Patterns of Tragicomedy in Bernard Shaw
By CD Sidhi, Bahari Publishers, 1978
The evolution of tragedy and comedy merged into a new species called the Tragi-Comedy. Happy Endings in historical tragicomedy can be found as far back as he 17th Century.
1)Alternations between tragic and comedic elements
2)Mixing of Social Classes in Dramatic Personae
3)The Unrestricted choice of Subject Mater.
4)Mingling of the lofty and conversational styles
5)Happy Ending and Explicit Didacticism
An example of Modern Tragicomedy is Ibsen’s play Wild Duck.
Faust is a tragedy as well as a comedy in spite of the Happy Ending. Hamlet, Troilous and Cressida are comedies as well as tragedies despite the slaughter in their endings.
Shaw’s philosophy of an evolving universe does not admit the possibility of tragedy, which deal with an individual’s trivial failures in personal ends.
The only evil for Shaw is is the evil of defective social institutions which are being man-made and can be remedied by better thinking. The serious horrors are those which seem entirely respectable and normal to normal people. Comedy is the manufacturing of misunderstanding.
Ibsen’s heroes are miserable and yet not hopeless, for hey are mostly criticism of false intellectual positions which, being intellectual are remediable by better thinking.
From Complete Prefaces (page 200) The Curtain no longer comes down on the a hero slain or married. It comes down when the audience has seen enough of life presented to it to draw the moral and must either leave the theater or miss the train.
Like life itself, the ending of the modern tragicomedy is unresolved, or at best, ironic. The modern playwright is a ruthless reveler of hidden truth and a mighty destroyer of idiots. These plays will make audiences uncomfortable.
A Shavian tragicomedy is primarily the story of destiny of a a nation. It deals with the social, political or religious progress of a country, of the human race itself, at a particular moment in history. The real hero of a Shavian tragicomedy is either the nation or the human race. All seven plays listed are essentially morality plays or allegories dramatizing a particular philosophy of social-political reconstruction. In other words, they are dramatizations of an idea—The Shavian idea of World Betterment.
The Shavian Hell is a soul in torment. He or she tries to redeem themselves through the new gospel. The Hero’s mission is to gradually grow up and find salvation through the shattering of false illusions, break free of disillusionment, go through heartbreak and then understand life’s purpose.
One side of the hero’s quest is for world bettering and the other side is against it or in opposition to it.
Conflicts include: genius vs mediocrity, realistic imagination vs romantic imagination, visionary vs disillusioned idealist, do-er vs taker, the educated vs the self-educated.
The Shavian hero is not based on Antigone but Prometheus—the redeemer of mankind. The Heroes often parallel Christ or Christ-like figures.
In term’s of Shaw’s life-force is this conflict between the working for the evolutionary will of the universe by the Superman and the self-indulgent or happiness seeking of the less evolved man.
In writing Wagner’s Siegfried Shaw says, “The most inevitable dramatic conception then, of the the 19th Century, is that of a perfectly naive hero that is upsetting religion, law and order in all directions and establishing in their place the unfettered action of humanity doing exactly what it likes and producing order instead of confusion there by because it like to do what is necessary for the good of the race.”
Shaw rejects the Aristotle view of tragedy that invokes pity. A lot of people are not happy unless someone else is miserable. Shaw doesn’t want to pity anyone. He doesn’t want people to have a reason to fear. He doesn’t want the play to end in death. Death is just a beginning. The only purpose of death in a play is to “awaken” the audience.
Creative Evolution (pg 137-138) The Future is what we make it. We can change it, outgrow our childish or barbaric ways and become evolved. God is creative energy, which is ever evolving. There is no problem of evil. Evil is willed away. The Creative Evolution theory of of history is the reconciliation of opposing views. It believes in a steady moral progression.
Differences between absolutists and Shavian Tragedy. The absolutists are Sartre’s play Huit Clos, Becket’s play Waiting For Godot and Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Their view holds that the world lacks any positive energy. It is overseen by a Savage God who appears to be making puppets out of us. But Shaw’s view is all about World Betterment. There is meaning and moral design. Shaw’s characters may be trapped in their disillusion like the absurdists, but that is not the end of the story.
Tragicomedies employ the new element of abundant discussion that unravels conflict through said discussion.
In Act 1 you have the Exposition to set up the tone. In Act 2 and 3 there is the conflict and climax. There may be a reverse in action after the Climax. There may be an episode that doesn’t seem to belong until later. Then it will come back into the play at the end.
John Bull’s Other Island dealt with Keegan and Karma. There was an illusion to reincarnation.
Major Barbara envisioned a socialist future and a Creative Evolution Heaven.
Heartbreak House dealt with what was wrong with England. It was social commentary with more attention to dramatic form.
St Joan gained major critical attention with its use of History of the Doctor’s Dilemma.