Bernard Shaw was a dramatist with a purpose. His purpose was to build up a kingdom of heaven on the face of the earth. He believes that God has given us a beautiful world that nothing but our folly keeps from being it a paradise. We entertain airy notion and fantastic emotion regarding all temporal things. He wants to drive out all these rotten ideas from the mind of men with the help of the west wind.
That is why; he took up the current social political problems as the subject-matter of his plays. For example, he discussed the problem of prostitution in “Mrs. Warren’s profession”, London’s slum in “Widower’s House”, the profession of doctors in “Doctor’s Dilemma”, war and marriage in “Arms and the man “and love and marriage in “Candida”. So his plays are Problem plays. But it would be unfair on our part to dismiss Shaw as a writer of Problem Plays only. In fact his plays are more than Problem Plays. They are concerned with innate human quality or with human nature itself.
That is why; problems discussed in them have been done away with. In this respect he stands near William Shakespeare and he will be read and preserved for all time to come. But critics have raised much dust against him. They feel that Shavian plays lack conflict. As yet the established doctrine has been “no conflicts no drama “In fine, conflict constitutes the soul of a drama. But Shavian characters are always seen sitting round a table and discussing this or that problem. In fact his plays present the tone and temper of a debating hall in which someone pleads for the motion and the other one against the motion.
It is a fact that Shavian plays lack physical conflict. We hear in “Arms and the Man that a battle is being fought vigorously by both the sides. But we do not see anybody fighting there. Such examples are numerous and confirm our belief in lack of conflict in Shavian plays. When we dive deep in his plays, we find that his plays do not lack conflict. In fact, he has replaced physical conflict by mental conflict. As he believes that mental conflict is fiercer than the physical conflict. Besides, he believes that it is better to defeat a man on the plane of mind than to kill a man in the battle- field.
As a victory achieved by means of physical force is temporary in comparison to victory achieved on the plane of mind. That is why his characters fight a battle of ideas with the help of logic and argument. They try to defeat their opponent on the plane of mind. So the conflict we find in a Shavian plays is more vigorous than the conflict which we find in other plays. That is why it is not fair to say that Shavian plays lack conflict. It is equally unfair to say that Shavian characters are his mouth pieces . They are not independent of the author. It is a truth that Shaw expresses his ideas through the mouth of his characters.
But it is not easy to say who represents Shaw. For example who represents Bernard Shaw in “Arms and the Man”! Both Sergius and Bluntschli present a valid case from the opposite angle. The same holds good with “Candida. We cannot say with confidence that Morell represents Shaw or Marchbanks represents Shaw. Both hold contradictory opinions on important matters. For example Morell says:”The overpaying instinct is generous one”Marchbanks says:”No cowardice, incompetence. ”Again Morell says: “Man can climb to the highest summits but he cannot dwell for long. Marchbanks says “It is false: there can he dwell forever . ”We find that his characters hold contradictory opinions and the very fact prove that his characters are not his mouthpieces. The fact is that he allows his characters to hold independent views on important matters. They are not puppet in the hands of dramatist. The mind which creates and the man who suffers in his plays are two different beings. So he is as great an artist in the field of character portrayal as Shakespeare has been. Some critics say that Shaw is a propagandist. He tries to preach a moral lesson. But this is also not a fact.
He is not a moralist in the sense that he tries to preach a lesson. In fact he allows his characters to examine the pros and cons of a problem so that truth may be revealed to the spectators. He does not say that war is good or war is bad in “Arms and the Man” But he allows his characters to point out the merit or demerit of war. He expresses nothing in the form of conclusion. Just as a farmer separates the chaff from the grain and spreads it before the customer and thus customer decides the quality of the grain, in the same way he separates the chaff of falsehood from upon the grain of eality and scatters it before the people. He does not propagate an idea. Like a true artist he exhibits reality. The function of an artist is to reveal the reality which lies beyond appearance. In “Candida, too, Shaw does not point out the secret in the poet’s heart. He leaves it to be understood by the people. Bernard Shaw attaches long prefaces to his plays. This is unusual on the part of a dramatist. But this is deliberate . The purpose behind long preface is to make his readers or audiences understood his plays. His prefaces help in the act of understanding and representing the plays on the stage.
Thus these prefaces serve his dramatic purpose, Problem Play : Introduction The problem play (also called “thesis play,” “discussion play,” and “the comedy of ideas”) is a comparatively recent form of drama. It originated in nineteenth-century France but was effectively practised and popularized by the Norwegian playwright Ibsen. It was introduced into England by Henry Arthur Jones and A. W. Pinero towards the end of the nineteenth century. G. B. Shaw and Galsworthy took the problem play to its height in the twentieth century. H. Granvi lie-Barker was the last notable practitioner of this dramatic type.
