Title: Man and Superman and Three Other Plays
Playwright: George Bernard Shaw(1856- 1950)
“My way of joking is to tell the truth. It’s the funniest joke in the world,” stated George Bernard Shaw. That is exactly what he does in all his writing…tell the truth as he perceives it. And most of it is really funny.
In Man and Superman, you have a writer of The Revolutionists Handbook and probably Shaw’s mouthpiece, John Tanner; a woman full of vitality who is in pursuit of a husband, Ann, and a bunch of English ladies and gentlemen with a couple of Americans, French and Spanish thrown in. Tanner has been appointed a guardian of Ann and her sister by her father, who has just passed on. He tries to rebel and run away from Ann. She is bent on marrying him.
Tanner, a believer in Life Force, sets out on his motor with his driver and ends up getting kidnapped by a brigand, Mendoza, who talks of working in office hours, socialism and his love with a passion. Mendoza, an ex-savoy waiter, has become a socialist kidnapper after being disappointed in love. He and his gang have Robin Hood-like pretensions. They rob rich motorists (as only the rich could afford cars at the turn of the nineteenth century when this play was written) and give to the poor, they say… They do not use guns or knives but throw nails on the roads and puncture the tyres. Then they capture the motorists and demand a ransom.
Ann follows literally in another car and they are rescued by soldiers. Tanner rescues Mendoza from the law by claiming that the troop of brigands are his companions, which in a sense thet are as they are all socialists at heart. Ann finally wheedles Tanner to marry her.
The most interesting part of this play in my opinion is the time Tanner spends with Mendoza as his captive. The dialogues and situation are witty and hilarious. Mendoza is a philosopher of sorts as are his crew,which includes anarchists and social democrats. Mendoza is also a poet who bores the party to sleep with his love poetry, literally. They all have a strange, allegorical dream of afterlife in hell. The Devil resembles Mendoza and is a lover of fine life. He has walked out of heaven voluntarily. The other characters in the dream are Don Juan, who resembles Tanner, The Statue, who resembles Ann’s father and Ana, who resembles Ann.
The Statue, who has been designated to heaven has taken a transfer to hell as he finds heaven tedious. Don Juan, bored by the pursuit of fine life in Earth and hell, is thinking of a transfer to heaven, which is filled with uninteresting philosophical people. Don Juan thinks the pleasures are a mirage. He is more interested in pursuing the contemplation of Life Force, the passion which drives men. Most people who are contemplative prefer heaven. Ana, who has just died and been sent to Hell wants to go to heaven as she feels it is virtuous to do so and ultimately in quest for the right father for the Superman. The concept of Life Force and Superman as opposed to an erring, fallible man are discussed in the dream sequence. Tanner also observes;
“That(art, culture etc) is the family secret of the governing caste; and if we who are of that caste aimed at more Life for the world instead of more power and luxury for our miserable selves, that secret would make us great.”
Written more than a century ago, I think this observation is valid in the present day context too.
The other three plays, Mrs Warren’s Profession, Candida and Devil’s Disciple are shorter, very Shavian in their perceptions and humour. Each one has a protagonist who perceives the world a little differently from others, who looks beyond money, culture and art to something more vital. Each of these characters are unconventional in their thought process and bring out the decadence of certain social norms.
Mrs Warren’s Profession is to do with prostitution, Candida with middle class morality and romance, Devil’s disciple, set during the American War of Independence, is to do with a man’s sudden discovery of goodness and leadership in himself…if I may, I would like to say getting in touch with the Superman in himself.
My favourite out of these four is Man and Superman. I find the banter between Tanner and the other characters really amusing and interesting.
Shaw is perhaps best known for his play Pygmalion, which was made into My Fair Lady, a hollywood classic with Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews. He had been awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1925 and the academy award for best screenplay( for My Fair Lady) in 1938.
Perhaps, a revival of his values and thought process might make this world a happier place to live in… His plays are like sunshine, witty, bright, cheerful, warm, honest and happy…a wonderful read for all and sundry.