George Bernard Shaw: A Great Playwright's Life

On the night of July 26th, 1856 one of the greatest playwrights in history, George Bernard Shaw, was born. Georges’s mother, Lucinda Elizabeth Gurly, was an aristocrat, while his father, George Gurly, was a poor alcoholic. Shaw had two sisters, Elinor Agness, who died of tuberculosis at age 20, and Lucinda Frances who died of starvation at age 40. Both were spinsters and had no children. In Dublin, the theatre was the only thing that interested and had something to offer Shaw. George also went to many schools while living in Dublin, including the Wesleyan Connexional School, but said he learned little from schools and was self-educated.

In 1876, the mother, daughters, & son left their fathers behind and moved to London to seek a more cultured way of life. They lived at 13 Victoria Grove, a middle-class area in London. Shaw found work at Edisonis Telephone Company at a wage of two shillings and sixpence, and in his spare time taught himself to write.

After a while, he was promoted to head of his department with a wage of 80 pounds. Soon enough Shaw admitted that he was not a working man, and he wanted to be a writer. On December 23rd, 1880, the family moved to Fitzroy Street. This enabled Shaw to visit the museum library, where he learned the most about his education. Unemployed, he could not afford to eat at the local restaurants and ate instead at the vegetarian eatery where he could buy a good and nourishing meal. He became a vegetarian in 1881 and kept his vow never to eat flesh again.

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He believed that all living things were equal and deserved to be treated with the same respect. Shaw’s visits to the museum library brought him into contact with the great people alive during that time such as William Morris, Ruskin, and the Bloomsbury gang. These people were just as smart as he was, thus allowing Shaw to associate with them and become socially active. A keen boxer; in 1883 Shaw joined the Queensbury Amateur Boxing Championships, and took part in the Middle & Heavyweight matches. This was a great way of keeping healthy, while he exercised his brain at the library. With his good looks and refined personality, women fell at his feet. Jenny Patterson, Alice Locket, May Morris, Edith Bland, Eleanor Marx, and Annie Besant, each fell in love with him.

But Shaw was not interested in marriage, being too busy writing plays. In 1888 The Star Newspaper employed him as a music critic, and he used the pen name “Corno de Bassetto”. By this time Shaw was beginning to be noticed throughout London for his writing, providing him with many job opportunities. However, between 1873 and 1883, he wrote five novels, all of which were rejected by every publisher in London. Instead, he decided to write plays, the first performance of Widower’s House appeared in London in 1892, and Arm’s and The Man performed in London & New York, in 1894. While he was not writing, Shaw discovered Karl Marx and read his book Das Kapital, during which, grew his interest in history & civilization. After reading Why are the Many Poor?, he joined the Fabian Society on 16th May 1884, later becoming one of its leaders. By joining the Fabian Society he met his lifelong friends, Sydney and Beatrice Webb. Next Shaw was hired by The Pall Mall Gazette hired him between 1885-88, to review books. Then Edwin Palmer, founder of the “Magazine of Music”, employed Shaw as his music critic. Soon after that Shaw began to write the plays that made him a very, very wealthy man. These plays included Arms and the Man, Candida, Don Juan in Hell, Getting Married, Heartbreak House, The Apple Cart, and his last play Why She Would Not. Shaw continued to live his life writing plays until the day he died. On November 2nd, 1950, while pruning an apple tree, George fell off a ladder and died of complications at the age of 94.

During his lifetime George Bernard Shaw had many great achievements. In 1892 Shaw’s first play, Widowers Houses was performed in London. Shaw continued to write plays such as Overruled, Man of Destiny, and Great Catherine. In 1926 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature. Even though he was awarded a large sum of money for winning the Nobel Prize he turned it down. After winning the Nobel Prize Shaw went on to write even more plays. In 1929 the first Shaw Festival was held at Malvern and opened with The Apple Cart. One famous achievement that Shaw had, was his involvement in the Fabian Society. He joined the Fabian Society on Mary16, 1884, and grew to become one of its main spokesmen. Between 1889 and 1901 he wrote many pamphlets for the society including The Fabian Election Manifesto in 1892, and Socialism For Millionaires in 190. He also took the position as a political activist during World War 1, writing pieces such as The Rights of Man, and Common Sense About the War. Shaw was also a great believer in Marxism and was able to visit Russia and meet Stalin in 1931. In 1938 Shaw received an Oscar for Film of the Year, with Pygmalion, which was presented as My Fair Lady. The same year the world premiere of his play Geneva was shown at Malvern.

The life of George Bernard Shaw was one of magnificence and greatness, thus the world was able to benefit a great deal from his life. He helped shape the literary world and the United Kingdom. Due to his participation in the Fabian Society, he was able to solidify the socialist movement in England and was a major contributor to the government that Britain has today. In 1900 the Fabian Society merged with the ILP, to create the Labor Party, partly due to the works of Shaw. He was also a contributor to the way we think and act in western society today. Like in Britain, our society is starting to take a more socialist attitude toward our government, thanks to its political activism of Shaw. George has shown the world the problems with class systems through his play Pygmalion, thus directing more attention to helping the poor. Today his legacy still lives on at Niagara on the Lake, where there is an annual Shaw festival, where his plays are shown to those interested in his masterpieces. Overall George Bernard Shaw was a great playwright, activist, politician, and overall good person. He stood up for what he believed in, whether it was vegetarianism or socialism, portraying a very commendable trait. In the end, his life can be summed up in one quote, “The world would be a better place, be it that it gave us more Bernard Shaw’s.”

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George Bernard Shaw: A Great Playwright's Life. (2022, Aug 13). Retrieved from

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