Modern drama art is a kind of art, which does not teach or shows what to do, neither have it served the aim to entertain the people only. The main goal of any play is to state a question and provoke spectators search for answers. Each character should respond to a spectator in order to make him or her recognizes him or herself and sees their personalities from aside. Theatre stage becomes a canvas for discussion; for social, political, psychological, and idealistic conflicts; for criticism of the world, which is contemporary for the author, and moreover, - criticism of ideas and traditions, which tend to be eternal.
The most famous play of George Bernard Shaw is “Pigmalion”, which shows the diverse attitude to social classes in the society. It provokes discussions whether it is possible to change the simple human’s manners and make them match to the higher social class, while the inner world is unchangeable. The play ridicules the diversity between the outer good manners and the inner plainness of the representatives of higher class.
However, this essay aims to reveal the ideas and provide the literary analysis of George Bernard Shaw’s plays “Arms and the Man”, “The Philanderer”, and “The Doctor’s Dilemma”. These two pieces represent different periods of playwright’s work, so that they reveal different ideas and characters. However, both plays contain the philosophy which is urgent nowadays and can be seen as the reflection of many contemporary issues in social and cultural areas of life.
George Bernard Shaw, a Noble Prize winning Irish playwright, was one of the brightest representatives of the modern drama art. He was influenced by Ibsen, as he had been working as a theatre and music critic. He was one of the leading personalities in this area. Shaw went on to write plays in order to reflect criticism of his contemporary theatre on the stage. His earliest dramas – The Unpleasant Plays – provided a direct and even fierce criticism of social injustice, hypocrisy etc. His following works, The Pleasant Plays, contained less strong criticism but more humor. In later works, the idea becomes major for Shaw and discussion sometimes replaces drama, as it happens in his play “The Doctor’s Dilemma.”
Speaking about the play “Arms and the Man”, which is one of the Shaw’s early plays from the book “The Pleasant Plays”, one may note the author’s specific attitude to the war and its glorifying within the society. It is obvious, that the author is not the one who worships the war, which is seen in his sarcasm in connection to this notion. He diminishes this concept beginning with using Vergil’s lines from the “Aeneid” in the title of the play: “Of arms and the man I sing…”. The idea of this votal title is to make contrast with the opposite content, as readers meet characters who depreciate the meaning of fighting between two peoples for the land in the face of the reader. However, the piece is not a pacifistic one, but shows all the absurd of the war.
For instance, the cavalry raid Major Sergio Saranoff tells about his glories, which turned the war against the Serbs toward the victory of Bulgarians. The first impression of the readers toward this character may be considering him to be a hero, especially in the face of Raina Petkoff. Yet, the further play takes the readers, the more they understand how ridiculous this suicidal gesture of the Major was.
On the contrast of this patriotic soldier, Capitan Bluntshi, a hired Swiss soldier, appears as a coward in Raina’s bedroom. He climbs up the water pipe to the balcony, brandishes in the face of the helpless woman with his gun, and hides in her room to escape fighting. Finally, he reveals that he carries chocolate with him in each battle instead of cartridges for his gun, saying that chocolate is more useful on the war. His actions appear to be more reasonable, when the readers realize, that his aim was to survive. Through the sarcastic and absurd situation, Bernard Shaw claims life the biggest value, while the war is something opposite, however brave and courageous a soldier is. Any heroic action at the war brings a hero to death, as it happens to Major.
In addition, Shaw reveals some of the practical matters of the war and tricky exploitation of this notion, which leads to profits for particular personalities, but damages the whole peoples. The author diminishes the traditional meaning of the heroism and high love, acting as a representative of realistic radicalism, and showing the world with no place for absurd illusions and over-poetic world views.
One should note that the romantic and realistic approach to interpreting the world are met in this play and create the main conflict on the aesthetic level. The symbols of these approaches reflect in the characters and their opposite idealistic conceptions. For instance, Raina represents the idealistic romantic idea. She is attracted by Sergio’s heroism and he is an ideal hero for her. Raina is a noble aristocratic woman, but at the same time, she saves Bluntshi’s life and soon calls him “a chocolate cream soldier.” The combination of such diverse actions makes her an amusing character, thus she seemed to be too pretentious at the beginning of the play.
