George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman is an example of drama as cultural debate. Those looking for curtain-to-curtain action or nonstop jokes need not buy a ticket. Anyone who ever wondered what Don Juan would be like if he were sexually uptight, the object of uncontrollable passion rather than carrier of such, should be fascinated. As the title indicates, there is this comedy more than a little of Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophical ideas and though few ever accused of the German inventor of the concept of the Uberman of being a barrel of laughs, Man and Superman is presented as a comedy. A comedy of ideas, to be sure.
As an example of just what type of theatrical experience one might expected from Man and Superman, consider that Shaw published the play as a book before it was ever actually staged. The premiere in London on May 25, 1905 was presented with what might well be considered the heart of the play excised. Nearly everything that is discussed in this particularly talky production points toward the one aspect of Don Juan’s story that had traditionally received the slightest attention throughout most of its adaptations: a debate between the Devil and Don Juan taking place in hell. Since most early productions and many subsequent ones have been presented without this third act, it can hardly be deemed essential, yet so overflows with some of Shaw’s most powerful writing that it occasionally presented by itself under the title Don Juan in Hell.
Man and Superman is an academic exercise in the contextuality of what Shaw has identified as the “Life Force.” The Life Force is an essential part of the process of reproduction which is the element tying the play to Nietzschean philosophy. Nietzsche’s Uberman—the German translation of Superman—requires for its conception the pursuit of a woman worthy enough to engage in union with a man worthy enough to give birth to the Superman. In its simplest term, Shaw’s Life Force is that inner drive which stimulates a woman to pursue with the full force of her personality a mate deemed superior and worthy of her contribution to the creation of the Superman.