Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Man and superman

George Bernard Shaw's plays carry the most potent mix of humour, sarcasm and bare naked truth that I have ever come across. A selection of his plays that I picked while visiting Blossoms with a bookworm friend of mine, brought back to me the genuine pleasure of reading which I thought had been long forgotton.

Take 'Man and Superman' for instance:
A brilliant play where Shaw compares two sides of the male psyche and its helplessness when inevitably subjugated to the female will. An breif description of the superman is given here:

THE STATUE. I remember: he came to heaven. Rembrandt.
THE DEVIL. Ay, Rembrandt. There is something unnatural about these fellows. Do not listen to their gospel, SeƱor Commander: it is dangerous. Beware of the pursuit of the Superhuman: it leads to an indiscriminate contempt for the Human. To a man, horses and dogs and cats are mere species, outside the moral world. Well, to the Superman, men and women are a mere species too, also outside the moral world. This Don Juan was kind to women and courteous to men as your daughter here was kind to her pet cats and dogs; but such kindness is a denial of the exclusively human character of the soul.
THE STATUE. And who the deuce is the Superman?
THE DEVIL. Oh, the latest fashion among the Life Force fanatics. Did you not meet in Heaven, among the new arrivals, that German Polish madman? what was his name? Nietzsche?
THE STATUE. Never heard of him.


The fundamental premise of the play would be the battle of sexes where man is tricked into believing that he has the upper hand.

The Don Juan play, however, is to deal with sexual attraction, and not with nutrition, and to deal with it in a society in which the serious business of sex is left by men to women, as the serious business of nutrition is left by women to men. That the men, to protect themselves against a too aggressive prosecution of the women’s business, have set up a feeble romantic convention that the initiative in sex business must always come from the man, is true; but the pretence is so shallow that even in the theatre, that last sanctuary of unreality, it imposes only on the inexperienced. In Shakespear’s plays the woman always takes the initiative. In his problem plays and his popular plays alike the love interest is the interest of seeing the woman hunt the man down. She may do it by charming him, like Rosalind, or by stratagem, like Mariana; but in every case the relation between the woman and the man is the same: she is the pursuer and contriver, he the pursued and disposed of. When she is baffled, like Ophelia, she goes mad and commits suicide; and the man goes straight from her funeral to a fencing match.


The play takes a dig at everything despicable in the human world. Mendoza, a brigand speaks to his politically inclined band:
MENDOZA. But I am well aware that the ordinary man—even the ordinary brigand, who can scarcely be called an ordinary man [Hear, hear!]—is not a philosopher. Common sense is good enough for him; and in our business affairs common sense is good enough for me. Well, what is our business here in the Sierra Nevada, chosen by the Moors as the fairest spot in Spain? Is it to discuss abstruse questions of political economy? No: it is to hold up motor cars and secure a more equitable distribution of wealth.
THE SULKY SOCIAL-DEMOCRAT. All made by labor, mind you.
MENDOZA [urbanely] Undoubtedly. All made by labor, and on its way to be squandered by wealthy vagabonds in the dens of vice that disfigure the sunny shores of the Mediterranean. We intercept that wealth. We restore it to circulation among the class that produced it and that chiefly needs it: the working class. We do this at the risk of our lives and liberties, by the exercise of the virtues of courage, endurance, foresight, and abstinence—especially abstinence. I myself have eaten nothing but prickly pears and broiled rabbit for three days.
THE SULKY SOCIAL-DEMOCRAT [stubbornly] No more aint we.
MENDOZA [indignantly] Have I taken more than my share?
THE SULKY SOCIAL-DEMOCRAT [unmoved] Why should you?
THE ANARCHIST. Why should he not? To each according to his needs: from each according to his means.
THE FRENCHMAN [shaking his fist at the Anarchist] Fumiste!
MENDOZA [diplomatically] I agree with both of you.
THE GENUINELY ENGLISH BRIGANDS. Hear, hear! Bravo Mendoza!


It is hard to describe genious because if you could, it would cease to be. These plays aren't just about global issues and problems faced by the world but of personal issues in a world of crisis and the silly causes of these problems. After reading this I came to the conclusion that all men were born as supermen but very few manage to remain so. We aspire to do many things but in the end we are tied down to do what everyone expects us to do.
I think the best that we can do is to atleast accept it:
RAMSDEN [very deliberately] Mr Tanner: you are the most impudent person I have ever met.
TANNER [seriously] I know it, Ramsden. Yet even I cannot wholly conquer shame. We live in an atmosphere of shame. We are ashamed of everything that is real about us; ashamed of ourselves, of our relatives, of our incomes, of our accents, of our opinions, of our experience, just as we are ashamed of our naked skins. Good Lord, my dear Ramsden, we are ashamed to walk, ashamed to ride in an omnibus, ashamed to hire a hansom instead of keeping a carriage, ashamed of keeping one horse instead of two and a groom-gardener instead of a coachman and footman. The more things a man is ashamed of, the more respectable he is. Why, youre ashamed to buy my book, ashamed to read it: the only thing youre not ashamed of is to judge me for it without having read it; and even that only means that youre ashamed to have heterodox opinions. Look at the effect I produce because my fairy godmother withheld from me this gift of shame. I have every possible virtue that a man can have except—


And finally, to end with, the clincher:
That the real Superman will snap his superfingers at all Man’s present trumpery ideals of right, duty, honor, justice, religion, even decency, and accept moral obligations beyond present human endurance, is a thing that contemporary Man does not foresee: in fact he does not notice it when our casual Supermen do it in his very face. He actually does it himself every day without knowing it. He will therefore make no objection to the production of a race of what he calls Great Men or Heroes, because he will imagine them, not as true Supermen, but as himself endowed with infinite brains, infinite courage, and infinite money.

2 comments:

Pollyanna said...

Where do you source all of this information?

Hiren said...

"all men were born as supermen but very few manage to remain so. We aspire to do many things but in the end we are tied down to do what everyone expects us to do.
I think the best that we can do is to atleast accept it:"

This is partly becasuse of what shaw himself said about education= Those who can do, else they teach. You might want to look at Make your passion your profession.