Shaw, Plato, and Euripides
Classical Currents in <i>Major Barbara</i>
Publication Year: 2012
Ever since its 1905 premiere on the London stage, Bernard Shaw's controversial drama Major Barbara has proved puzzling to audiences and critics alike. More than a century later there is still wide critical disagreement about the play's meaning and the ideas it engenders. Sidney Albert’s groundbreaking new book provides a daring and novel reading of this work. By tracing the extensive connections between Shaw's play and two canonical ancient Greek texts--Plato's Republic and Euripides’s Bacchae--Albert reveals deeper dimensions of the work.
Albert demonstrates the influence these classics had on Shaw's development as an artist and philosopher. He explores the Dionysian and Platonic elements in Major Barbara to illuminate how classical themes were modernized by Shaw. While examining the interrelations of the central characters in their social settings, Shaw, Plato, and Euripides searches out the complex layers of meaning in one of Shaw's most enigmatic dramas. Albert convincingly reveals Shaw's interaction with Greek thought in a way that reconfirms ancient wisdom and yet goes beyond it, adapting it to the social, political, and humanistic perspectives of the modern world.
Published by: University Press of Florida
Title Page, Copyright
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In “Shakespeare Studies” it is not unusual to find scholars who devote most of their published research and study to a single play, and that California State University, Los Angeles, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy Sidney Albert has taken that route with a Shaw play (here and in other publications) speaks to the increasing realization that there are Shaw...
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At my present age (ninety-seven), many of the people I must thank—or wish I could thank—are no longer alive. I have worked on this manuscript intermittently for more than half a century, during which time I have benefited from collegial relations and friendships with Shavians and non-Shavians alike. ...
Introduction: The Way from Athens
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Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara has on various occasions been called “a masterpiece” for which “nothing short of a cast of geniuses will be of the slightest use,” and a drama that has “strained the resources of the stage to the breaking point: the acting requires three stars of the first magnitude.” Indeed, “for plays of this class, the great question is whether the audience...
I. Shaw’s Republic
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Major Barbara clearly invites consideration from a Greek standpoint. It is Shaw’s most “Greek” play. Brimming with Hellenic motifs and allusions, it also bears the author’s N.B. that it “stands indebted” to Professor Gilbert Murray, the classical scholar and admitted model for the character Adolphus Cusins “in more ways than one” (13).1 ...
II. Shaw’s Bacchae
1. The Drama of Nutrition
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However striking the dissimilarities between Euripides’s ecstatic tragedy and Shaw’s tragicomedy—in content and form, in plot and character, and conceivably in direct meaning and intent—the unmistakable resemblances between them are as illuminating as they are varied. Even the apparent dissimilarity in treatment ought not to blind us to the formal...
2. The Drama of Resistance
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Major Barbara is a play of midwinter. This is entirely in keeping with the ancient belief that Dionysos was on earth for the three months of winter, a period held sacred to the god.1 One prominent feature of Dionysian worship was the trieteris (Bacchae 133), a midwinter rite celebrated in alternate years. Unlike spring wine festivals, this biennial orgiastic ritual...
3. The Drama of Heaven and Hell
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The third act begins by focusing attention on Barbara’s alienation from the Army, made conspicuous by her assumption of “ordinary fashionable dress.” “LOMAX. Youve left off your uniform! Barbara says nothing; but an expression of pain passes over her face” (140). When Cusins appears a few minutes later, he “starts visibly” at the sight of Barbara out of uniform (141).1 ...
4. The Drama of Transfiguration
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The turning point in the Bacchae comes when Pentheus, on the verge of marching against the maenads, calls for his armor (809). Dionysos diverts him from this course of action by proposing instead a surreptitious visit to their mountain haunts. Weakening to the influence of the god, the king nevertheless wants to deliberate on his decision...
Appendix - Bernard Shaw: The Artist as Philosopher
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Page Count: 260
Illustrations: 3 images
Publication Year: 2012
Series Title: Florida Bernard Shaw
Series Editor Byline: R. F. Dietrich