by Kelsee Jackson, dramaturg

G_Bernard_Shaw

George Bernard Shaw circa 1894. Photo from wikimedia.org.

Irish-born playwright George Bernard Shaw had strong opinions and experiences that changed his life. Many of these opinions and experiences show up in his various writings. Here’s a brief look at how Shaw’s personal views influenced Misalliance.

Education

George Bernard Shaw (who much preferred the name Bernard to George) completed his irregular schooling in his hometown of Dublin. While possessing an eager mind, he passionately despised organized training, which lead to his deep dislike for school.

In Misalliance, Shaw’s disdain for formal education shows through in Hypatia, the young daughter of the largely successful John Tarleton. When Hypatia cannot even be bothered with talk of her education, responding to inquiries with:

HYPATIA.  [gathering up her work]  If you’re going to talk about me and my education, I’m off.

Parents and Children

Shaw grew up in a complicated family. His father was said to be an alcoholic and a wife beater, causing his mother to move away to London when he was 16. Shaw stayed behind in Dublin with his father to finish his schooling. However, he did not get along with his father and by the time he was 20, he left Dublin for London and a reunion with his mother.

Shaw’s disconnect with his parents also influenced his writings. This conflict between parents and children is a central piece of the plot in Misalliance. The two older men in the play, Lord Summerhays and Mr. Tarleton, spend time contemplating the ins and outs of this complicated relationship.

LORD SUMMERHAYS.  Parents and children, Tarleton.

TARLETON.  Oh, the gulf that lies between them! the impassable, eternal gulf! 

Socialism

By the time Shaw had moved to London with his mother, he started to develop views of socialism. He started speaking out on his opinions, an act with helped him get rid of his stutter. Shaw soon helped establish the Fabian Society, a program dedicated to making Britain a socialist nation by progressive legislation. He dedicated much of his time to this society, giving lectures and writing pamphlets.

During the time of the play (1909), there were many thoughts regarding socialism. The influence of socialism and the people promoting it can be seen in Misalliance through Gunner, a poor citizen who hides in the Tarleton’s Turkish Bath. Gunner (also known as Julius Baker) speaks openly about his socialistic views to the Tarleton family:

GUNNER.  [suddenly breaking out aggressively, being incapable of any middle way between submissiveness and violence]  I can tell you where Hypatia is.  I can tell you where Joey is.  And I say it’s a scandal and an infamy.  If people only knew what goes on in this so-called respectable house it would be put a stop to.  These are the morals of our pious capitalist class!  This is your rotten bourgeoisie!  This!—

MRS TARLETON.  Don’t you dare use such language in company.  I wont allow it.

TARLETON.  All right, Chickabiddy:  it’s not bad language:  it’s only Socialism.

MRS TARLETON.  Well, I wont have any Socialism in my house.

While Misalliance was a comedy, Shaw was able to approach issues that were a big deal to him through the characters and their situations. He pokes fun at these issues and creates a funny show out of it. Many of these issues spread broadly over time and place, which is one reason we’re still able enjoy it now!


References:

http://www.english.upenn.edu/~cmazer/mis1.html

http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1925/shaw-bio.html

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