Thus the problem play flourished in England in the period between the last years of the nineteenth century and the middle of the twentieth. As its very name indicates, a problem play is a drama built around a specific problem. The problem is generally of a sociological nature: for example, prostitution, inadequate housing, unemployment, labour unrest, and so on. At times, however, a problem play may rise above the immediate context of a problem to grapple with larger ideological or even metaphysical and universal issues. If in Mrs.
Warren’s Profession Shaw takes on the “profession” of prostitution and its economics in a laissez faire society, in Man and Superman his chief concern is not with a contemporary sociological problem but with the concept of “Life Force”. Acceptance of this concept and working in accordance with. it are the Shavian panacea for all sociological ills and problems. The problem play is sometimes called “the propaganda play,” for the obvious reason that its intent is overtly didactic and propagandist. The writer of the problem play is not a pure aesthete, a dispassionate creator of beautiful artifacts for their own sake.
He is not like Henry James’s “God of creation” who remains out of His creation indifferently “paring his finger nails. ”‘ Ibsen, Shaw, and Galsworthy have written such plays to direct public attention to social evils and wrong attitudes. And, what is more, a problem play is not something merely diagnostic but also something therapeutic; in other words, it not only spells out the ills but also prescribes uie-fernedy. Shaw scoffed at the slogan “art for art’s sake. ” He said that for the sake of art he would not undertake the labour of writing even one sentence, not to speak of a whole play.
Abrams observes: “One subtype of the problem play is the discussion play, in which the social issue is not incorporate into a plot, but expounded in the dramatic give and take of a sustained debate among the characters. ” For example, in Shaw’s Getting Married the story is reduced to the minimum. Act 111 of Man and Superman shows no action, only a long debate. Debates, however lively and witty, cannot take the place of action in drama (The very word “drama” is from the Greek root “dran” which means “action. ) Shaw was brilliant debater and public speaker and most of the dialogues in his plays—both for and against the issue in hand—are witty and often very absorbing, but they do not constitute real dramatic action. Ifor Evans observes: “The brilliance of his dialogue sometimes leads him beyond the bounds of dramatic propriety so that the stage becomes a hustings. ” In the plays of a lesser artist like Galsworthy this defect is all the more serious because his debates and lengthy dialogues are without any sparkle or engaging vitality. Arms and the man : Problem play
Arms and the Man is a critique on Serbo-Bulgarian War of 1885. In the play, Shaw attempts to satirize the romantic notion about war. A drama of ideas (as problem play is often called) concerns itself with the problems of life—the maladies of society. The dramatist presents those vividly before the audience/readers with a view to bringing about radical changes in the real situation. For this reason, we can say that Arms and the Man can definitely be classified as a drama of ideas or problem play since it deals with the undesirable presentation of the romantic concept of war.
In the play, Bernard Shaw intentionally creates Bluntschli as an anti-hero or unheroic hero, who exposes the false romantic ideas of war. He brings all the characters round back to the practical problems of life. In doing this, he shows that he is truly heroic in the sense that happiness actually lies in that. He is radically rational and logical in his actions and views about life. Instead of going to the battlefield with arms and ammunition, Bluntschli carefully loads his cartridge belt with chocolates. In one of his conversations with Raina, he tells her: 'I've no ammunition. What use are cartridges in battle?
I always carry chocolate instead; and I finished the last cake of that hours ago'. Arguably, cartridges can kill but not chocolates. Bluntschli's action poses a question on morality of wars. This becomes a debatable issue when we realize that it is the love of the country that makes individuals such as Saranoff to kill and maim his 'enemies' but his love for humanity and the sacrosanct of life makes Bluntschli act otherwise. There is no doubt that after seeing or reading a play like this; the theater goers or readers will have a problem of judging the morality of wars for themselves.
The questions are: Is war glamorous or not? Should war be romanticized? Shaw does not hide his intention in the play. After the war has ended in a peaceful resolution, Shaw makes Saranoff denounce the war Shaw establishes the fact that the moral basis of war can never be defended or resolved; not even the victory or the vainglory it brings. One of the conflicts of the play revolves around the moral status of war in terms of the emphasis the Victorian society placed on the glorification of wars.
Shaw deliberately allows the war to end in a peace treaty to show that there could be peaceful alternatives to war and violence. Like Catherine Petkoff, who is not happy at the peaceful resolution of the war, many readers or theatergoers would have expected some spectacular celebration of heroic victory after the enemies have been crushed. Again, this unconventional resolution qualifies the play as a problem play. Another social and controversial issue raised in the play, which qualifies it a representative of the genre of problem play, is the issue of class.
