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Drama from Ibsen to Beckett - Raymond Williams (1965).pdf
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Page 148

That is the end of The Philanderer. Wehave been told with

great care exactly how to feel and respond. Melodrama has
been laughed out of court, and then brought in again by the
front door, with drums playing, to be acclaimed as the all-new
goddess of genuine feeling. The quality of Mr. Shaw's rejection
of the current theatre, and his motives, certainly need to be

Arms and the Man is a sentimental burlesque, and much of it
is very funny. It is negative, like most burlesque, and Shaw
owes its success to a wise policy of rejecting romance by state-
ment rather than by example. It is not a policy to which he
was to adhere. Because:

Whena comedy is performed, it is nothing to me that the specta-
tors laugh : any fool can make an audience laugh. I want to see
how many of them, laughing or grave, are in the melting mood.

In such an interest, it would seem, he wrote Candida. This
play is generally taken as the major work of his early years


and many of his critics have called it "a little masterpiece."
In his Preface to the Plays Pleasant Shaw rejects certain of his
earlier work (or rather he comes as near rejection as his
personality would allow) :

Certainly it is easy to dramatise the prosaic conflict of Christian

socialism with vulgar unsocialism.

And he instances Widowers' Houses. But
to distil the quintessential drama from pre-Raphaelitism, medi-
aeval or modern, it must be shown in conflict with the first
broken, nervous, stumbling attempts to formulate its own revolt
against itself as it develops into something higher. . . . The eyes
of men begin to turn to a new age. Discernible at first only by the
eyes of the man of genius, it must be focussed by him on the
speculum of a work of art, and flashed back from that into the
eyes of the commonman. Nay, the artist himself has no other way
of making himself conscious of the ray ; it is by a blind instinct that
he keeps on building up his masterpieces until their pinnacles
catch the glint of the unrisen sun. . . . He cannot explain it ; he can
only show it to you as a vision in the magic glass of his artwork. . . .
And this is the function that raises dramatic art above imposture
and pleasure hunting, and enables the dramatist to be something
more than a skilled liar and pander.

Of this vision, he tells us, he availed himself in Candida.
The conflict is between Christian socialism and the magic


Page 149

vision : personalised in the conflict of Morell and Marchbanks
for the love of Candida. What, then, are these pinnacles, on
which we may concentrate to the exclusion of the Cockney
speculator and Prossy the typist and Lexy the curate. 1

Here is one important moment


Candida: Are you ill, Eugene?
marchbanks: No, not ill. Only horror! horror! horror!
burgess: {shocked) What! Got the 'orrors, Mr. Marchbanks! Oh

that's bad, at your age. You must leave it off grajally.
Candida: {reassured) Nonsense, papa! It's only poetic horror,

isn't it, Eugene? {Petting him.)
burgess: {abashed) Oh, poetic 'orror, is it? I beg your pardon,

I'm shore. . . .
Candida: What is it, Eugene? —the scrubbing brush? . . .
marchbanks: {softly and musically, but sadly and longingly) No, not

a scrubbing brush, but a boat —a tiny shallop to sail away in,
far from the world, where the marble floors are washed by the
rain and dried by the sun; where the south wind dusts the
beautiful green and purple carpets. Or a chariot! to carry us
up into the sky, where the lamps are stars, and don't need to be
filled with paraffin oil every day.

morell: {harshly) And where there is nothing to do but to be
idle, selfish and useless.

Candida: {jarred) Oh, James ! how could you spoil it all?
marchbanks: {firing up) Yes, to be idle, selfish and useless:

that is, to be beautiful and free and happy : hasn't every man
desired that with all his soul for the womanhe loves? That's my
ideal: what's yours? . . .

Candida: {quaintly) He cleans the boots, Eugene. . . .
marchbanks: Oh, don't talk about boots! Your feet should

be beautiful on the mountains.
Candida: My feet would not be beautiful on the Hackney Road

without boots.
burgess: {scandalised) Come, Candy: don't be vulgar. Mr.

Marchbanks ain't accustomed to it. You're givin' him the
'orrors again. I mean the poetic ones.

The kind explanation of all this would be that it is burlesque
again; but that it is not, that it is meant to be accepted

1 It is one of Shaw's recurrent techniques to shorten the names of his
characters : either his grand personages (like B.B. in The Doctor's Dilemma)
for an obvious deflationary effect; or his young women (like Savvy in
Back to Methuselah) for an effect which is perhaps not so obvious.


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