“Man and Superman” by George Bernard Shaw is regarded as a philosophical play due to its exploration of several philosophical themes. It was first published in 1903. The play is subtitled “A Comedy and a Philosophy” and it reflects Shaw’s views on a wide range of topics, especially on the hypocrisy of Victorian society. It is a four-act play.
The first performance of Man and Superman in 1905 at the Royal Court Theatre in London, did not include the third act. Though subsequent productions have typically omitted the scene, “Don Juan in Hell”, it’s often performed as a separate play. ‘Eric Bentle’ a birth born American theatre critic & playwright called Man and Superman:
“The Supreme triumph of Shaw’s dramaturgical dialects.”
Character of the play
Ramsden is a middle-aged gentleman who considers himself as an intellectual pioneer and a progressive thinker.
Octavius is a young, orphaned bachelor in the social circle of the social circle of Ramsdens, the Whitefield, and Jack Tanner.
Ann is the older daughter of Mr. Whitefield, She is based on the Character of Dona Ana.
Jack/ John Tanner
Jack Tanner, a left-wing thinker and author of the book The Revolutionist’s Handbook, is one of the men left in charge of Ann Whitefield after her death.
Violet is the sister of Octavius. She becomes pregnant at the beginning of the play and is secretly married to Hector Malone.
Henry Straker, Mendoza, Hector Malone Jr., Hector Malone Sr., Mrs. Whitefield, and Susan Ramsden are more characters, which is present in the play.
About G. B. Shaw
George Bernard Shaw, commonly known as G. B. Shaw was an Irish playwright, Critic, and political activist. After unsuccessful attempts at novel writing, Shaw turned to drama. He wrote over sixty plays in the course of his life, including – “Man and Superman”, Pygmalion, and Saint Joan. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1925. Shaw’s golden period as a dramatist was from 1903 to 1925, the time when he wrote his best and most famous play. Arthun Bingham Walkey praised Shaw as,
“A man who gives us a refined intellectual pleasure.”
Man and Superman as a Comedy or Philosophy
In the sub-title of the play, Shaw himself calls Man and Superman a comedy and a philosophy. We may designate the drama as a biological comedy with spiritual overtones. The central theme of the play is Shaw’s anthropologic myth that woman is the primary mover in the evolutionary process. In Act I, II, and IV we find the ruthless pursuit of Tanner by Ann that constitutes the comedy of the drama. The play is a rich storehouse of Shavian thoughts, but this thought content is treated in the vein of the most light-hearted comedy.
The play contains Shaw’s view on everyday subjects. He expressed his views on love, women, marriage, Sex-relationship, socialism, democracy, etc. In fact, the play is Shaw’s finest statement of his idea of a life force. Shaw’s life force is a spiritual power in the universe. Don Juan says in the play.
“Life is a force which has made innumerable
experiments in organizing itself.”
Shavian Don Juan is the spokesman of Shaw himself in the play. He is a philosophic man with intellect. In conversation with the statue Don Juan says:
“……….. to life, the force behind the Man,
Intellect is a necessity, because without
it he blunders into death.”
On women, in the play, Shaw’s comment is that a woman is not a Poet’s dream. She has to play an important role in the evolutionary process. Shaw thinks that biologically woman is primary and non-secondary in the process of keeping the human race running.
All the philosophical implications of the play have been illustrated through the story of Tanner and Ann with utmost levity and this makes the play comedy as well. Ann Whitefield is a vital genius, Tanner, on the other hand, is a man who does not tolerate women’s company. Tanner avoids Ann and regards her company as dangerous, Ann. On the other side, considers Tanner as “Biologically” preferable.
Thus, we may say that Shaw is logically right to call “Man and Superman” a comedy and a philosophy. Shaw, in the play, expressed his philosophical views on serious subjects but the way he has gone is comical.
