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Emma Goldman, The Social Significance of the Modern Drama
(Boston: Richard G. Badger, 1914; The Gorham Press, Boston, U.S.A.)



    "I AM not an ordinary playwright in general practice. I am a specialist in immoral and heretical plays. My reputation has been gained by my persistent struggle to force the public to reconsider its morals. In particular, I regard much current morality as to economic and sexual relations as disastrously wrong; and I regard certain doctrines of the Christian religion as under stood in England to-day with abhorrence. I write plays with the deliberate object of converting the nation to my opinions in these matters."

    This confession of faith should leave no doubt as to the place of George Bernard Shaw in modern dramatic art. Yet, strange to say, he is among the most doubted of his time. That is partly due to the fact that humor generally serves merely to amuse, touching only the lighter side of life. But there is a kind of humor that fills laughter with tears, a humor that eats into the soul like acid, leaving marks often deeper than those made by the tragic form.

    There is another reason why Shaw's sincerity is regarded lightly: it is to be found in the difference of his scope as propagandist and as artist. As the propagandist Shaw is limited, dogmatic, and set. Indeed, the most zealous Puritan could not be more antagonistic to social theories differing from his own. But the artist, if he is sincere at all, must go to life as the source of his inspiration, and life is beyond dogmas, beyond the House of Commons, beyond even the "eternal and irrevocable law" of the materialistic conception of history. If, then, the Socialist propagandist Shaw is often lost in the artist Shaw, it is not because he lacks sincerity, but because life will not be curtailed.

    It may be contended that Shaw is much more the propagandist than the artist because he paints in loud colors. But that is rather because of the indolence of the human mind, especially of the Anglo-Saxon mind, which has settled down snugly to the self-satisfied notion of its purity, justice, and charity, so that naught but the strongest current of light will make it wince. In "Mrs. Warren's Profession" and "Major Barbara," George Bernard Shaw has accomplished even more. He has pulled off the mask of purity and Christian kindness that we may see their hidden viciousness at work.

    To Next Essay: Geroge Bernard Shaw: Mrs. Warren's Profession

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