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  • Celebrating Shaw's Chicago Century and Beyond
  • Isidor Saslav (bio)

Broadly speaking, the geography of Shaw's dramatic career has been determined to a large degree by major metropolitan centers in Europe and North America and the cultural experiments and avant-garde movements they generated. Moreover, as the historical record shows, the reception of Shaw's plays in these culture capitals has produced responses ranging from horrified to indifferent to enthusiastic. Yet while scholars have examined at length Shaw's reception in cities such as Paris, Berlin, Vienna, and New York, they have yet to explore fully the importance of Chicago, a city whose long-standing importance to Shaw's career challenges more traditional approaches to the dramatist's life and work.1 In diverse ways, Chicago has displayed its love affair with GBS for more than a century; indeed, according to bibliographer Sidney Kramer, it was "from Chicago that Shaw conquered America."2 In the most interesting ways, Shaw's literary and professional relationship with Chicago cuts across the encounter of publishers, artists, and intellectuals with a metropolis that not only engendered but also supported and enhanced a revolution in the arts equal to both its American and European counterparts. At one level, the significance of Shaw's relationship with Chicago—or "Shaw-cago" as we might term it—provides us with an opportunity to consider a counter-reading of the dramatist's relationship with America; at the same time, the points of contact between Shaw and the "Windy City" speak to an alternative sense of literary history, one that connects the Irish dramatist to American cultural and political life from the late Victorian period through our own postmillennium moment.3 [End Page 151]

Shaw's Reception in the Cities of the World

By contrast, a sense of ambivalence characterizes the reception of Shaw's works in the city of his birth and early years, Dublin. After commissioning John Bull's Other Island in 1904, the Abbey Theatre refused to put it on, citing difficulties in finding adequate actors with whom to cast the roles, among other matters.4 But the Abbey made up for it and rose to the occasion when the theater presented the world premiere of The Shewing-up of Blanco Posnet three years later in 1909. The British censor in London had refused to grant the play a license and Dublin was the only city in the British Empire not subject to the censor's reach.5 In contrast, while presenting various Shaw plays in subsequent years (including John Bull's Other Island, which appeared in 1912), it has taken the Abbey almost a century to produce Pygmalion, arguably Shaw's most popular play, which was presented for the first time only in 2011.

From the succès de scandale of Widowers' Houses in 1892 to the banning of Mrs Warren's Profession, which lasted until 1925, London had a difficult time in coming to terms with both Shaw and his plays. The hilarious audience triumph of Arms and the Man in 1894 was followed by the refusal of the Haymarket Theatre to put on You Never Can Tell in 1898. Henry Irving meanwhile refused to put on any play by Shaw at all. By the same token, Shaw's triumphant years at the Court Theatre from 1904 to 1907, when his genius began to be recognized more widely, were followed by the refusal of a license for The Shewing-up of Blanco Posnet in 1909. It seems therefore that London's ambivalence toward Shaw proved even greater in certain respects than that of Dublin.

By contrast, it was in regional cities like Manchester and Birmingham that theater directors such as Annie Horniman (who was also active at the Abbey Theatre) and Barry Jackson, respectively, created alternate venues for the appreciation of Shaw's work beyond the capital. In Jackson's case, he not only presented the British premiere of Back to Methuselah in Birmingham in 1923, but he also created a new space for the appreciation of Shaw's plays during the 1920s through his "British Bayreuth" at Malvern, an English country town situated far from metropolitan London. Carrying on the Malvern tradition post...


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pp. 151-169
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