"No Conflict, No Drama": Shaw's Way with a Play


It is often supposed that young people tend greatly to underestimate the difficulty of changing the world for the better.  In three major plays, Bernard Shaw puts this received wisdom to the test by portraying in each a young woman who takes on the challenge of effecting social change.  They are Barbara Undershart in Major Barbara, Ellie Dunn in Heartbreak House, and the eponymous heroine of Saint Joan.  How and why do these heroines fail or succeed in transforming a society arraigned against them?

Some claim that Shaw's plays are only lectures in disguise, that al his characters are himself, and that he relies on brilliant wit (which no one denies) with not expression of feeling.  A closer look at Shavian drama will reveal unsuspected substrata of emotion that serve not to convert and instruct, but to provoke and move, an audience.  His claim that "All of the characters in all of my plays must be sympathetic" rests upon his unequalled gift for seeing a contested issue from multiple points of view at once.  Though Shaw actually welcomed the prospect of his works becoming dated by the progress of humanity, his dramas persist as all too needed in our own time- and as entertaining as ever. 

Instructor: Al Turco

Tuesday, October 15, 22, 29, November 5, 12, 19

Al Turco
AL TURCO is emeritus professor of English at Wesleyan, where he has taught since 1967. He is the author of Shaw’s Moral Vision as well as essays on Ibsen, Strindberg, Shaw, Nietzsche, and Wagnerian opera. Besides Shakespeare, his major teaching interest has been in early modern drama in Europe and America. A member of the editorial board of the International Shaw Society, he has appeared in various venues and been guest speaker three times in the Wasch Center Lecture Series.