It is with delight that MOE has once again selected the works of this all-time eminent but controversial playwright for A-level Literature. As a Literature tutor for both O-level and A-level students, I am always pleased about tutoring his plays. For O-levels, Pygmalion is the drama text for Pure Literature students but will be taken for 2020, and for A-level students, it was previously Mrs Warren’s Profession and now it is Saint Joan. Having studied his works in great depth , I can say he is an awesome playwright and certainly strive my best to make my Literature tuition sessions fun and beneficial for my students. To be an effective Literature tutor, it is vital for the tutor to possess the following attributes:
- A willingness to work diligently
- Thorough knowledge of the text and the various relevant contexts
- Understanding the background, beliefs and precepts of the writer
- Infinite patience and a nurturing temperament.
It is therefore with great pleasure that I enumerate the reasons for loving his works and even this great playwright.
Reasons for loving Shaw
A Feminist to Boot
In an era when British women were fighting a bitter battle for the right to vote, Shaw was already an ardent advocate of equal rights for women – not only at the ballot box, but in the institutions of higher learning, in the right to pursue a career, in the opportunity to be financially independent. His female characters have a mind of their own, unafraid to speak up for themselves, unafraid to voice their opinion. Never mind that he makes them “unwomanly” in his plays, (by the way that is how the epithet, Shaw’s unwomanly woman” originated), the point is this great guy was penning brochures to promote the suffragette movement, speaking at their rallies and gatherings and specifically giving them equal status with men as members of the Fabian Society. He also donated to their cause.
A Fervent Socialist.
He was not the violence/revolution-espousing leftist, in case that is what you are thinking. No, he believed in peaceful means of revolution – that was why he founded the Fabian Society. Shaw saw the evils of unbridled capitalism – the greed, the exploitation and the glaring inequalities that it spawned. Indeed, the wealthy upper class characters in his plays are usually portrayed in rather negative light and he often gives his best lines to the lower classes. The downtrodden working class were often portrayed sympathetically while the wealthy upper class are depicted as immoral, hypocritical, and self-seeking.
A Self-made Man.
His life story is the story of the poor boy made good. Who does not love such a story and admire such a man? Shaw was forced out of school by a selfish drunkard for a father and after working as a lowly-paid clerk, he moved to London (to join his very unconventional mother) where he educated himself by reading fervently in libraries, and attending talks and lectures. Actually he did not really liked schools, calling them prisons. He embarked on self-education which made him very much the immensely successfully playwright that he was. But success eluded him for a long time (the first five novels he authored all failed abysmally), it was only in his mid-forties that he started tasting real success. By his fifties, he became a household name, respected and admired in Europe and America. He won numerous awards and citations, including the Nobel Prize for Literature not to mention the Academy Award, the Pulitzer Prize.
Unafraid to Speak His Mind
Shaw was a man unafraid to speak his mind and some of his plays were banned. One example was Mrs Warren’s Profession which deal with the subject of prostitution among other issues. He was pretty controversial too – some of his beliefs are really up my alley – he once wrote that “a man is a woman without petticoats”. Now is that not wonderful that he had actually conferred on woman the signifying power of gender, thereby reversing the way gender was determined in his patriarchal society. That statement is sufficient to make him endearing to me.
An Interesting and Unique Character
He led a remarkably interesting life. I mean he was an interesting character. Of course, it is expected that Shaw led a colourful life in the department of romance given that he was rather good-looking (when he was younger than he was in the photo) and undoubtedly very talented and successful, all of which naturally made him a magnet for women. His public and sincere advocacy of women’s rights also moved his appeal to the opposite sex many notches up. But overall his relationships with women were mostly platonic. He did have a thing for actresses and if you are interested, do read up about his love life. I assure that it is quite entertaining. Nevertheless, this man only married once and his life changed for the better when he became a married man – the married playwright became the successful playwright.
A Remarkably Tenacious Character
He was always very persistent and failures did not deter him. His career as a playwright was not always smooth-sailing although his works made him very rich. This is a quality many of us could certainly emulate. In addition, he was witty, entertaining although he had some eccentric habits which I rather you, my dear reader, find out on your own.
In conclusion Shaw is truly a unique person who cared a lot for the downtrodden and his life is certainly inspiring for those who feel they are different and have problems fitting in with conventions and norms. And it is always a lot of fun teaching his works.