A Bulletin for George Bernard Shaw


1.     Barbara Pfeifer


A Dramatist For All Seasons: George Bernard Shaw In Vienna

(for a poster version of this, click here)




This project aims to investigate the relation between theater and national identity by exploring the staging and critical reception of Bernard Shaw’s plays on the Viennese stages of twentieth century.




Since the performance of Ein Teufelskerl (The Devil’s Disciple) on 25th February 1903, the first ever in German-speaking countries, Shaw’s works have held a prominent place in the repertoires of Viennese theaters. Even in times of crisis and in politically highly sensitive periods such as Austro-Fascism and National Socialist rule, the Irishman was one of the most frequently performed foreign writers on the Vienna stages.





Based on the data compiled by the research project Weltbühne Wien – World Stage Vienna, contemporary theater reviews, newspaper articles, and unpublished archival sources are employed to illustrate the pivotal points of Shaw’s reception against the political scene in Austria.  The turning points in twentieth-century Austrian History (World War I, the end of the Habsburg Empire and the birth of the First Austrian Republic in 1918, the ‘Anschluss’ and World War II, the State Treaty of 1955) will be juxtaposed with the historical role of individual theaters in the construction and maintenance of Austrian cultural and national identity.




In the case of Shaw, the playwright’s Viennese translator and literary agent, Siegfried Trebitsch, facilitated the successful transfer of plays by Shaw that were agreeable to the Austrian theatrical tradition. Due to Trebitsch's incessant efforts toconquer the German stage for Shaw’, the first production of Pygmalion (a genuine world premiere) took place at the Burgtheater on 16 October 1913, preceding that in London by several months. One of the Irishman's most frequently performed plays, Pygmalion was extremely popular with contemporary theater critics and audiences alike.

During the National Socialist regime, Vienna endeavoured to dissociate herself from Berlin and aspired to a privileged role as the Reich's cultural capital, giving particular emphasis to the typically Viennese theatrical spirit and Vienna's preference for light entertainment. Accordingly, the Theater in der Josefstadt production of Pygmalion in 1942 provided a stereotypical version of what was estimatedone of the Irishman's most original playsby critics. In an attempt to render the play less foreign, the highly acclaimed Paula Wessely, who played Eliza, delighted the audience with her Viennese accent. Shaw's social criticism was ignored in favor of thewitty elementsof the play and Eliza's conversion from suburban flower girl to society lady.

Pygmalion saw its revival in the theatrical season of 1956/57, when it was produced by the Theater in der Josefstadt on the occasion of the Irish playwright's 100th birthday. In the wider context of the genesis of Austrian national identity in the period after 1955, the reviewers' responses focused on theEnglishnessof Shaw‘s dramatic works considering Pygmalion essentially unfit to be transferred into an un-English surrounding because of the play being rooted in a concrete cultural, historical, and socio-political situation.




The assimilation and representation of the culturalotherinvolves a process of play selection in accord with the prevailing dramatic concepts as well as specific mechanisms of circulation and blockage of foreign cultural elements.

The staging of the Irishman's dramatic works in Vienna asthe other’ in contradistinction to what is perceived asthe self’ in a certain historical period is particularly evident in times of political and social upheaval.

The analysis of Shaw's reception in the context of Austrian nation-building and different periods of Austrian self-characterization illustrates the use of theatrical representation in the construction of national cultural identity.




Gounaridou, Kiki (ed.) Staging Nationalism. Essays on Theatre and National Identity. Jefferson, North Carolina, and London: McFarland & Company, 2005.

Knoll, Elisabeth. Produktive Missverständnisse: George Bernard Shaw und sein deutscher Übersetzer Siegfried Trebitsch. Heidelberg: Winter, 1992.

Mayer, Sandra, and Barbara Pfeifer. ‘The Reception of Oscar Wilde and Bernard Shaw in the Light of Early Twentieth-Century Austrian Censorship ‘. Platform 2.2 (2007): 39-75.

Pfeifer, Barbara. ‘A Dramatist for All Seasons: Bernard Shaw in Vienna, 1933-1945’. SHAW 27 (2007): 105-117.

Mayer, Sandra, and Barbara Pfeifer. ‘The Reception of Oscar Wilde and Bernard Shaw in the Light of Early Twentieth-Century Austrian Censorship ‘. Platform 2.2 (2007): 39-75.

Schweiger, Hannes. ‘Bernard Shaw’s contributions to the culture and politics of fin de siècle Vienna.’ SHAW 25 (2005): 135-46.

Thaler, Peter. The Ambivalence of Identity: The Austrian Experience of Nation-Building in a Modern Society. Purdue University Press, 2001.

Weiss, Rudolf. ‘Terra Incognita, Populärkultur, intellektuelle Akrobatik. Das englische Drama im Wiener Theater der Jahrhundertwende.’ Beiträge zur Rezeption der britischen und irischen Literatur des 19. Jahrhunderts im deutschsprachigen Raum. Ed. Norbert Bachleitner. Amsterdam/Atlanta: Rodopi, 1999. 345-405.

Wilmer, S. E. Theatre, Society, and the Nation. Staging American Identities. Cambridge: CUP, 2002.

Zaroulia, Marilena. ‘Contextualising Reception: Writing about Theatre and National Identity’. Platform 2/1 (Spring 2007): 68-81.

