August 3, 2014

"With the single exception of Homer, there is no eminent writer, not even Sir Walter Scott, whom I can despise so entirely..."

"... It would be positively a relief to me to dig him up and throw stones at him."

Said George Bernard Shaw about William Shakespeare, from "Shakespeare sucks: a history of Bard-bashing."

ADDED: Speaking of George Bernard Shaw, his name comes up twice in (the book I'm reading) "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich." At pages 242-243:
No one who lived in Germany in the Thirties, and who cared about such matters, can ever forget the sickening decline of the cultural standards of a people who had had such high ones for so long a time....

The theater, it must be said, retained much of its excellence as long as it stuck to classical plays.... The Nazi playwrights were so ludicrously bad that the public stayed away from their offerings, which invariably had short runs. The president of the Reich Theater Chamber was one Hans Johst, an unsuccessful playwright who once had publicly boasted that whenever someone mentioned the word “culture” to him he wanted to reach for his revolver. But even Johst and Goebbels, who determined what was played on the stage and who played and directed it, were unable to prevent the German theater from giving commendable and often moving performances of Goethe, Schiller and Shakespeare.

Strangely enough, some of Shaw’s plays were permitted to be performed in Nazi Germany— perhaps because he poked fun at Englishmen and lampooned democracy and perhaps too because his wit and left-wing political views escaped the Nazi mind.
And pages 783-784:
The Special Search List, G.B. (die Sonderfahndungsliste, G.B.) is among the more amusing “invasion” documents found in the Himmler papers, though of course it was not meant to be. It contains the names of some 2,300 prominent persons in Great Britain, not all of them English, whom the Gestapo thought it important to incarcerate at once. Churchill is there, naturally, along with members of the cabinet and other well-known politicians of all parties. Leading editors, publishers and reporters, including two former Times correspondents in Berlin, Norman Ebbutt and Douglas Reed, whose dispatches had displeased the Nazis, are on the list. British authors claim special attention. Shaw’s name is conspicuously absent, but H. G. Wells is there along with such writers as Virginia Woolf, E. M. Forster, Aldous Huxley, J. B. Priestley, Stephen Spender, C. P. Snow, Noel Coward, Rebecca West, Sir Philip Gibbs and Norman Angeli....
 AND: I accidentally wrote over this post, so I'm reconstructing it. Here are all the original comments:
Michael K said...
In spite of the decline of US culture (I sometimes want to reach for a revolver lately), I suspect Shakespeare will be perfumed long after Shaw is forgotten.

8/3/14, 10:00 AM

Phil D said...
Quote from Shaw on the show trials:
"They often have to be pushed off the ladder with a rope around their necks," wrote Shaw, apparently justifying Stalin's execution of many of those who had led the Bolshevik revolution in 1917" (Mind, I find the execution of the "Old Guard" by Stain one of those silver linings. After all, It's the only justice the communist mass murderers ever got, to be killed by their own kind. But millions were murdered together with them).

From wiki;
"Prominent British writers who visited the Soviet Union in 1934, such as George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells, are also on record as denying the existence of the Famine in Ukraine"

Other sources;
"The Fabian Socialist George Bernard Shaw, after receiving a tour carefully orchestrated by the Soviets, proclaimed in 1932: 'I did not see a single under-nourished person in Russia, young or old.' "

Shaw, a good artist but an extraordinary piece of excrement as a human being, the perfect example of the moral degeneracy of the left.

8/3/14, 11:54 AM

Ann Althouse said...
"In spite of the decline of US culture (I sometimes want to reach for a revolver lately), I suspect Shakespeare will be perfumed long after Shaw is forgotten."

A nice autocorrect there: perfumed.

We're talking about dead bodies...

8/3/14, 11:57 AM

Sam L. said...
I see Shaw was NOT on the list.

OOOOOOOohhhhhhhh, dat HURTS.

8/3/14, 12:43 PM

Robert Cook said...
Sounds like professional jealousy on Shaw's part, borne of his realization he would never equal Shakespeare's genius or achievement.

8/3/14, 12:45 PM

David said...
Another difference: Shakespeare's plays were wildly popular and financially successful.

8/3/14, 1:22 PM

ganderson said...
And Lord Blackadder's take on the Bard:

8/3/14, 2:20 PM

NotquiteunBuckley said...

By Orson Welles

Director of the Mercury Theater

Shakespeare said everything. Brain to belly; every mood and minute of a man's season. His language is starlight and fireflies and the sun and moon. He wrote it with tears and blood and beer, and his words march like heartbeats. He speaks to everyone and we all claim him but it's wise to remember, if we would really appreciate him, that he doesn't properly belong to us but to another world; a florid and entirely remarkable world that smelled assertively of columbine and gun powder and printer's ink, and was vigorously dominated by Elisabeth.

