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"Analysis of George Bernard Shaw's 'Candida' " (Part 5)

Updated on October 26, 2016

George Bernard Shaw

Georg Friedrich Hegel

Mystery Play Actors

Theatrical Genre

Shaw employs at least two theatrical models in Candida: Hegelian drama and the modern mystery drama. Crompton defines Hegelian drama as “the conflict of two systems of ideals, each inadequate in itself, but both having a claim to our interest and respect” (31). Shaw’s oft-quoted comment in his “Preface”--“To distill the quintessential drama from pre-Raphaelitism, medieval or modern, it must be shewn at its best in conflict with the first broken, nervous, stumbling attempts to formulate its own revolt against itself as it develops into something higher” (Nelson, xii)—finds its place here. As already discussed (Part 4), Shaw merges the two systems of ideals—Morell’s Christian Socialism and Marchbanks’ pre-Raphaelite artistic mindset—so that they clash one against the other in the play, as the thesis and antithesis do in Hegel’s dialectic. While both men and both ideologies possess qualities that command our respect, both also fall short as persuasive world views by themselves. Candida serves as a catalyst, propelling the two philosophies into a synthesis that completes this round of the dialectic. Clearly, Shaw uses this model to present his play.

The 1898 English subtitle—“A Mystery”—points to the second theatrical model that Shaw uses to write Candida. One contingent believes it refers to the mystery drama (Nelson ix). Mystery plays—one kind of Medieval Cycle theatrical production that various craft guilds developed to dramatize biblical narratives—operated under church auspices. Given Shaw’s predilection toward the vigorous Middle Ages and his incurably religious mindset, it is not surprising that he should pen a modern play of this flavor. In fact, he confessed to Ellen Terry in 1896 that he had written such a religious play: “I have written THE Mother Play—Candida—and I cannot repeat a masterpiece” (Berst 40). After reviewing it, Elsie Adams concludes, “It is a modern mystery play of the Madonna and Child, which will be performed in the modern equivalent to the medieval cathedral, the theatre where the Catholic religion of Creative Evolution lives” (437). Candida in her time, like the Holy Family in its day, represents a standard; she authentically makes her choice based on reason and honesty (Nelson xx). The evidence seems conclusive.

Crompton, however, espouses a different interpretation. Despite Shaw’s admission that Candida was “THE Mother Play,” and that the title character represents “the Virgin Mother and nobody else,” (xx), he still asserts rather matter-of-factly that the mystery is the “sacrament of marriage” (43). A biblical “mystery” involves a “divine purpose or program of God, known to Him from eternity, but which could not and would not have been known unless it was revealed by God” (Pentecost 134). To Shaw, the sacrality of marriage has nothing to do with the revelation of a divine secret. What makes this institution “sacred” to him is “the nature of the life the couple lead together” (Crompton 44). Ecclesiastical or legal arrangements cease to be the issue. Shaw’s message in Candida regarding this subject is that marriage should “continue as long as love lasts, for it is the only proper basis for a continuing liaison between a man and a woman” (Nelson xxi). While Crompton makes a reasoned argument on behalf of marriage as the “Mystery,” it appears that Shaw’s own words and Elsie Adams’s assessment carry more weight.

Shaw or Christian Orthodoxy?

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A Short, Analytical Reaction

That Shaw sought to catechize his readers and audiences about his world and life view is not disturbing; he had been granted freedom of speech and of the press to so propagate his message, and he accomplished it amazingly well. What does grieve this writer is that so many people worldwide have followed his philosophy-- a philosophy that rejects the personal God who specially created man and woman so that they might commit themselves to Him and to each other, that demotes the only Savior to the role of a revolutionary whose radical ways people have not tried, that reinterprets Scripture in order to purport man-centered ideas and desires. As influential as Shaw was in his service to society, it is regrettable that he could not have turned his brilliant mind toward serving the true God.

© 2015 glynch1


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