Theatre Database
Home | Ancient Theatre | Medieval Theatre | 16th Century | 17th Century | 18th Century | 19th Century | 20th Century


The following biography was originally published in Minute History of the Drama. Alice Buchanan Fort & Herbert S. Kates. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1935.

THE first published work of the noted satirist and playwright, George Bernard Shaw, was inspired by the American "revival" team, Moody and Sankey. Young Shaw attended one of their revival services in Dublin, and on his return home was moved to write a letter to Public Opinion in which he remarked that "if this sort of thing is religion, then I am an athiest."

Shaw was the son of a financially impractical father and a remarkable mother whose musical talent not only helped out the family income but provided young George with an excellent musical background. In his regular schooling which ended when he was fifteen, Shaw was generally near the bottom of the class. When Shaw was fifteen, a friend secured him a position in the office of a Dublin land agent where he endured the drudgery of routine and figures for five years.

At twenty he followed his mother to London where she had set up as a music teacher and joined the ranks of unpublished novelists with five novels that nobody would buy. During the first nine years of his London sojourn, Shaw's literary efforts brought him something like £30 and an ardent interest in the socialistic theories that fill most of his subsequent plays.

Shaw was first acted on the stage of the Royalty Theater, London, in 1892, but created not even a little ripple. He continued his efforts with Widower's Houses and Mrs. Warren's Profession which latter play was refused London production by the censor. His first success came when, on September 17, 1894, Arms and the Man, a strictly realistic comedy was presented by Richard Mansfield at the Herald Square Theater, New York. From that point on, Shaw's rise to popularity, both on the American and world stages, was steady and swift. He was not, however, conclusively accepted in the English theater until 1904.

Candida written in 1894 won a decisive success on the German stage with Frau Edith Sorma. London would have none of it, and in America Richard Mansfield lacked the courage to produce it even after he had gone so far as to put it into rehearsal. It was left for Arnold Daly to make theatrical history with his production of Candida in the season of 1903-4, thus marking the real beginning of the Shaw vogue.

Man and Superman was the success of the season of 1904-5 both in London and New York. Shaw's other important plays include Caesar and Cleopatra (1899), Major Barbara (1905), Pygmalion (1914), Heartbreak House (1920), and Saint Joan (1923).