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Book Reviews, 32:2, 1988 MORE ON SHAW Harold Bloom, ed. George Bernard Shaw's 'Man and Superman'. George Bernard Shaw. New York: Chelsea House, 1987. Each $24.50 George Bernard Shaw's Man and Superman is a part of the Modern Critical Interpretations series, under the general editorship of Harold Bloom; the series is described on the jacket cover as presenting "the best current criticism on the most widely read and studied poems, novels, and dramas of the Western world" in order to "provide a comprehensive critical guide" to the works selected. The volume devoted to Man and Superman contains nine previously published essays by Shaw scholars, arranged in the order of their original publication, beginning with an excerpt from Eric Bentley's classic Bernard Shaw (1947) and ending with Nicholas Grene's commentary on the play from his Bernard Shaw: A Critical View (1984). The volume also contains Man and Superman criticism from Louis Kronenberger's The Thread of Laughter: Chapters on English Stage Comedy from Jonson to Maugham (1952); Martin Meisel's Shaw and the Nineteenth-Century Theater (1963); Louis Crompton's Shaw the Dramatist (1969); Charles A. Berst's Bernard Shaw and the Art of Drama (1973); and Maurice Valency's The Cart and the Trumpet (1973). It includes Frederick P. W McDowell's essay "Heaven, Hell, and Turnof -the-Century London" (originally in Drama Survey, 1963); Sally Peters Vogt's "Ann and Superman: Type and Archetype" (from Fabian Feminist: Bernard Shaw and Women, 1977); and an Introduction by Harold Bloom. A chronology of Shaw's life and works, a list of contributors , and a brief bibliography complete the volume. The collection should be of interest and use to both students and teachers of Man and Superman. To Shaw scholars the book invites reflection on the range of critical disagreement about the value and technique of Man and Superman. For example, Valency calls the play "a full-scale example of symbolist drama" using dream and myth to explore the spiritual reality beyond sensory experience, whereas Grene insists that the play is neither symbolist nor modernist but "a single-minded play . . . essentially univocal, even monolithic." As one would expect, a good deal of the criticism focuses on the Don Juan in Hell scene of Act III: Kronenberger calls the famous dialogue "a kind of triumph of Shaw over sense," displaying dazzling wit in a logically defective argument; Berst essentially agrees that the dialogue is more imaginative than it is convincing . Meisel sees Act III as furnishing "a cosmic theater" in which the reversed love chase dominating the action of the play takes on 252 Book Reviews, 32:2, 1988 symbolic and universal significance. Vogt, exploring the mythic "deep structure" of the play, describes the dream sequence as Tanner's descent into his unconscious on an initiation journey which leads to rebirth . What the criticism demonstrates is that Man and Superman is an immensely rich play, both technically and ideologically, lending itself to a variety of approaches and analyses and eliciting in even the most negative evaluations an admission of its impressive blending of "A Comedy and a Philosophy" (as the subtitle has it). Harold Bloom in his Introduction is the most negative voice in the book: he says that Shaw "was not a stylist, not a thinker, not a psychologist , and utterly lacked even an iota of the uncanny Shakespearean ability to represent character and personality with overwhelming persuasiveness." He finds Shaw's dialogue garrulous and his ideas frequently simplistic. He compares Shaw's drama unfavorably with The Importance of Being Earnest, "the most delightful comic drama in English since Shakespeare," and has a curious notion that Wilde's play is where one would go "if you want an artist-philosopher in social comedy." Nevertheless, Bloom grants that Shaw's dramas have a certain power over us in that characters "suggest something more obsessive than daily life, something that moves and has its being in the cosmos we learn to call Shavian." Bloom's commentary on Man and Superman itself is brief: he observes that Shaw's Superman is simply Bunyan's Pilgrim brought up to date and that John Tanner is the author's self-parody...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 252-255
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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