- 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.