George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw (July 26, 1856November 2, 1950) was an Irish playwright and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925.

George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw


Born in Dublin to Protestant parents, Shaw moved to London during the 1870s to embark on his literary career. He wrote five novels, all of which were rejected, before finding his first success as a music critic on the Star newspaper. Meanwhile he had become involved in politics, and served as a local councillor in the St Pancras district of London for several years from 1897. He was a noted socialist who took a leading role in the Fabian Society.

In 1895, he became the drama critic of the Saturday Review, and this was the first step in his progress towards a lifetime's work as a dramatist. In 1898, he married an Irish heiress, Charlotte Payne-Townshend. His first successful play, Candida, was produced in the same year. He followed this up with a series of classic comedy-dramas, including The Devil's Disciple (1897), Arms and the Man (1898), Mrs Warren's Profession (1898), Captain Brassbound's Conversion (1900), Man and Superman (1902), Caesar and Cleopatra (1901), Major Barbara (1905), Androcles and the Lion (1912), and Pygmalion (1913). After World War I, on which he took a controversial stance, he produced more serious dramas, including Heartbreak House (1919) and Saint Joan (1923). A characteristic of Shaw's published plays is the lengthy prefaces that accompany them. In these essays, Shaw wrote more about his usually controversial opinions on the issues touched by the plays than about the plays themselves. Some prefaces are much longer than the actual play.

Shaw's correspondence with Mrs. Patrick Campbell was adapted for the stage by Jerome Kilty as DEAR LIAR: A Comedy of Letters. His letters to another prominent actress, Ellen Terry, have also been published and dramatised.

By the time of his death, Shaw was not only a household name in Britain, but a world figure. His ironic wit endowed the language with the adjective "Shavian", to refer to such clever observations as "England and America are two countries divided by a common language." [1] (

Despite the fact that he was a democratic socialist, in the 1930s Shaw approved of the dictatorship of Stalin and even made some ambiguous statements that could be interpreted as being pro-Hitler. In 1945 in his preface to his play Geneva Shaw claimed that the majority of the victims of the Nazi extermination camps had in fact died of "overcrowding". However, he also stated that Hitler had become a "mad messiah" over time: Shaw contrasted this with the situation in the Soviet Union where, according to Shaw, "Stalin... made good by doing things better and much more promptly than parliaments". Shaw also made numerous anti-semitic comments at this time, although the extent to which he was merely being ironic or provocative is unclear. His (un-ironic) pro-Stalin bias is undeniable, however, although it is rarely commented on in discussions of his work. Perhaps the kindest way of looking at Shaw's political position is that he remained in many ways an Edwardian who never fully understood the politics of a totalitarian age.

Concerned about the inconsistency of English spelling, he willed a portion of his wealth to fund the creation of a new phonemic alphabet for the English language. On his death he did not have much money to leave so no effort was made to start such a project. However, his estate began to earn significant royalties from the rights to Pygmalion when My Fair Lady, a musical based on the play, became a hit. It then became clear that the will was so badly worded that the relatives had grounds to challenge the will and in the end an out of court settlement granted a small portion of the money to promoting a new alphabet. This became known as the Shavian alphabet. The National Gallery of Ireland also received a substantial donation.

Shaw had a long time friendship with Gilbert Keith Chesterton, the Catholic writer, and there are many humorous stories about their complicated relationship.

Shaw is the only person ever to have won both a Nobel Prize (Literature in 1925) and an Academy Award (Best Screenplay for Pygmalion in 1938).

From 1906 until his death in 1950, Shaw lived at Shaw's Corner in the small village of Ayot St Lawrence, Hertfordshire. The house is now a National Trust property, open to the public.

Shaw is the great uncle of author, actor, and filmmaker Scott Shaw.

The Shaw Theatre, Euston Road, London was opened in 1971 to honour G.B. Shaw.



  • "The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it."
  • "Whilst we have prisons it matters little which of us occupy the cells."
  • "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man."
  • "Do not do unto others as you expect they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same."
  • "Most people would rather die sooner than think. In fact, they do so."
  • "Lack of money is the root of all evil."
  • "Youth is wasted on the young."
  • "Democracy is a system ensuring that the people are governed no better than they deserve."
  • "I can forgive Alfred Nobel for inventing dynamite, but only a fiend in human form could have invented the Nobel Prize."
  • "I have always held the religion of Muhammad in high estimation because of its wonderful vitality. It is the only religion which appears to me to possess that assimilating capacity to the changing phase of existence which can make itself appeal to every age. I have studied him - the wonderful man and in my opinion far from being an anti-Christ, he must be called the Saviour of Humanity. I believe that if a man like him were to assume the dictatorship of the modern world, he would succeed in solving its problems in a way that would bring it the much needed peace and happiness: I have prophesied about the faith of Muhammad that it would be acceptable to the Europe of tomorrow as it is beginning to be acceptable to the Europe of today."
  • "The main difference between the opposition of Islam to Hinduism and the opposition between Protestant and Catholic is that the Catholic persecutes as fiercely as the Protestant when he has the power; but Hinduism cannot persecute, because all the Gods---and what goes deeper, the no Gods---are to be found in its Temples."



Novels & collections of essays

External links

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