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Shaw's Settings

Gardens and Libraries

Tony J. Stafford

Publication Year: 2013

Picture the young George Bernard Shaw spending long days in the Reading Room of the British Museum, pursuing a self-taught education, all the while longing for the green landscapes of his native Ireland. It is no coincidence that gardens and libraries often set the scene for Shaw's plays, yet scholars have seldom drawn attention to the fact until now.

Exposing the subtle interplay of these two settings as a key pattern throughout Shaw’s dramas, Shaw's Settings fills the need for a systematic study of setting as significant to the playwright's work as a whole. Each of the nine chapters focuses on a different play and a different usage of gardens and libraries, showing that these venues are not just background for action, they also serve as metaphors, foreshadowing, and insight into characters and conflicts. The vital role of Shaw's settings reveals the astonishing depth and complexity of the playwright's dramatic genius.

Published by: University Press of Florida


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p. 1-1

Shaw’s Settings

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pp. 2-3


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p. 4-4


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pp. 5-7


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pp. 8-9


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pp. ix-11

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pp. xi-xii

In recent years the concert readings of Shaw’s plays done by the ShawChicago Theater Co. and Project Shaw in New York (by the Gingold Theatrical Group) have convincingly shown that the language of Shaw’s plays is so powerfully evocative that it can stand alone. In these productions, actors...

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pp. xiii-15

I should like to thank Elaine Fredericksen, professor emerita at the University of Texas at El Paso, for her encouragement through some difficult times. I should also like to thank Maggie Smith, chair of the Department of English at the University of Texas at El Paso, for her guidance. At this same...

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pp. 1-8

The importance of setting in Bernard Shaw’s plays has of course been noticed by many, Rodelle Weintraub summing it up by noting that Shaw’s “stage directions are often as important as the dialogue itself ”1 and Arthur Ganz going even further by opining that Shaw’s “stage directions are more...

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1. Widowers’ Houses: “Life Here Is a Perfect Idyll”

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pp. 9-22

Even though Widowers’ Houses is Shaw’s first play, it has an artistic completeness of conception and a surprising sophistication in style, technique, and content. Some critics, ignoring the artistic issue, have chosen to focus on the satiric and propagandistic elements in the play, labeling it Shaw’s...

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2. Mrs. Warren’s Profession: The Walled Gardens

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pp. 23-33

Even more so than in Widowers’ Houses, Shaw relies heavily on the garden setting in Mrs. Warren’s Profession to accomplish his social commentary, and especially to attack hypocrisy as the underlying cause of society’s corrupt value system. In Mrs. Warren’s Profession the surface object of attack...

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3. Arms and the Man: “I Took Care to Let Them Know That We Have a Library”

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pp. 34-43

While scholars have approached Arms and the Man with a myriad of interpretations, many agree that one of the overarching concerns of the play is the clash between romanticism and realism.1 As Lawrence Perrine says, “the thematic conflict . . . is between realism and romantic idealism,”2 and...

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4. Candida: A Wall of Bookshelves and the Best View of the Garden

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pp. 44-54

Much of the scholarship on the play shows that Candida is a challenging play with widely divergent and contradictory opinions about it. As Arthur Ganz writes, Candida is “one of the richest, most attractive, and most elusive of Shaw’s earlier plays,” 1 even though James Woodfield says that...

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5. Man and Superman: Books on a Garden Table

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pp. 55-73

Shaw’s Man and Superman begins in a library in London and ends in a garden in Granada. This contrast in settings suggests the movement of the play, both physically (going from England to Spain) and thematically. The opening of the play focuses on Roebuck Ramsden, whose library it is; the...

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6. Major Barbara: The Salvation Army’s “Garden” and Cusins’s Books

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pp. 74-86

In his second and third decades of writing, comprising his works from Major Barbara to Back to Methuselah, from around 1906 to about 1922 and covering a little over the first two decades of the twentieth century, Shaw continued to explore new usages of gardens and libraries. The major plays...

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7. Misalliance: Gardens and Books as the Means to New Dramatic Forms

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pp. 87-101

In Misalliance, it would seem at first glance that Shaw has abandoned the use of both gardens and libraries, for the sole onstage setting is “a big hall with tiled flooring” and a “glass pavilion [which] springs from a bridgelike arch in the wall of the house.”1 But that would be a mistake, for gardens and...

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8.Heartbreak House: “A Long Garden Seat on the West”

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pp. 102-110

Toward the end of Heartbreak House, Hector Hushabye asks the unfathomable question, “how is all this going to end?”1 Unbeknownst even to himself, he had already anticipated the answer when, at the beginning of act 3, his wife, Hesione, asks him, in response to the “splendid drumming...

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9. Back to Methuselah: The Original Garden and a Library Too

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pp. 111-123

It may be appropriate to end a study of Shaw’s use of the garden setting, along with libraries, with yet another variation on his use of gardens and libraries and a play that draws upon the original garden of Western civilization, the Garden of Eden, and comes back to the same garden at the end...

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pp. 125-130

Having conducted this close examination of Shaw’s use of settings—specifically his use of gardens and libraries—we can safely describe the patterns and significance of those settings. In brief, we may conclude that Shaw incorporates these two settings, which recur with regularity throughout...


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pp. 131-156


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pp. 157-162


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pp. 163-169

E-ISBN-13: 9780813048550
E-ISBN-10: 0813048559
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813044989

Page Count: 160
Publication Year: 2013