The International Association for the Study of Irish Literatures (IASIL) holds its annual conference in Portugal this year.  We are pleased to be able to publish the following abstracts of the papers that will be given by Rosalie Rahal Haddad and Domingos Nunez.  These are followed by the abstract of ‘Performing the Ideal: Film Adaptations of Shaw's Pygmalion', a paper being given by Susan J. Wolfe & Roberta N. Rude at the conference Cultures of Translation: Adaptation in Film and Performance, University of Glamorgan, Cardiff, 26th-28th June 2008; and a link to a thesis abstract published in our last issue.

2.      Rosalie Rahal Haddad


The Aesthetics of Shaw’s Plays


The critics who predicted that Shaw’s plays would not survive throughout the twentieth century were mistaken. After a century since his first play, Shaw’s early works still play a major role in the popular and classical repertory. It is likely that Shaw will survive as a vital force on the stage for many years to come.

Why do his plays qualify and confirm Shaw as a dramatist of classical standing? Answers to this question are the primary concern of this paper. There is a surface brilliance to Shaw’s works which reflects a splendid, vigorous art. One can quickly cite the astonishing energy, wit, paradox, rhetoric, the great array and vitality of characters, the enduring relevance of issues which have not died with the Victorian age. The combination of such elements places Shaw among the great playwrights. But all these distinguished aesthetic qualities are not the only ones which give Shaw his greatest stature.

The purpose of this paper is to show that Shaw’s best plays have a classical quality as they achieve the depth, complexity, economy, and coherence of fine dramatic poetry. Shaw’s work has a coalescence of many aesthetic factors which are not only individually evocative, but which, as they interact and fuse, give the particular work an impressively rich, vitally reverberating aesthetic soundness. Critics have tended to interpret Shaw’s dramatic action narrowly because all too frequently they have viewed him in the abstract, through the lenses of his prefaces and essays. His plays themselves contradict this narrow view, functioning as they do in such a wide, complex, sensitive, and vital range of action.  Although he chose London as his permanent address, Shaw never stopped writing about Ireland and the material he uses for his art derives from a dual point of view which enriches his work.

3.      Domingos Nunez


An idiot in an absurd country: recontextualizing Bernard Shaw’s Simpleton in a contemporary tropical landscape


After producing Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa in 2003, and Marie Jones’s Stones in His Pockets, in 2006, the Brazilian theatre company, Cia Ludens, deepened its investigations on a number of questions that had already been put into discussion during the process of staging these two above mentioned plays in Brazil. These investigations involving translations of Irish theatre for performance purposes, the local and global aspects of such plays in performance and the circumstances that might make any script a ‘contemporary’ one, led the company to consider an Irish icon of the past, Bernard Shaw, and stage one of his most obscure plays: The Simpleton of the Unexpected Isles.

Written in 1935, this play keeps an unexpected and amazing connection with the Brazilian reality of today and reverberates astonishingly in the contemporary moral, political and ideological idiosyncrasies of the country. Thus, the main purpose of this paper is to give an account of the process undertaken by Cia Ludens to stage Shaw’s Simpleton to a Brazilian audience, as well as to make considerations about the aspects that were most relevant and crucial for the company so that it could achieve its goals: since the extensive studies on Shaw’s works and thoughts, going through the options and difficulties in translating such a play into Portuguese, and up to the choices concerning the setting, costumes, lighting and sound.    

·         Dr Nunez adds the following note:

I am in the middle of the production of Shaw's The Simpleton of the Unexpected Isles […] but let me explain you the nature of my business in Brazil so that you can evaluate if my work might be of some interest for your Supplement.  Although having a master’s on Bernardo Santareno's works (a Portuguese playwright) and a PhD on Irish contemporary theatre I am chiefly a translator and the artistic director of Cia Ludens, a professional theatre company in activity in Brazil since 2002, rather than a scholar.  As my paper will be a report about the process of producing Shaw's play in Brazil, it is not entirely finished, provided that the play will premiere in June 06.

4.     Susan J. Wolfe & Roberta N. Rude  (University of South Dakota)


Performing the Ideal: Film Adaptations of Shaw’s Pygmalion


George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion made of Ovid’s tale a critique of Edwardian class structure, drawing only moderately upon the myth.  Higgins’ tutelage of a poor flower-girl spawned in its turn a number of 20th- and early 21st-century films which depart increasingly from Shaw’s play and revert to the myth of bodily transformation. Finally in Simone, a 2002 film, a beautiful composite woman is created using the features of real movie stars. Captured in computer code and inserted into films, the virtual woman, her voice a computer a transformation of her male director’s, becomes a film icon.  Thus, Simone closely approaches Ovid’s myth despite the movie’s attempted critique of the Hollywood’s star system.   Because the cinematic medium draws attention to an actor’s appearance, as early as the 1938 film Pygmalion, Wendy Hiller, the actress playing Eliza Doolittle, is made to appear prettier as the narrative progresses, and the much later Miss Congeniality is little more than a movie version of a reality makeover show.   It is interesting that among more recent films, only Educating Rita, a non-Hollywood production based on a London play (but ultimately drawn from Shaw’s), retains Shaw’s emphases on character and education.  In the others, feminine beauty, not class, is constructed and performed, each performance apparently echoing earlier performances of feminine beauty—beauty not simply objectified for the Male Gaze but also commodified, resulting finally, in Simone, the simulacrum of a woman.  

5.       Hannes Schweiger


The Politics of Cultural Transfer: George Bernard Shaw in the German-speaking context

Hannes Schweiger (University of Vienna) has been working on the reception of Shaw in Austria.  He kindly sent us an abstract of his work, which we published in Shavings 27.  It can be found by clicking here.  click either basset to return to the Shavings home page.

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