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Candida By George Bernard Shaw Essay

Some of George Bernard Shaw’s critics bring the twofold charge against him that his characters are too academic and lifeless, and that his plays are merely tracts for expressing Shaw’s ideas on love, war, property, morals, and revolution. This charge is not, however, often leveled at Candida. Generally the harshest critics concede that this play is, aside from a few comments on socialism and corruption in government, free from really revolutionary ideas. In fact, in Candida, Shaw is saluting that old, established institution, marriage. Of course, as he salutes, he does wink at the audience.

Candida belongs to the group of his Plays: Pleasant and Unpleasant published in 1898. It was given its first public London production in 1904, after a private presentation in 1897, and went on to become one of the most popular plays in the Shaw repertory. It was an early favorite with Shaw himself, and he held on to it for some time before allowing its production, preferring to read it privately to his friends, who, it is said, would weep aloud at the more touching scenes.

Candida is put together in a masterly way and has a uniformity often lacking in some of Shaw’s other works. Here is a play that gives an audience intensely comic scenes as well as moments of serious insights. Moreover, it is a very actable play. Candida is one of the great roles in twentieth century theater, that of the self-possessed woman who, as in many homes, subtly runs the household while appearing to be subservient to her husband. The Reverend James Mavor Morell is also an excellent role: the hearty Christian Socialist clergyman, the popular speaker always in demand, the unintimidated man who is happy and secure in his important position until a young, wild, seemingly effeminate friend of the family, the poet Eugene Marchbanks, threatens his security. The role of Marchbanks, the eighteen-year-old worshiper of Candida, has also been a favorite of many stage juveniles. As the boy who grows faint at the thought of Candida’s peeling onions, who rants, raves, and whines over the thought that the earthly, boorish Morell is married to...

(The entire section is 885 words.)

Carpenter, Charles A. “Critical Comedies.” In Bernard Shaw and the Art of Destroying Ideals: The Early Plays. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1969. Treats Candida as a sentimental comedy and discusses the conflict of ideals in the play. Devotes much space to an analysis of Candida’s character and to her ability to use sympathy to dominate the other characters in the play.

Crompton, Louis. “Candida.” In Shaw the Dramatist. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1969. Discusses the social, philosophical, and especially historical backgrounds of Candida. A clear presentation of Shaw’s ideas and their sources in the nineteenth century intellectual tradition.

Holroyd, Michael. Bernard Shaw: The Search for Love. New York: Random House, 1988. This first volume of the standard biography of Shaw details the connections between Shaw’s life and thought and his works. Indispensable.

Merritt, James D. “Shaw and the Pre-Raphaelites.” In Shaw: Seven Critical Essays, edited by Norman Rosenblood. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1971. Focuses on the character of Marchbanks and on the various references in the play to art, which Merritt relates to the Pre-Raphaelites and the art-for-art’s-sake movement of the 1890’s.

Stanton, Stephen. A Casebook on Candida. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1962. Very useful as an introduction to the play. Contains not only the text of the play and its sources but also selected prefaces and notes by Shaw and a wide variety of brief interpretations and criticism.

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