|The Simpleton of the Unexpected Isles|
|Written by||George Bernard Shaw|
|Date premiered||February 18, 1935|
|Place premiered||Guild Theatre, Theatre Guild of New York|
|Subject||Inhabitants of a newly formed island experiment with polygamy.|
|Setting||a Polynesian island|
The Simpleton of the Unexpected Isles: A Vision of Judgement is a 1934 play by George Bernard Shaw. The play is a satirical allegory about an attempt to create a utopian society on a Polynesian island that has recently emerged from the sea.
George Bernard Shaw, known at his insistence simply as Bernard Shaw, was an Irish playwright, critic, polemicist and political activist. His influence on Western theatre, culture and politics extended from the 1880s to his death and beyond. He wrote more than sixty plays, including major works such as Man and Superman (1902), Pygmalion (1912) and Saint Joan (1923). With a range incorporating both contemporary satire and historical allegory, Shaw became the leading dramatist of his generation, and in 1925 was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
The play divided critics. Edmund Wilson described it as Shaw's only "silly play", in which the action seems to purely whimsical. In contrast, Frederick McDowell wrote that Shaw had created "a symbolic fable" to expound his own "deeply felt ideas".The preface, in which Shaw appears to advocate the killing of useless individuals in a future society, has been considered to be distasteful by several commentators.
Edmund Wilson was an American writer and critic who explored Freudian and Marxist themes. He influenced many American authors, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose unfinished work he edited for publication. His scheme for a Library of America series of national classic works came to fruition through the efforts of Jason Epstein after Wilson's death.
Shaw wrote the play in 1934, originally entitling it "the End of the Simpleton". Shaw added a note to his secretary suggesting that "the final title...will probably be The Unexpected Isles or something like that." It was first produced by the Theatre Guild of New York at the Guild Theatre on February 18, 1935, directed by Romney Brent. A production in England followed at the Malvern Festival, July 29, 1935.
The Theatre Guild is a theatrical society founded in New York City in 1918 by Lawrence Langner, Philip Moeller, Helen Westley and Theresa Helburn. Langner's wife, Armina Marshall, then served as a co-director. It evolved out of the work of the Washington Square Players.
Romney Brent was a Mexican actor, director and dramatist. Most of his career was on stage in North America, but in the 1930s he was frequently seen on the London stage, on television and in films.
East Asian princess Prola and a priest Pra, decide to join with two European couples in a sexually communal "superfamily" to create a utopian community on an uninhabited island that has just emerged from the sea in an obscure outpost of the British Empire. They produce two mixed-race children, Maya and Vashti, who are intended to blend the qualities of the East and the West. The children have ideal refined sensibilities, but lack common sense.
Issie, a British clergyman, arrives on the island, dropped off by pirates. He is drawn into its idiosyncratic mores, eventually enthusiastically embracing the polygamous lifestyle by mating with Maya and Vashti and producing two children. This causes scandal in Britain, leading to a proposed invasion of the island to impose conventional morality. However, English politicians decide that the best course is for England to declare its own independence from the British Empire. At this point the Angel of the Lord appears, declares that the Last Judgement has come, and makes most of the characters disappear because they are useless. News arrives from Britain that large numbers of British politicians have also disappeared, along with most doctors.
Prola and Pra are left alone. Prola says they will begin anew to embrace the future and the force of life itself, since now the whole world is an "unexpected isle".
The play was published along with The Six of Calais and The Millionairess in 1936. The trio was later given the overall title "Plays Extravagant". The published version included a preface in which Shaw appeared to advocate the efficient mass killing of "useless" persons. Shaw speaks about the creation of the Cheka in the Soviet Union, which he asserts was necessary to deal with counter-revolutionaries and eliminate "lazy" individuals. He says that distaste for the suffering involved in punishments can be overcome by devising efficient and painless deaths for people who are of no use to the community:
The Six of Calais is a one-act play by George Bernard Shaw. It was inspired by Auguste Rodin's sculpture The Burghers of Calais. It is a historical comedy about the conflict between Edward III of England and his wife Philippa of Hainault over his plans to punish the leading citizens of Calais for resisting the 1346 siege.
The Millionairess is a play written in 1936 by George Bernard Shaw. It tells the story of Epifania, a spoilt heiress, and her search for a suitor.
