George Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright, critic, polemicist and political activist. His influence on Western theatre, culture and politics extended from the 1880s to his death and beyond.
George Bernard Shaw Early Life
- George Bernard Shaw was born 26 July 1856, near Portobello, Dublin, Ireland.
- His father was a failed corn-merchant, with a drinking problem and a squint, and his mother was a professional singer.
- When Shaw was just short of his sixteenth birthday, his mother left her husband and son, and moved with Vandeleur Lee to London along with Shaw’s elder sister, Lucy.
- In 1876, Shaw left Dublin and his father, and moved to London. There he lived with his mother and sister while pursuing a career in journalism and writing.
George Bernard Shaw Career
- Initially, Shaw refused to seek clerical employment in London. His mother allowed him to live free of charge in her house in South Kensington. He nevertheless needed an income.
- He had abandoned a teenage ambition to become a painter, and had no thought yet of writing for a living. Lee found a little work for him, ghost-writing a musical column printed under Lee’s name in a satirical weekly, The Hornet.
- His first attempt at drama, begun in 1878, was a blank-verse satirical piece on a religious theme. He abandoned it unfinished, as was his first try at a novel.
- He was employed briefly by the newly formed Edison Telephone Company in 1879–80. Thereafter he pursued a full-time career as an author.
- For the next four years Shaw made a negligible income from writing, and was subsidised by his mother.
- In 1881, for the sake of economy, and increasingly as a matter of principle, he became a vegetarian. Later he grew a beard to hide a facial scar left by smallpox.
- The first medium he tried as a creative writer was prose, completing five novels before any of them were published. He read voraciously, in public libraries and in the British Museum reading room.
George Bernard Shaw Play
- In 1891, at the invitation of progressive private new-play society, The Independent Theatre, Shaw wrote his first play, Widower’s Houses.
- For the next twelve years, he wrote close to a dozen plays, though he generally failed to persuade the managers of the London Theatres to produce them.
- In 1898, after a serious illness, Shaw resigned as theatre critic, and moved out of his mother’s house where he was still living to marry Charlotte Payne-Townsend, an Irish woman of independent means. Their marriage lasted until Charlotte’s death in 1943.
- In 1904, took over the management of the Court Theatre on Sloane Square in Chelsea and set it up as an experimental theatre specializing in new and progressive drama.
- Over the next three seasons, Barker produced ten plays by Shaw, and he began writing new plays with Barker’s management specifically in mind.
- With royalties from his plays, Shaw, who had become financially independent on marrying, now became quite wealthy.
- Throughout the decade, he remained active in the Fabian Society, in city government, and on committees dedicated to ending dramatic censorship, and to establishing a subsidized National Theater.
George Bernard Shaw Later Life
- The outbreak of war in 1914 changed Shaw’s life. For Shaw, the war represented the bankruptcy of the capitalist system, the last desperate gasps of the nineteenth-century empires, and a tragic waste of young lives, all under the guise of patriotism.
- After the war, Shaw found his dramatic voice again and rebuilt his reputation, first with a series of five plays about “creative evolution,” Back to Methuselah, and then, in 1923, with Saint Joan.
- In 1925, Nobel committee awarded him the Nobel Prize for Literature. He donated the cash award towards an English edition of the Swedish playwright August Strindberg. Swedish Academy never recognized August with a Nobel prize.
- Shaw’s plays were regularly produced and revived in London. He lived the rest of his life as an international celebrity, travelling the world, continually involved in local and international politics. And he continued to write thousands of letters and over a dozen more plays.
George Bernard Shaw Death
- In 1950, Shaw fell off a ladder while trimming a tree on his property at Ayot St. Lawrence in Hertfordshire, outside London, and died a few days later of complications from the injury, at the age of 94.
- His family cremated him at Golders Green Crematorium on 6 November 1950. His family scattered his ashes, mixed with those of Charlotte, along footpaths and around the statue of Saint Joan in their garden.