Arms and the Man HTML version

To the irreverent--and which of us will claim entire exemption from that
comfortable classification?--there is something very amusing in the attitude of the
orthodox criticism toward Bernard Shaw. He so obviously disregards all the
canons and unities and other things which every well-bred dramatist is bound to
respect that his work is really unworthy of serious criticism (orthodox). Indeed he
knows no more about the dramatic art than, according to his own story in "The
Man of Destiny," Napoleon at Tavazzano knew of the Art of War. But both men
were successes each in his way--the latter won victories and the former gained
audiences, in the very teeth of the accepted theories of war and the theatre.
Shaw does not know that it is unpardonable sin to have his characters make long
speeches at one another, apparently thinking that this embargo applies only to
long speeches which consist mainly of bombast and rhetoric. There never was
an author who showed less predilection for a specific medium by which to
accomplish his results. He recognized, early in his days, many things awry in the
world and he assumed the task of mundane reformation with a confident spirit. It
seems such a small job at twenty to set the times aright. He began as an
Essayist, but who reads essays now-a-days?--he then turned novelist with no
better success, for no one would read such preposterous stuff as he chose to
emit. He only succeeded in proving that absolutely rational men and women--
although he has created few of the latter--can be most extremely disagreeable to
our conventional way of thinking.
As a last resort, he turned to the stage, not that he cared for the dramatic art, for
no man seems to care less about "Art for Art's sake," being in this a perfect foil to
his brilliant compatriot and contemporary, Wilde. He cast his theories in dramatic
forms merely because no other course except silence or physical revolt was
open to him. For a long time it seemed as if this resource too was doomed to fail
him. But finally he has attained a hearing and now attempts at suppression
merely serve to advertise their victim.
It will repay those who seek analogies in literature to compare Shaw with
Cervantes. After a life of heroic endeavor, disappointment, slavery, and poverty,
the author of "Don Quixote" gave the world a serious work which caused to be
laughed off the world's stage forever the final vestiges of decadent chivalry.
The institution had long been outgrown, but its vernacular continued to be the
speech and to express the thought "of the world and among the vulgar," as the
quaint, old novelist puts it, just as to-day the novel intended for the consumption
of the unenlightened must deal with peers and millionaires and be dressed in