromises the
author nor reveals him. He must be judged by those characters
into which he puts what he knows of himself, his Hamlets and
Macbeths and Lears and Prosperos. If these characters are
agonizing in a void about factitious melodramatic murders and
revenges and the like, whilst the comic characters walk with
their feet on solid ground, vivid and amusing, you know that the
author has much to show and nothing to teach. The comparison
between Falstaff and Prospero is like the comparison between
Micawber and David Copperfield. At the end of the book you know
Micawber, whereas you only know what has happened to David, and
are not interested enough in him to wonder what his politics or
religion might be if anything so stupendous as a religious or
political idea, or a general idea of any sort, were to occur to
him. He is tolerable as a child; but he never becomes a man, and
might be left out of his own biography altogether but for his
usefulness as a stage confidant, a Horatio or "Charles his
friend" what they call on the stage a feeder.

Now you cannot say this of the works of the artist-philosophers.
You cannot say it, for instance, of The Pilgrim's Progress. Put
your Shakespearian hero and coward, Henry V and Pistol or
Parolles, beside Mr Valiant and Mr Fearing, and you have a sudden
revelation of the abyss that lies between the fashionable author
who could see nothing in the world but personal aims and the
tragedy of their disappointment or the comedy of their
incongruity, and the field preacher who achieved virtue and
courage by identifying himself with the purpose of the world as
he understood it. The contrast is enormous: Bunyan's coward stirs
your blood more than Shakespear's hero, who actually leaves you
cold and secretly hostile. You suddenly see that Shakespear, with
all his flashes and divinations, never understood virtue and
courage, never conceived how any man who was not a fool could,
like Bunyan's hero, look back from the brink of the river of
death over the strife and labor of his pilgrimage, and say "yet
do I not repent me"; or, with the panache of a millionaire,
bequeath "my sword to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage,
and my courage and skill to him that can get it." This is the
true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by
yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before
you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature
instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and
grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to
making you happy. And also the only real tragedy in life is the
being used by personally minded men for purposes which you
recognize to be base. All the rest is at worst mere misfortune or
mortality: this alone is misery, slavery, hell on earth; and the
revolt against it is the only force that offers a man's work to
the poor artist, whom our personally minded rich people would so
willingly employ as pandar, buffoon, beauty monger,
sentimentalizer and the like.

It may seem a long step from Bunyan to Nietzsche; but the
difference between their conclusions is purely formal. Bunyan's
perception that righteousness is filthy rags, his scorn for Mr
Legality in the village of Morality, his defiance of the Church
as the supplanter of religion, his insistence on courage as the
virtue of virtues, his estimate of the career of the
conventionally respectable and sensible Worldly Wiseman as no
better at bottom than the life and death of Mr Badman: all this,
expressed by Bunyan in the terms of a tinker's theology, is what
Nietzsche has expressed in terms of post-Darwinian,
post-Schopenhaurian philosophy; Wagner in terms of polytheistic
mythology; and Ibsen in terms of mid-XIX century Parisian
dramaturgy. Nothing is new in these matters except their
novelties: for instance, it is a novelty to call Justification by
Faith "Wille," and Justification by Works "Vorstellung." The sole
use of the novelty is that you and I buy and read Schopenhaur's
treatise on Will and Representation when we should not dream of
buying a set of sermons on Faith versus Works. At bottom the
controversy is the same, and the dramatic results are the same.
Bunyan makes no attempt to present his pilgrims as more sensible
or better conducted than Mr Worldly Wiseman. Mr W. W.'s worst
enemies, as Mr Embezzler, Mr Never-go-to-Church-on-Sunday, Mr Bad
Form, Mr Murderer, Mr Burglar, Mr Co-respondent, Mr Blackmailer,
Mr Cad, Mr Drunkard, Mr Labor Agitator and so forth, can read the
Pilgrim's Progress without finding a word said against them;
whereas the respectable people who snub them and put them in
prison, such as Mr W.W. himself and his young friend Civility;
Formalist and Hypocrisy; Wildhead, Inconsiderate, and Pragmatick
(who were clearly young university men of good family and high
feeding); that brisk lad Ignorance, Talkative, By-Ends of
Fairspeech and his mother-in-law Lady Feigning, and other
reputable gentlemen and citizens, catch it very severely. Even
Little Faith, though he gets to heaven at last, is given to
understand that it served him right to be mobbed by the brothers
Faint Heart, Mistrust, and Guilt, all three recognized members of
respectable society and veritable pillars of the law. The whole
allegory is a consistent attack on morality and respectability,
without a word that one can remember against vice and crime.
Exactly what is complained of in Nietzsche and Ibsen, is it not?
And also exactly what would be complained of in all the
literature which is great enough and old enough to have attained
canonical rank, officially or unofficially, were it not that
books are admitted to the canon by a compact which confesses
their greatness in consideration of abrogating their meaning; so
that the reverend rector can agree with the prophet Micah as to
his inspired style without being committed to any complicity in
Micah's furiously Radical opinions. Why, even I, as I force
myself; pen in hand, into recognition and civility, find all the
force of my onslaught destroyed by a simple policy of
non-resistance. In vain do I redouble the violence of the
language in which I proclaim my heterodoxies. I rail at the
theistic credulity of Voltaire, the amoristic superstition of
Shelley, the revival of tribal soothsaying and idolatrous rites
which Huxley called Science and mistook for an advance on the
Pentateuch, no less than at the welter of ecclesiastical and
professional humbug which saves the face of the stupid system of
violence and robbery which we call Law and Industry. Even
atheists reproach me with infidelity and anarchists with nihilism
because I cannot endure their moral tirades. And yet, instead of
exclaiming "Send this inconceivable Satanist to the stake," the
respectable newspapers pith me by announcing "another book by
this brilliant and thoughtful writer." And the ordinary citizen,
knowing that an author who is well spoken of by a respectable
newspaper must be all right, reads me, as he reads Micah, with
undisturbed edification from his own point of view. It is
narrated that in the eighteenseventies an old lady, a very devout
Methodist, moved from Colchester to a house in the neighborhood
of the City Road, in London, where, mistaking the Hall of Science
for a chapel, she sat at the feet of Charles Bradlaugh for many
years, entranced by his eloquence, without questioning his
orthodoxy or moulting a feather of her faith. I fear I small be
defrauded of my just martyrdom in the same way.

However, I am digressing, as a man with a grievance always does.
And after all, the main thing in determining the artistic quality

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