Capitan Bluntshi is a professional soldier, who is a practical realist. He sees the war not as anything heroic, but as a kind of business, which is absurdus at the same time. He is sure that there is nothing heroic or valuable in killing people, despite the fact, it is his profession. He chooses staying alive instead of being killed in a fight, which is an absolute contrast to Sergio, who gains his cavalry raid until he dies. His character totally reflects the attitude of Bernard Shaw to the war: there is no sense to die or to kill in the name of something abstract, which brings no profit to those, who actually fight.
“Arms and the Man”, as well as the other plays from the book “The Pleasant Plays” of Bernard Shaw contain less criticism, than those from “The Unpleasant Plays”. One of the three plays, which the book contains, is “The Philanderer”. The play was written in 1893, but had not been published until 1902 because of the censorship. The main idea of this piece was to criticize the capitalist community and raise awareness of contemporary problems in the British society.
The conflict in this play is the conflict of a person who stands in front of a difficult choice. As well as Raina, who had to make her choice in preference of the old-fashioned world of romantism and the practical realism in the faces of the two male characters, Leonard Charterer (the philanderer of the title) needs to make choice between the two women: Grace and Julia. Julia is a spoilt young daughter of the Colonel Craven, who is obsessed by the idea of getting married. She is in love with Leonard and they have a love affair. However, Charterer attracts Grace, a young widow. Charterer wants to marry Grace and that is how the love triangle comes to the stage.
This conflict creates numerous arguments and rows between two women throughout the play. The conflict is not only social, but it is the conflict of ideas, as Shaw always brings it into his characters. This is a conflict between the symbols of the Victorian military worldview (Julia’s father is a colonel) with the old traditions and the new-coming tendencies (Grace’s father is a dramatic critic who works at the theatre).
All the social conflict provides a wide social canvas for discovering Shaw’s ideas through the discussion elements of the play. The example of the social discussion is the conversation in the Ibsen Club, where Dr. Paramore, a popular physician, who complaints that there are not enough animals for testing treatments. In addition, he appears as a thief rather than a doctor, because he had been treating Colonel Craven from a liver disease until it turned that such a disease did not exist, according to some magazine.
These scenes reflect Shaw’s idea of the lethal absurdity of contemporary British medicine. The total blind belief in the words of doctors, especially those privately practicing and providing patients rather with placebo than the real treatment, was a huge problem of the contemporary society. Shaw was concerned a lot with this problem and reflected it in other plays, as well.
Another social issue is connected to the end of the play. In fact, it has two endings, one of which describes the divorce between Julia and Dr. Paramore. The Victorian tradition predicts a scandal in reference of the idea of divorce, that is why it was not published till 1902 and was first staged in 1990.
Another Bernard Shaw’s play, “The Doctor’s Dilemma”, refers to his later works. It was first played in 1906. It is a play about Dr. Colenso Ridgeon, who was knighted for inventing a new treatment for tuberculosis. Bernard Shaw entitled this play a tragedy; however, it refers to the comedy genre.
The comedy satirizes medical profession, putting the question of medical ethics into the centre of the stage. This play is a kind of Shaw’s late discussion plays, where the central conflict is a conflict of moral choice inside a man, which is brought on the stage in each act.
In the introduction to the play, Bernard Shaw provides readers with the doctor’s preface, where he reveals the issues of Britain’s medicine in the beginning of the twentieth century. In his opinion, the medical services are brought to the absolute absurdity. "If you cannot have what you belіeve іn," Shaw wrote іn hіs preface, "you must belіeve іn what you have.
When your chіld іs іll or your wіfe dyіng," when you are confronted by "the spectacle of a fellow creature іn paіn or perіl, what you want іs comfort, reassurance, somethіng to clutch at, were іt but a straw. Thіs the doctor brіngs you. You have a wіldly urgent feelіng that somethіng must be done; and the doctor does somethіng. Sometіmes what he does kіlls the patіent."
Moreover, the preface of the play provides readers with the reasonable discussion of Shaws’ personal believes, such as vegetarianism, which involved not using animals for testing vaccination, his thoughts about the improvement of political and financial background of medical services.
In his play, Bernard Shaw raises not only the psychological aspect of making choice, which brings to the conflict of profession and morality, but also he contributes to the political and social aspect of the medical profession. He describes how dependent people become on the doctors and how blind their belief to them can be, which creates the problem of thieves among the representatives of medical profession.