The All-Russian Extraordinary Commission, abbreviated as VChK and commonly known as Cheka, was the first of a succession of Soviet secret police organizations. Established on December 5 1917 by the Sovnarkom, it came under the leadership of Felix Dzerzhinsky, a Polish aristocrat-turned-communist. By late 1918, hundreds of Cheka committees had sprung up in various cities at the oblast, guberniya, raion, uyezd, and volost levels.
we need a greatly increased intolerance of socially injurious conduct and an uncompromising abandonment of punishment and its cruelties, together with a sufficient school inculcation of social responsibility to make every citizen conscious that if his life costs more than it is worth to the community the community may painlessly extinguish it....Any intelligent and experienced administrator of the criminal law will tell you that there are people who come up for punishment again and again for the same offence, and that punishing them is a cruel waste of time. There should be an Inquisition always available to consider whether these human nuisances should not be put out of their pain, or out of their joy as the case may be.
Shaw says he introduced the fantasy of a Day of Judgement as a dramatic way of reimagining the logic of what has been happening in "the great Russian change, or any of the actual political changes which threaten to raise it in the National-Socialist and Fascist countries, and to go back to the old vision of a day of reckoning by divine justice for all mankind."
Critics at both the New York and London premieres generally expressed "confusion and disconcertment" at the work.Shaw was not pleased. In a booklet for the Malvern production, he wrote:
Plays of my own, popular enough now, were forbidden by the censorship for many years; and even to-day, when I am 79, the New York critics can see nothing in my latest play but the antics of a monkey. But they will get used to it in time; and when they shriek out their dislike of my next play, they will deplore it as an ignominious fall from the heights on which I produced that masterpiece, The Simpleton. All my plays are masterpieces except the last one.
Shaw explained the play as a satire on spiritual utopianism. According to Bernard F. Dukore, in the Shavian fantasy of judgement "angels proclaim the world to belong to those who think, plan, and work for its betterment."
Erich Strauss considered the play to be evidence of Shaw's decline. He objected to "the use of allegorical figures. They are 'the four lovely phantasms who embody all the artistic, romantic and military ideals of our cultured suburbs,' to wit, 'Love, Pride, Heroism and Empire."Other critics have had a more favourable view. Daniel J. Leary saw the play as an anticipation of the theatre of the absurd, and as an allegory about the embrace of nothingness. Rodelle Weintraub sees it as a Freudian "dream play".
The politics allegedly implied by the play have come in for severe criticism, though this may be influenced as much by the preface than the play itself.In 1936, the reviewer of the published version in the Times Literary Supplement wrote that, "In all the play and preface nothing has been said but that at the price of bloody tyranny we might achieve a set of social values different from those now held." Homer E. Woodbridge was repelled by the idea that "useless" people should be identified and eliminated:
The old love of strangeness, which underlies all his work and which Pater regarded as the essence of the romantic spirit, is there in the bizarre setting, the odd and fantastic persons; but the power to make these grotesqueries even momentarily real to us, the power of creative imagination, is gone. The will to preach and prophesy is there; but the prophetic message is that we should set up an Ogpu [secret police]. The love of farce is there, appearing in incident and dialogue, especially in the scenes in which the Simpleton figures; but the farce squeaks and gibbers like the ghost of Shaw's earlier comedy."
Shaw's biographer Michael Holroyd notes that when the play was revived in the 1990s many critics expressed distaste, with Charles Spencer in The Daily Telegraph claiming to be "nauseated" after reading the preface. Benedict Nightingale in The Times said that it communicated "intellectual poison and death" and Michael Coveney in The Observer stated "No wonder the play went down well in Nazi Germany". Holroyd says that though the play was performed in Germany at the time, it was not a major success.
Sir Michael de Courcy Fraser Holroyd is an English biographer.
Major Barbara is a three-act English play by George Bernard Shaw, written and premiered in 1905 and first published in 1907. The story concerns an idealistic young woman, Barbara Undershaft, who is engaged in helping the poor as a Major in the Salvation Army in London. For many years, Barbara and her siblings have been estranged from their father, Andrew Undershaft, who now reappears as a rich and successful munitions maker. Undershaft, the father, gives money to the Salvation Army, which offends Major Barbara, who does not want to be connected to his "tainted" wealth. However, the father argues that poverty is a worse problem than munitions, and claims that he is doing more to help society by giving his workers jobs and a steady income than Major Barbara is doing to help them by giving them bread and soup.
