The Elegant Wit of George Bernard Shaw–in Color

George Bernard Shaw, the Irish playwright, wrote his hit play Arms and the Man in 1894. Shaw was born in 1856 and lived until 1950, and his plays still are very fresh and funny. He was very witty and had a keen eye for human nature.

This color photograph is from 1907. He has such an interesting face. What would you guess he was like?

George Bernard Shaw circa 1907, from


Shaw often used one of his characters to puncture another character’s overinflated ego.

Here’s a little passage from Arms and the Man. Sergius, the self-absorbed fiancé of the equally self-absorbed Raina, has returned home from war, along with Petkoff, her father. Her mother, Catherine, is talking to the two in the garden.

SERGIUS. But enough of myself and my affairs. How is Raina; and where is Raina?

RAINA (suddenly coming round the corner of the house and standing at the top of the steps in the path). Raina is here. (She makes a charming picture as they all turn to look at her. She wears an underdress of pale green silk, draped with an overdress of thin ecru canvas embroidered with gold. On her head she wears a pretty Phrygian cap of gold tinsel. Sergius, with an exclamation of pleasure, goes impulsively to meet her. She stretches out her hand: he drops chivalrously on one knee and kisses it.)

PETKOFF (aside to Catherine, beaming with parental pride). Pretty, isn’t it? She always appears at the right moment.

CATHERINE (impatiently). Yes: she listens for it. It is an abominable habit.

And here’s a passage from his play Major Barbara. Barbara and her mother, Lady Britomart, are talking with Barbara’s fiancé, Adolphus Cusins and her sister’s fiancé Lomax.

CUSINS. They prayed with the most touching sincerity and gratitude for Bodger, and for the anonymous donor of the 5000 pounds. Your father would not let his name be given.

LOMAX. That was rather fine of the old man, you know. Most chaps would have wanted the advertisement.

CUSINS. He said all the charitable institutions would be down on him like kites on a battle field if he gave his name.

LADY BRITOMART. That’s Andrew all over. He never does a proper thing without giving an improper reason for it.

Arms and the Man and Major Barbara are two of his most famous plays, but he wrote many others, including the excellent Pygmalion.

You can read Arms and the Man for free here.
You can read Major Barbara for free here.

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