George Bernard Shaw, often known simply as Bernard Shaw, was a significant Irish playwright, critic, and polemicist who became one of the most celebrated intellectual figures of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Born on July 26, 1856, in Dublin, Ireland, Shaw’s influence has spanned the globe, leading to a Nobel Prize in Literature and an Academy Award, making him the only person to receive both honors.
Throughout his life, Shaw continued to challenge societal norms and provoke thought. He used his wit and intelligence to critique society, leading to many timeless masterpieces. His works remain relevant even in the 21st century, showcasing his brilliant understanding of human nature and society. His exceptional writing, unorthodox views, and undeniable genius make George Bernard Shaw a figure of enduring significance in the literary world.
George Bernard Shaw Quotes
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
“A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.”
“A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.”
Early Life and Background
Shaw was born into an unconventional Irish Protestant family. His mother, Lucinda Elizabeth Shaw, was a singer who later left her husband to teach singing in London. Shaw did not fare well in formal schooling, but his mother’s influence and his own insatiable thirst for knowledge led him to self-education. Shaw moved to London at the age of twenty, joining his mother and sister who had previously relocated there.
A Career in Journalism and Criticism
George Bernard Shaw initially struggled to make a living in London, eventually finding a position as a ghostwriter and reviewer. This marked the start of his career in journalism and criticism. His acerbic wit and sharp social commentary soon earned him a reputation. He was a critic of music and drama for various periodicals such as The Star and The World. As a music critic, he was known by the pen name Corno di Bassetto, meaning “basset horn,” a peculiar and rarely used instrument, a whimsical touch quite in keeping with Shaw’s humor.
A Powerful Playwright
George Bernard Shaw’s career as a playwright started off relatively slowly. His early plays were often met with a lukewarm reception. However, Shaw continued to hone his craft, eventually finding his voice as a playwright with a keen ability to critique society and humanity. His first significant success was “Man and Superman,” published in 1903. Shaw’s plays, such as “Pygmalion” (1913) and “Saint Joan” (1923), often include social criticism, satire, and wit, illustrating his unique style of storytelling and stagecraft.
Nobel Laureate and an Academy Award Winner
In 1925, Shaw was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his work, which was “marked by both idealism and humanity, its stimulating satire often being infused with a singular poetic beauty.” He was reluctant to accept the prize money, saying that he valued recognition more than money. He finally accepted the prize on the condition that it be used to finance a translation of Swedish literature into English.
In 1938, George Bernard Shaw also won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for the film version of “Pygmalion.” The film was a great success, and Shaw’s screenplay was lauded for its clever adaptation of his own play.
George Bernard Shaw passed away on November 2, 1950, but his legacy lives on. His plays continue to be performed worldwide, and his critical writings still resonate. Shaw’s groundbreaking blend of wit, social criticism, and innovative stagecraft revolutionized the theatre and earned him a place among the greatest playwrights in the English language.