George Bernard Shaw

On this date in 1856, George Bernard Shaw was born in Dublin. After his parents separated, Shaw moved to London at age 20 where he built a long, distinguished and often controversial career as a critic, journalist, stage director, women's rights advocate, war critic, religion critic and, most notably, playwright. In his lifetime, Shaw wrote over 50 plays ranging from tragedies to comedies to powerful social critiques. Some of his most famous productions include "Man and Superman" (1903), "Saint Joan" (1923), "Caesar and Cleopatra" (1901), "Major Barbara" (1905), and "Pygmalion" (1913). Shaw's strong allegiance to socialism as a means to improve the lives of the working class was evident throughout much of his literary and dramatic work. In 1884, his belief in social equality led Shaw, along with fellow freethinkers Beatrice and Sidney Webb, to leadership roles in the Fabian Society, a socialist movement which attracted famous freethinkers such as Bertrand Russell, Virginia Woolf and Annie Besant. Together with atheist Graham Wallas and the Webbs, Shaw cofounded the London School of Economics in 1895 to promote "the betterment of society" (LSE Website). Shaw won the Nobel Prize (though he refused the monetary award) for his contribution to literature in 1925 and an Academy Award for Best Screenplay in 1938 for the film "Pygmalion."

Shaw's work sometimes overtly criticized religion such as his play, "Androcles and the Lion," (1912) and short story, "The Adventures of the Black Girl in Search for God," (1938). "Shaw was a Rationalist long before he was a Socialist" (Joseph McCabeA Biographical Dictionary of Modern Rationalists, 1920). While Shaw claimed to have become an atheist at age ten, in the 1890s he began to reject atheism and classify himself as a mystic. However, throughout most of his life he remained critical of organized religion and especially the Christian church. "There is nothing in religion but fiction" (Back to Methuselah, 1924) and "It is not disbelief that is dangerous to society, it is belief" ("Androcles and the Lion," 1912) were both penned after he developed stronger beliefs in mysticism. Near the end of his long life, Shaw requested that "the form of a cross or any other instrument of torture or symbol of blood sacrifice" be omitted from all memorials to him. He also wrote of his final resting place that, "Personally, I prefer the garden to the cloister" (Warren Allen Smith, Who's Who in Hell, 2000). D. 1950.

“Whether Socrates got as much out of life as Wesley [John Wesley, founder of Methodism] is an unanswerable question, but a nation of Socrateses would be much safer and happier than a nation of Wesleys.”

—-George Bernard Shaw, "Preface to Androcles and the Lion," 1912

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

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