- Shaw and Some Contemporaries
The final essay on Virginia Woolf in this collection gives rise to the book's title and is also an allusive nod to Edward Albee's 1962 play, whose key phrase, Martha's "Truth and illusion, George; you don't know the difference" (Act 3), is all the more ironic because George is a history professor. Allusions and sources are central concerns of Stanley Weintraub's book that also raises the ancillary consideration of how dramatists generate their ideas. Are they like Autolycus, that "snapper-up of unconsidered trifles"? Do they simply follow popular theatrical trends or perhaps view themselves as furthering a particular movement such as, say, expressionism, absurdism, or whatever? Martin Meisel's Shaw and the Nineteenth-Century Theater (1963) provided one extensive answer about where Shaw turned for his ideas. Now Weintraub applies his vast knowledge of Shaw (and much else) to demonstrating how Shaw, the historian, converted various historical and contemporary figures into theatrical illusions. Moreover, Weintraub enlarges on some literary influences on Shaw and on Shaw's own influence on two dramatists.
Beginning appropriately enough with God, the first essay discusses Shaw's "Passion Play" fragment and Shaw's emphasis on Judas's influence on Jesus, a realist/idealist relationship that recurred in later plays. Weintraub points out direct biblical allusions and influences, and draws parallels between Jesus and his mother and Shaw and his mother. Religion is important too in Caesar and Cleopatra, which Weintraub shows to be thoroughly Victorian in its content: "We are in 48 B.C., in mid-Victorian England," a Bible-familiar England that found Egypt appealing through cheap color lithographs, such [End Page 175] as Israel in Egypt (1867), by the painter Edward Poynter (26). Shaw was also deliberate in his attempt "to lure established players for box-office reasons," such as the highly popular Johnston Forbes-Robertson, who indeed became the Caesar of both the New York and London premieres. In passing, Weintraub notes Shaw's use of the metatheatrical technique of making an audience aware of itself, while acknowledging Shakespeare's earlier use of the device in, for example, Henry V.
Shaw was more blatant in borrowing from Schiller's Die Räuber for the "Don Juan in Hell" episode, and from Albany de Fonblanque's biography of General Burgoyne, the latter in an unused 1930 film script for The Devil's Disciple. In the script, Shaw introduces George III's secretary for America, Lord George Germain. More political personalities are dealt with in the "Disraeli in Shaw" essay; indeed, Disraeli emerges as almost omnipresent, being alluded to in The Apple Cart, On the Rocks, Caesar and Cleopatra, The Man of Destiny, Captain Brassbound's Conversion, You Never Can Tell, Man and Superman, and Major Barbara. Additionally, Weintraub credits the last line of Arms and the Man to Disraeli, although this seems to me less persuasive because it appears the line was not spoken in the first production, and subsequently Shaw kept revising the line.
Contemporary personalities occupy the remaining 150 pages, the first being the Zulu chief Cetewayo, who visited London in 1882. Shaw incorporated him into Cashel Byron's Profession, and Cetewayo made another appearance in the second scene of The Admirable Bashville. Shaw's love of music emerges in his relationship with Edward Elgar, a somewhat curious acquaintanceship since Elgar was a Tory. Much of the relationship seems incidental, however, although Weintraub does connect Elgar to Back to Methuselah and The Simpleton of the Unexpected Isles. Lady Colin Campbell could not have been more dissimilar to Elgar, as the details of her scandalous life and divorce reveal. On Shaw's recommendation, she took over his art column for the Star in 1889, and Weintraub reveals her influence on the composition of The Philanderer. That there was something of her in Ann Whitefield is a stretch, as Weintraub admits. The artist Kathleen Scott is treated to a short biography in which Shaw plays but a tangential role. However, Weintraub finds traces of...