The dilemma appears when Dr. Ridgeon has to choose whom to give a place in his clinic, as the treatment is expensive and there is not enough staff and supplies. Dr. Ridgeon can only choose ten of the fifty ill people. He was choosing those, who deserved being cured, as he thought. The choice stands between a talented but immoral artist Louis Dubechat and Dr. Blenkinsop, who is a poor physician, but a good person and a friend of Dr. Ridgeon. The choice is rather difficult, as the doctor mustn’t be the one who decides the human’s destiny according to his own wishes, but the situation makes him do so.
It becomes more complicated, when he falls in love with Jenifer, artist’s wife. She is an innocent young woman, who is not aware of her husband’s immorality. He decides that if Louis would die before his wife finds out what an immoral person he is, it would be better for his reputation and would give a chance to be cured for Dr. Blenkinsop.
However, the main dialectic idea of the play is “what goes around comes around.” So that, when Dr. Ridgeon confesses Mrs. Dubechat in love, he appears to find out that she had already remarried. The readers or spectators finish perceiving the play with many questions, while George Bernard Shaw does not provide them with any answers on the dilemma. It sets the conflict with no one way solution, so that the spectators need to feel themselves in Dr. Ridgeons’ shoes.
Three mentioned plays depict a person who needs to make a choice. Shaw, as a radical realist and admirer of dialectics, was sure that the life of a person depends on the choice, so the choice should move the humanity towards the future, but not backwards to the traditions. Raina’s choice led her from the romantic world view to a realistic man – Bluntshi. Charterer’s choice led him to the former life. Dr. Ridgeon’s choice led him to more questions. Despite that, all the character’s made their decisions, developing or resolving the conflict in their own way.
However, at the level of the readers, no problem Shaw states is solved in the real society. Moreover, some problems cannot be solved, but what Shaw had as the aim was not to solve or even suggest a solution, but to make people aware of these problems. Using magnificent sarcasm, he made it possible for readers to see themselves in different heroes.
Even nowadays, George Bernard Shaw’s plays never lose their attractiveness and urgency, because of the eternity of the raised dialectic issues. The war has always involved a senseless murder of one people by another one fro some illusion and romantic mist called “idea” or “independence”.
No doubt, there are many literature, art and music pieces, devoted to different wars and revolutions, but none of them can replace the life of a particular person, whoever he or she is. The value of some heroic deeds does not equal the value of human’s life, at least in today’s humanistic epoch and democratic worldview prevalence.
There are different hot points and even wars nowadays all over the world: in Syria, Ukraine, Israel and Palestine etc., but there are always “Captains Bluntshis” who stand after each turn of the war. Only a few people get profit out of this disaster and these are not heroes or poets who worship the war. These are businessmen and professional, for whom it is a way to enrich. These people are realists. Not much has changed since the time Shaw wrote his comedy “Arms and the Man”, because the main value has always been and will be human’s life.
Referring to the play “The Philanderer”, many questions raised there are still urgent and have no answer. The contemporary society is attracted by the nice appearance, challenging behavior and other qualities called to show up rather than to make think or bring knowledge. Such are brandy clothes, cosmetics, accessories, technical devices and other possessions
Charterer today is a concept of a macho, which is widely used by media to make a successful commercial, which is often a subject of interpersonal conflicts between people, while the reality is that the outer beauty and attractiveness in empty inside and all the arguments were senseless and only brought members to their former lives.
The problem of the medical services is urgent, as well. Nowadays, the high quality treatment is open only for those patients who have enough money to provide this treatment for them or their family. The contemporary doctor’s dilemma is the dilemma of patients’ queues to getting transplant organs, choosing between patients those who get it first. In addition, the personal element is always present, so the difficulty of medical workers psychology is an actual topic for all the times.
Speaking about the thieves within the medical services and industry, today this issue is even more urgent, than in Shaw’s time. With the technological outburst and the growth of the speed of informational exchange, it is becoming harder and harder to filter the true information. There are many new medical and sub-medical products that it is difficult to check whether one is real and another is a fake one. The commercial plays essential role in providing society with the fake information about fake products.
The problem here is the same as Shaw had risen. People should think with their own head and think critically. The informational massifs today contain much more garbage then it used to be a hundred years ago and it predicts being much more armed with knowledge and ability to differentiate fraud from truth now, than ever before.
To conclude, Bernard Shaw raised many urgent questions in his plays. It is interesting for readers to read them, for spectators – to watch, and for theatres – to stage Shaw, because his sharp-minded humor and sarcasm is something, people will never stop laughing at; and his characters are the ones, people will always be able to recognize their own drawbacks in.