George Bernard Shaw worked in many formats including novels, essays, pamphlets and letters but it is as a playwright that he is best remembered.
These are brief summaries of some of his major works.
Candida (written 1894)
It is a comedy about a woman who was in love with two men. She had to choose between the one who loved her the most and the one who needed her the most.
Man and Superman (written 1903)
This was another highlight of Shaw’s career. It was written in 1903 and is his take on the Don Juan theme. The play is very long and the third of the four acts is often cut or reduced. It’s about a woman’s attempts to entice a man who is a socialist reformer and confirmed bachelor to marry her.
The third act is a dream sequence and can be performed as a mini-play in its own right. It features a conversation between Don Juan and the devil.
Major Barbara (written 1905)
This was about a woman who was an officer of the Salvation Army. She faced a moral dilemma as her church accepted donations from people, including her father, who dealt in weapons and alcohol.
As the play progresses, Barbara realises it is a harder but more rewarding task to convert the wealthy than the starving. She also sees that donations from immoral companies can be used for good in the right hands.
Androcles and the Lion (written 1912)
This was Shaw’s take on the classic ancient tale. The old story was about a runaway slave who took pity on a lion that had a thorn in his paw. The slave removed the thorn.
Years later the slave is captured by Romans who force him to fight a lion in the Coliseum. The lion that comes out is the very same one that Androcles befriended years earlier. The lion refuses to kill him and the Emperor lets him go free.
In Shaw’s play, written in 1912, the focus is on the slaves who are waiting to fight in the Coliseum. It explores Christianity and the different types of believers within the religion. It also attacked the hypocrisy that Shaw believed was present in religion.
Saint Joan (written 1923)
This was a play based on the life of Joan of Arc and the lead-up to her trial. Rather than portray the protagonists as good or evil, Shaw looked at the reasons why she had been put on trial and the intentions and motivations for doing so.
He believed that her accusers had acted in good faith according to their own beliefs and to dismiss them as villains would be to simplify the events.