Themes of “Man and Superman”
The themes of Man and Superman by George Bernard Shaw are:
The conflict between man and Woman
Shaw believed that men and women are fundamentally different creatures, with different goals and desires. In ‘Man and Superman’, this conflict is embodied in the characters of John Tanner and Ann Whitefield. Tanner is a brilliant but impractical idealist, while Ann is a ruthless social climber. Their relationship is a battle of wills, with each trying to manipulate the other to get what they want.
The Nature of the Superman
Superman is Shaw’s ideal of a human being, someone who is intellectually and morally superior to the rest of humanity. Superman is someone who has achieved self-mastery to their own values, regardless of what society expects of them.
The importance of free will
Shaw believed that humans have the power to choose their own destiny. In ‘Man and Superman’, this is represented by the Character of Don Juan. Don Juan is a legendary womanizer who has rejected the conventions of society. He believes that humans should live life to the fullest and experience everything that it has to offer.
The Role of Women in Society
Shaw was a strong advocate for women’s rights. In Man and Superman, he challenges the traditional view of women as being inferior to men. He argues that women are just as capable, as men of intellectual and moral leadership.
The Importance of Education
Shaw believed that education was essential for the improvement of the human race. In Man and Superman, he argues that education should be used to teach people how to think for themselves and question authority.
Analysis & Summary of the Play
The play starts with a dedication, in the form of a letter, addressed to Arthur Bingham Walkley, Shaw’s friend, who according to the letter had once asked Shaw why he did not write a ‘Don Juan’ play.
The play is an example of a comedy of manners that explores the themes of love, marriage, and the nature of “Superman”. The play is divided into four acts. The first three acts are set in the real world, and they follow the story of John Tanner, a womanizing, philosopher and who is determined to marry him. The fourth act is set in Hell and it takes the form of a dream that Tanner has.
When a man named Mr. Whitefield dies, he entrusts the guardianship of his daughter, Ann to two men; the revolutionary young ‘Jack Tanner’ and the stodgy rich ‘Roebuck Ramsden’. Jack, a sworn bachelor, has chosen to devote his life to philosophical pursuits. Meanwhile, Octavius Robinson, who was like a Son to Mr. Whitefield, becomes infatuated with Ann and determined to marry her, unaware that Ann is truly in love with Jack.
In the first three acts, Shaw explores the conflict between Tanner’s intellectual idealism and Ann’s biological determinism. Tanner believes that humans are capable of great things but he also believes that they are often held back by their animal instincts.
In the fourth act, Tanner’s dream takes him on a journey through Hell, where he meets a variety of Characters who are human nature. These characters include ‘Don Juan’ a symbol of the life force, ‘Dona Ana’, a symbol of the intellect, and the Devil, a symbol of evil.
The dream helps Tanner to understand the true nature of the conflict between himself and Ann. He realizes that he cannot escape his biological instincts, but he also realizes that he can use his intellect to control them. The play ends with Tanner and Ann agreeing to marry, but on the condition that they will remain free individuals.
Thus, through the play, Shaw explores the complex relationship between men, women, and the Life force. Some critics have seen it as a pessimistic view of marriage, suggesting that it is a trap that prevents men from achieving their full potential. Others have seen it as an optimistic view, suggesting that marriage can be a positive force for good if it is based on mutual understanding and respect.
Are you struggling to keep up with your English Literature Coursework? Do you need detailed, customized English Literature Notes to help you better understand the texts you’re studying? “Look no further! Our customized paid notes will help you achieve your study goals quickly.
- Feminism In India & Feminism In West
- Mahabharata By The Veda Vyasa The Dicing Dark Part
- Gulliver’s Travels By Jonathan Swift Part 1
- Theatre Of The Absurd “Absurdist”
- Man and Superman Themes, Summary & Analysis G. B. Shaw
- Daddy By Sylvia Plath Summary & Analysis
- Gitanjali By Rabindranath Tagore
- In Memoriam by Alfred Tennyson
- The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
- The Good Woman Of Setzuan Summary & Analysis
Related Tags: Man and Superman summary, Man and Superman by G. B. Shaw, Man and Superman analysis