George Bernard Shaw on Shakespeare

“There are moments when one asks despairingly why our stage should ever have been cursed with this ‘immortal’ pilferer of other men’s stories and ideas, with his monstrous rhetorical fustian, his unbearable platitudes, his pretentious reduction of the subtlest problems of life to commonplaces against which a Polytechnic debating club would revolt, his incredible unsuggestiveness, his sententious combination of ready reflection with complete intellectual sterility, and his consequent incapacity for getting out of the depth of even the most ignorant audience, except when he solemnly says something so transcendently platitudinous that his more humble-minded hearers cannot bring themselves to believe that so great a man really meant to talk like their grandmothers. With the single exception of Homer, there is no eminent writer, not even Sir Walter Scott, whom I can despise so entirely as I despise Shakespeare when I measure my mind against his. The intensity of my impatience with him occasionally reaches such a pitch, that it would positively be a relief to me to dig him up and throw stones at him, knowing as I do how incapable he and his worshippers are of understanding any less obvious from of indignity. To read Cymbeline and to think of Goethe, or Wagner, of Ibsen, is, for me, to imperil the habit of studied moderation of statement which years of public responsibility as a journalist have made almost second nature to me.”

Don’t sit on the fence now George will you…

Michael Stewart


About headspam

I'm a writer from Salford, now based in Bradford. I've written for theatre, radio and TV. And the following books: King Crow (novel: Bluemoose Books); Couples (poetry: Valley Press); Cafe Assassin (novel: Bluemoose Books); Mr Jolly (short stories: Valley Press) Author page:
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2 Responses to George Bernard Shaw on Shakespeare

  1. clambam says:

    I recently took the opportunity to reread a bunch of Shaw’s plays as free downloads on my Kindle. I last read his plays more than forty years ago as a teenager, when I found him enormously insightful.

    Shaw’s plays suck. They are wordy, self-absorbed, self-congratulatory, of absolutely no relevance to the present day, and with a strong whiff of upper class twittery (and really, if a piece of literature seems dated and irrelevant, that is the fault of the author for not speaking more insightfully to the human condition, not of the reader for being insufficiently human). His best plays are the ones where the main character reminds him of himself: Caesar and Cleopatra, Arms and the Man, The Devil’s Disciple, Pygmalion. Nobody thinks any more about the things that he obsessed over. Shakespeare speaks more clearly to us from 500 years ago than Shaw does from seventy.

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