Biography of George Bernard Shaw

Born July 26th, 1856, in Dublin, George Bernard Shaw is one of Ireland's most famous writers and a prolific playwright, novelist, and critic, although he is known as much for his outsize personality and views as for his fiction. Shaw's mother, responsible for much of his literary and artistic education as a child, moved to London during his teen years. He followed suit at the age of twenty, choosing to relocate to London in order to pursue a writing career. His early focus was the novel, and he wrote five, none successful. In the meantime he began to explore politics, eventually joining the Fabian Society, a non-revolutionary socialist group. Shaw put his writing skills to work on behalf of the society by editing the group's collection Fabian Essays in Socialism in 1889.

Commercial success arrived for Shaw, not through his novels, but through criticism. In 1885 the widely read Saturday Review hired Shaw as a theater critic. Shaw found much popular drama shallow and unoriginal, and his criticism eventually developed into writing plays of his own, in part as vehicles for criticism of popular dramas. His first plays were published as a collection, Pleasant and Unpleasant in 1898. The "Pleasant" portion included the plays Arms and Man, Candida, and You Can Never Tell. Widower's Houses and Mrs. Warren's Profession were included among the "Unpleasant." Soon after, he published Anthony and Cleopatra, followed by Man and Superman in 1923. Man and Superman, as well as the segment of its third act titled Don Juan in Hell (which is often performed by itself) represented a newly mature phase in Shaw's playwriting career. He followed Man and Superman with a number of other successful plays which would eventually be regarded as classics of English-language drama: Major Barbara in 1905, The Doctor's Dilemma in 1906, Pygmalion in 1912, and Saint Joan in 1923. Many of his works, including Man and Superman and Saint Joan, reevaluated and adapted popular stories from history and legend.

His reputation and popularity cemented by these early twentieth-century works, Shaw won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1925. His play Pygmalion was adapted as the musical My Fair Lady, first for the screen in 1938 and then for the stage in 1956. The success of My Fair Lady helped carry Shaw's popularity into the latter part of the century and on to today. He died in 1950.


Study Guides on Works by George Bernard Shaw

Set in the aftermath of the Serbo-Bulgarian War of 1885, Arms and the Man challenges romantic ideas about war and love. Captain Bluntschli, a fleeing soldier, climbs through a Bulgarian lady's bedroom window, triggering a series of events that...

First performed on the London stage in 1905, Man and Superman is an extraordinary play precisely because it inverts so many of the traditional or expected roles of theater. On its surface, this play, by George Bernard Shaw, is a standard romantic...

Saint Joan is a play written by Bernard Shaw, premiering in 1923. In the early 1920s, Shaw was experiencing a period of professional depletion. Between 1918 and 1920, he had written a cycle of 5 interconnected plays called Back to Methuselah. When...