“Art is the magic mirror you make to reflect your invisible dreams in visible pictures. You use a glass mirror to see your face: you use works of art to see your soul. But we who are older use neither glass mirrors nor works of art. We have a direct sense of life.” — George Bernard Shaw, Back to Methuselah (1922)
George Bernard Shaw was born on this day in 1856 in Dublin, Ireland. Like Oscar Wilde, another Anglo-Irish outsider, he took the London theater world by storm with insouciant comedies that reveled in paradox even as they overturned the conventions of the late Victorian Era.
But Shaw differed in a crucial sense from Wilde: he used his “magic mirror” less to focus on individuals than to highlight issues that grabbed his interest: Mrs. Warren’s Profession, prostitution; Widower’s Houses, slums; The Doctor's Dilemma, medicine; Arms and the Man, the military; and Pygmalion, how language functions as a tool of the class structure.
Heavily influenced by the realism of playwright Henrik Ibsen, Shaw, in turn, moved others toward an active, even highly polemical, theater of ideas, including Clifford Odets, Arthur Miller, Paddy Chayefsky, and Aaron Sorkin. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1925.