Shakespeare speaks everybody's language, but with an Elizabethan accent. When he came squawking and red faced into it, England could carry a tune and was learning to talk. It was a kid of a country, waking up noisily and too suddenly into adolescence and bounding blithely into the sunny, early morning of modern times."

8/3/14, 2:21 PM

Left Bank of the Charles said...
Perhaps the Nazis considered Shaw an Irishman not an Englishman. I do wonder what follows that because.

8/3/14, 3:02 PM

LYNNDH said...
Ann, am I being blocked? Second email the past week that did not post.

8/3/14, 3:49 PM

virgil xenophon said...

Your not too far from my generation (I'm 70) and you consider yourself an educated and credentialed person yet you're JUST NOW getting around to reading Shirer?? I read him as a soph in H.S. when it was first published in 1960. Your intellectual curiosity must have developed late in life..

8/3/14, 4:00 PM

virgil xenophon said...
PS: Well, I take that back partly, AA. Your reference to culture and reaching for a gun shows you have at least a nodding acquaintance with the utterances of Herman Goring..

8/3/14, 4:04 PM

Fred Drinkwater said...
Thank you for the reminder to re-read Shirer. I first read it when I was about 17, and was impressed by the apparent quality of the reportage. Now I'm curious to see what a few years will have done to my opinion.

8/3/14, 4:04 PM

The Godfather said...
Do you remember Mark Twain's hilarious put-down of J. Fenimore Cooper? You can find it here:

It was, of course, unfair, because literary conventions had changed between Cooper's time and Twain's. (In retribution, Twain's reputation today suffers from the fact that his work is considered not politically correct because of his frequent use of the N-word.)

But the Shaw put down of Shakespeare and Homer is different. These writers of course wrote in accordance with the conventions of their times, and those conventions are different from those of our time. But both wrote works that can speak to us hundreds or thousands of years later, not withstanding those stylistic differences. Whereas Shaw's work is now just a period piece: often witty to be sure, but reflecting a socially time-bound ideology, and one at least somewhat disgraced by subsequent events.

8/3/14, 5:09 PM

SOJO said...
I only developed an appreciation for Shakespeare after I saw his work performed live at a playhouse. Having to read him in high school with American kids struggling through the prose and a zillion footnotes was no fun at all.

8/3/14, 5:38 PM

John said...
Everybody says shakespeare represents the perfection of English drama.

I wonder how many of those fans actually read him? Not as a HS or college requirement but for pleasure.

I've read, or tried to read, several of his plays since school. Never could get through them.

I have seen several of them acted on stage, films of on stage and movie adaptations and they are much better seen than read.

I've read half a dozen of Shaw's plays for pleasure and they are much better reading than Shakespeare.

One man's opinion.

John Henry

8/3/14, 8:35 PM

John said...
Speaking of Willy the Shake, does anyone else remember Lord Buckly? 50's and 60's hipster (when the word meant something) comedian?

As he started his version of Marc Anthony's eulogy to Ceasar:

Hipsters, Flipsters and Finger Poppin' Daddies Knock Me Your lobes.

I came to lay Ceasar out, not to hip you to him.

And so on...

Just checked YouTube and there is not much there but I did find this:

John Henry

8/3/14, 10:05 PM

traditionalguy said...
The thing about Shakespeare is that he was witty. and also that he knew all of the questions a man has from living this life...not the answers, but all the questions.

GBS was also witty, but that was about it. Shakespeare is without competition and GBS could not find a way to beat him, so instead he just took a superior attitude about Shakespeare to fool the weak minded.

8/3/14, 10:37 PM

Rich Rostrom said...
avid 8/3/14, 1:22 PM said...

Another difference: Shakespeare's plays were wildly popular and financially successful.

As were Shaw's. Shaw was a very accessible and entertaining playwright. He should not be confused with avant-garde and kitchen-sink playwrights like Beckett and Ionescu and Pinter.

8/4/14, 12:04 AM

John said...
traditionalguy said...

Shakespeare is without competition...

So Trad Guy,

What is the last play of Shakespeare's that you read for pleasure and when?

I'd be curious about others here who sing Willie's praises. What is the last thing of his you read and when?

Is anyone actually reading Shakespeare?

John Henry

8/4/14, 6:55 AM

richard mcenroe said...
Shaw progressed, over his life, from the parodic use of monsters such as arms dealers and Napoleon to shock his bourgeois British audience, to admiring pastiches of Britain's enemies ("The Inca of Perusalem") to uncritical praise of Hitler and Stalin.

He looked at the monsters and the monsters looked back.

8/4/14, 11:39 AM

Anthony said...
Shirer's book is odd. I read it during a magical summer that I first took classes at UW. Not sure how his analysis of the Third Reich holds up, but I've read it twice. Last time (two years ago) what struck me was how he described many of the Nazi's a "perverts and homosexuals" and such. So not PC today.

1 comment:

Ann Althouse said...

The original 22 comments on this post now appear in an update on the post. I did something dumb, not worth explaining.

If you have any more comments, please go ahead and add them as usual.