Back to Methuselah by George Bernard Shaw consists of a preface and a series of five plays: In the Beginning: B.C. 4004 , The Gospel of the Brothers Barnabas: Present Day, The Thing Happens: A.D. 2170, Tragedy of an Elderly Gentleman: A.D. 3000, and As Far as Thought Can Reach: A.D. 31,920.
Saint Joan is a play by George Bernard Shaw about 15th century French military figure Joan of Arc. Premiering in 1923, three years after her canonization by the Roman Catholic Church, the play dramatises what is known of her life based on the substantial records of her trial. Shaw studied the transcripts and decided that the concerned people acted in good faith according to their beliefs. He wrote in his preface to the play:
There are no villains in the piece. Crime, like disease, is not interesting: it is something to be done away with by general consent, and that is all [there is] about it. It is what men do at their best, with good intentions, and what normal men and women find that they must and will do in spite of their intentions, that really concern us.
Stanley Weintraub is an American historian and biographer. He is an expert on George Bernard Shaw.
Sir Barry Vincent Jackson, was an English theatre director, entrepreneur and the founder of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre and, alongside George Bernard Shaw, the Malvern Festival.
In Good King Charles's Golden Days is a play by George Bernard Shaw, subtitled A True History that Never Happened.
Too True to Be Good (1932) is a comedy written by playwright George Bernard Shaw at the age of 76. Subtitled "A Collection of Stage Sermons by a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature", it moves from surreal allegory to the "stage sermons" in which characters discuss political, scientific and other developments of the day. The second act of the play contains a character based on Shaw's friend T. E. Lawrence.
The Quintessence of Ibsenism is an essay written in 1891 by George Bernard Shaw, providing an extended analysis of the works of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen and of Ibsen's critical reception in England. By extension, Shaw uses this "exposition of Ibsenism" to illustrate the imperfections of British society, notably employing to that end an imaginary "community of a thousand persons," divided into three categories: Philistines, Idealists, and the lone Realist.
The Festival Theatre, now known as Malvern Theatres, is a theatre complex on Grange Road in Malvern, Worcestershire, England. Malvern Theatres, housed in the Winter Gardens complex in the town centre of Great Malvern, has been a provincial centre for the arts since 1885. The theatre became known for its George Bernard Shaw productions in the 1930s and from 1977 onwards, along with the works of Edward Elgar. Up until 1965, 19 different plays of Shaw were produced at the Malvern Festival Theatre, and six premiered here, including The Apple Cart at the opening Malvern Festival in 1929, Geneva, a Fancied Page of History in Three Acts in August 1938 and In Good King Charles's Golden Days in August 1939.
Roy Limbert (1893–1954) was a prominent London West End theatre director and producer between the 1930s and the 1950s.
Cymbeline Refinished (1937) is a play-fragment by George Bernard Shaw in which he writes a new final act to Shakespeare's play Cymbeline. The drama follows from Shaw's longstanding need to reimagine Shakespeare's work, epitomised by his play Caesar and Cleopatra and his late squib Shakes versus Shav.
Farfetched Fables (1948) is a collection of six short plays by George Bernard Shaw in which he outlines several of his most idiosyncratic personal ideas. The fables are preceded by a long preface. The ideas in the plays and the preface have been called the "violent unabashed prejudices of an eccentric".
Geneva, a Fancied Page of History in Three Acts (1938) is a topical play by George Bernard Shaw. It describes a summit meeting designed to contain the increasingly dangerous behaviour of three dictators, Herr Battler, Signor Bombardone, and General Flanco.
Jitta's Atonement (1923) is an adaptation by George Bernard Shaw of the play Frau Gitta's Sühne by Siegfried Trebitsch. It is about a woman who has to atone to her husband for having an affair with his best friend. The atonement of both Jitta and other characters take unexpected forms. Shaw dramatically rewrote the last part of the play, giving it a more characteristically Shavian tone.
Augustus Does His Bit, A True to Life Farce (1916) is a comic one-act play by George Bernard Shaw about a dim-witted aristocrat who is outwitted by a female spy during World War I.
O'Flaherty V.C., A Recruiting Pamphlet (1915) is a comic one-act play written during World War I by George Bernard Shaw. The plot is about an Irish soldier in the British army returning home after winning the Victoria Cross. The play was written at a time when the British government was attempting to promote recruitment in Ireland, while many Irish republicans expressed opposition to a war to defend the British Empire.