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HEARTLESS, HEARTBROKEN, AND HEARTFELT; A RECURRENT THEME IN THE PLAYS OF BERNARD SHAW By Elsie B. Adams (San Diego State University) It has been a critical cliche of long standing that Shaw is a writer of intellect, not passion - appealing to the brain and not to the heart. Shaw was of course aware of this critical opinion, and objected to it as an oversimplification of his matter and method. For example, in his satire on drama critics in the Epilogue to Fanny's First Play (I911) , he has the appropriately named Bannal offer the opinion that Shaw is "Intellect without emotion." In trying to guess the anonymous author of Fanny's First Play, the critics reject the notion that it might be Shawi VAPGHAN. . . . Poor as this play is, theres the note of passion in it. . . . Now Ive repeatedly proved that Shaw is physiologically incapable of the note of passion. BANNAL. Yes, I know. Intellect without emotion. Thats right. I always say that myself. A giant brain, if you ask me; but no heart. Shaw then has the critic Gunn (a satire on the Star's Gilbert Cannan ) object to the "crude medieval psychology" that makes a distinction between heart and brain, echoing Shaw's earlier statement of the same point in his Preface to Three Plays for Puritans (I900). In this Preface, Shaw brags, "As to philosophy, I taught my critics the little they know in my Quintessence of Ibsenism; and now they turn their guns - the guns I loaded for them - on me, and proclaim that I write as if mankind had intellect without will, or heart, as they call it. Ingrates! who was it that directed your attention to the distinction between Will and Intellect? Not Schopenhauer, I think, but Shaw" (p. xxi). Though Shaw objected to the dichotomy between heart and brain, he in fact encouraged it in his numerous dramatic portraits of the heartless hero and the hero with a heart. He frequently juxtaposes the two character types, giving the edge to the heartless person, whom Shaw portrays as businesslike, self-sufficient, and sensible. Examples are Vivie Warren, Grace Tranfield, Captain Bluntschli, Don Juan, Henry Higgins, the Maiden in As Far As Thought Can Reach, the Ancients, "She" (Clementina Alexandra) and the-Secondborn (Dick) Tn Buoyant Billions . His parade of heartless heroes from his earliest to his latest works suggests to us why critics might conclude that Shaw himself was all brain and no heart. As one reads the entire Shaw canon, one observes the recurrence of character types and situations along with the recurrence of words or phrases to identify them. In particular, "heartless," "heartbroken," and "have a heart" appear throughout Shaw's work, usually in association with similar characters or situations or ideas.2 When a character in Shaw is called "heartless," one can be sure that he or she will be one of Shaw's incipient Superheroes - the pragmatic , unscrupulous iconoclast opposing conventional morality. In the early play Mrs. Warren's Profession (Ι89Ψ), Shaw presents Vivie Warren as hearTTlss" In the central scene, in which Vivie learns that her mother earns her living by prostitution, Mrs. Warren behaves conventionally , melodramatically hiding her face in shame. In contrast, Vivie accepts the news thoughtfully and calmly; she admonishes her mother not to hide her face since "you know you dont feel it a bit," matter of factly inquires about breakfast time tomorrow, and tells her mother to pull herself together. At his point Mrs. Warren accuses Vivie, "You! youve no heart" (p. 208). This scene is a familiar one in Shaw; a crisis occurs in which the hero is expected to respond conventionally; the hero proceeds instead in a common sense way about his or her business and is therefore accused of want of heart. For example, when Bluntschli (Arms and the Man, 1891I-) receives the news of his father's death, he sheds no tears and immediately begins making arrangements for the disposal of his father's estate. Louka observes , "He has not much heart, that Swiss. He has not a word of grief for his poor father" (p. 53)· Henry Higgins (Pygmaiinn, 1913) is perhaps Shaw's most famous heartless hero. He...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 4-9
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
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