It is interesting to know that Shaw was a member of the Fabian Society inspired by the fashionable philosophy of Karl Marx which saw the world as being divided into two opposing classes—the poor oppressed and the affluent oppressors. Shaw himself, being a member of the oppressed class debilitated by poverty, reenacts in his play this class-consciousness, which was a debatable issue in the Victorian era. In spite of his seemingly military prowess and his skill in the martial arts, Saranoff stoops to marry Louka, a royal slave.
In fact, it can be said that the major thrust of Arms and the Man is class struggle. Instead of marrying Saranoff, a war hero who tantalizes her idealized notion of war, Raina commits a class suicide by marrying Bluntschli who does not in any way possess the glamorous notion of a hero. As the play ends, Shaw carefully implicates the readers or the theatergoers in class and war debates which they must fathom their morality for themselves. Still in the same context presented above, we see the issue of marriage and the right of a woman brought to the forefront.
The marriage between Raina and Bluntschli, Louka and Saranoff leaves the Victorian audience with the debatable social issue of the right of a woman to marry a man she loves. The Victorian society was very rigid about the rights of women. The play is also a critique on materialism which was the product of the Industrial Revolution. Because of his obsessed mental disposition to material wealth caused by poverty, Nicola acquiesce with Louka her betrothed to marry Saranoff so that Raina can marry Bluntschli who has promised to employ him.
Nicola's action presents to the reader/audience the social problem of materialism. Like Mrs. Warren in Mrs. Warren's Profession (another play by Shaw), who engages in prostitution because of poverty, Nicola sacrifices his love for Louka on the altar of material gain. It is only when we understand the cause and motive of his action that we will fully understand the morality of his action. It is not an exaggeration to say that it is poverty that makes Nicola sell his love for Louka (after all he wants to own a shop in Sofia).
Moreover, Louka, being desperate for an upper class, does not waste any time in agreeing to marry Saranoff. As a technique in problem plays, Shaw attempts to impose a relationship and connection between poverty and the moral issue of materialism. As he does in his other plays, Shaw connects social issues, such as war and relationships between men and women, to capitalism, showing how the latter drives the former. When he wrote this play, England was grappling with the vexing issue of materialism brought about by capitalism.
The morality of the quest for materialism becomes more complex when we discover that Catherine Petkoff only changes her mind and acquiesces to Raina marrying Bluntschli only when she learns how rich he is after the demise of his father. Even after we excuse Nicola's action because of poverty, we are faced with a problem of having to fix the moral justification of Mrs. Petkoff's action. Arguably, she is not poor; but because of the subtle relationship between class and wealth, she wants her daughter to marry a man from an upper class. Again, Shaw is able to connect the relationship between class-consciousnesses and materialism.
Another characteristic of a problem play is the playwright's tactical exposition of human behavior such as the morality of hypocrisy which abounds in human nature. From her actions and reactions, we know that Raina is not in love with Saranoff but she only pretends she is only to fulfill some parental and social expectations. Saranoff on the other hand, like Hamlet, in the play of the same title by William Shakespeare, knows that he has an underlying despair about life and he is neither a brave soldier as Raina and her mother romanticize nor in love with Raina as he pretends.
Nevertheless, he hides under his hypocrisy until the servant girl, Louka finds him out. The romanticism of love presented in the play is also debatable. It is obvious that Raina and Saranoff pair up themselves against their feelings. Their courtship is not based on true love but on societal status. To satisfy the Victorian upper society, they continue to live in fool's paradise until Bluntschli and Louka find them out respectively. Both Paul and Catherine Petkoff want their daughter to marry Saranoff because of their idealized notion of love.
The love expressed here is not true love but a facade to meet the moral standard of the aristocratic society. The plot of the play also defies the convention of traditional drama thereby making it a representative of problem plays. In a normal sequence, a plot begins with an exposition, followed by a complication, then a climax and finally a resolution. Although Shaw has attempted to be faithful to the exposition, complication and the climax, he fails to tie up the loose end thereby creating more problems to the theatergoers or the readers.
Again, his representation of the play in form of a melodrama defies the convention of such play. The words of Gilbert K. Chesterton attest to this when he writes that Shaw 'resolved to build a play not on pathos, but on bathos, the reverse of common practice at the time. In other words, Shaw did not follow the melodramatic convention of appealing to pity or sympathy; instead, he exaggerated the pathos and made abrupt changes from a lofty to an ordinary style. Chesterton adds that in Arms and the Man, 'there was a savage sincerity,' a 'strong satire in the idea. As the play ends Shaw raises questions on several society issues—on a society which glorifies wars oblivious of its attendant evils; on a society who prescribes moral codes for the people even if such are unobtainable, on a society which defines social class in terms of material consciousness without bothering about the consequence of such depravation. As a believer in realism, Shaw carefully ends the play with a message that realism will always win over idealism.