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REVIEW
Shaw, George Bernard. Shaw on Shakespeare: An Anthology
of Bernard Shaw's Writings on the Plays and Production of Shakespeare. Ed. Edwin Wilson. New York: Dutton, 1961.


Thesis: George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), famous as the author of thought-provoking drama, began his writing career with socialist tracts, reviews of musical and dramatic performances, and what we would call "opinion pieces." Shaw had an opinion on practically everything and the gift of witty expression. In general, Shaw exalted Shakespeare's skill as a craftsman of drama, but deplored his values. So it is with Shaw's view of Julius Caesar :  
It is when we turn to Julius Caesar, the most splendidly written political melodrama we possess, that we realize the apparently immortal author of Hamlet as a man, not for all time, bur for an age only, and that, too, in all solidly wise and heroic aspects, the most despicable of all the ages in our history. It is impossible for even the most judicially minded critic to look without a revulsion of indignant contempt at this travestying of a great man as a silly braggart, whilst the pitiful gang of mischief-makers who destroyed him are lauded as statemen and patriots. There is not a single sentence uttered by Shakespeare's Julius Caesar that is, I will not say worthy of him, but even worthy of an average Tammany boss. Brutus is nothing but a familiar type of English suburban preacher: politically he would hardly impress the Thames Conservancy Board. Cassius is a vehemently assertive nonentity. It is only when we come to Antony, unctuous voluptuary and self-seeking sentimental demagogue, that we find Shakespear in his depth; and in his depth, of course, he is superlative. Regarded as a crafty stage job, the play is a triumph: rhetoric, claptrap, effective gushes of emotion, all the devices of the popular playwright, are employed with a profusion of power that almost breaks their backs.  (110-111)
Bottom Line: Claptrap criticism.


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   Author: Philip Weller
   Last Modified: 27 July 2005