Village Wooing

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Village Wooing
George Bernard Shaw 1934-12-06.jpg
Written by George Bernard Shaw
Date premiered 16 April 1934
Place premiered Little Theatre Company, Dallas
Original language English
Subject an odd couple spar with one another
Genre satirical comedy
Setting A cruise liner; a village shop

Village Wooing, A Comedietta for Two Voices is a play by George Bernard Shaw, written in 1933 and first performed in 1934. It has only two characters, hence the subtitle "a comedietta for two voices". The first scene takes place aboard a liner, the second in a village shop. The characters are known only as "A" and "Z".

George Bernard Shaw Irish playwright, critic and polemicist, influential in Western theatre

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.




First conversation: On a cruise liner, A, an aesthetic young man, is writing. Z, a young woman, appears and tries to engage him in conversation, which he resists. He explains that he is writing about the cruise for the "Marco Polo Series of Chatty Guide Books". Z asks whether she will be included in his account of it, and replies that she will. She says she is thrilled, but must now give an account of herself, explaining that her father was a man of letters, as he was a postman.

Second conversation: In a village shop, A enters. He is served by Z, but does not recognise her. He gets into a conversation with her, and talks about having met a persistent woman on a cruise. Z asks him to tell her more about this woman. She eventually persuades him to buy the shop.

Third conversation: In the village shop again, A is now the owner of the shop, and is working on writing a checklist of reasons for staying there. Z argues with him about whether he is a shopkeeper or a poet. Eventually the pair decide they ought to be married. Z phones the church to make the arrangements. The play ends as she is about to tell the church their names.


The play was first performed on 16 April 1934 in Dallas, Texas, by the Little Theatre Company. [1] Two weeks later, on 1 May, it was produced for the first time in England by the Wells Repertory Players, at Tunbridge Wells with Christopher Fry as A. Sybil Thorndike and Arthur Wontner gave the first London performance some months later at the Little Theatre in the Adelphi. [2] Village Wooing was first shown on television in 1952 with Michael Golden as "A" and Ellen Pollock as "Z". There was an ITV version in 1979 starring Judi Dench and Richard Briers.

Christopher Fry British writer

Christopher Fry was an English poet and playwright. He is best known for his verse dramas, notably The Lady's Not for Burning, which made him a major force in theatre in the 1940s and 1950s.

Sybil Thorndike British actress

Dame Agnes Sybil Thorndike was an English actress who toured internationally in Shakespearean productions, often appearing with her husband Lewis Casson. Bernard Shaw wrote Saint Joan specially for her, and she starred in it with great success. She was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1931, and Companion of Honour in 1970.

Arthur Wontner British actor

Arthur Wontner was a British actor best known for playing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's master detective Sherlock Holmes in five films from 1931 to 1937.


Shaw was not very impressed with his own play, which he wrote while on a cruise. He wrote a letter to his friend Blanche Patch saying "Tell Barry Jackson -- but no one else -- that my efforts to write resulted in nothing at first but a very trivial comedietta in three scenes for two people which only Edith Evans could make tolerable." Patch suggests that the play was influenced by his own experiences on the cruise and that the character of Z was based on Mrs. Jisbella Lyth, the postmistress in Shaw's village, Ayot St Lawrence. [2] In a letter to Lillah McCarthy Shaw said that the male character was a "posthumous portrait" of Lytton Strachey. [3]

Ayot St Lawrence village in Hertfordshire, United Kingdom

Ayot St Lawrence is a small village and civil parish in Hertfordshire, between Harpenden and Welwyn. There are several other Ayots in the area, including Ayot Green and Ayot St Peter, where the census population of Ayot St Lawrence was included in 2011.

Lillah McCarthy English actress and theatrical manager

Lillah Emma McCarthy was an English actress and theatrical manager.

Lytton Strachey British writer

Giles Lytton Strachey was an English writer and critic.

Mrs Lyth later commented that she went to see the play when she was told she'd inspired it, but she much preferred a play by John Galsworthy that was shown with it in a double-bill, ,

John Galsworthy English novelist and playwright

John Galsworthy was an English novelist and playwright. Notable works include The Forsyte Saga (1906–1921) and its sequels, A Modern Comedy and End of the Chapter. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1932.

I was supposed to have inspired him for this play, but I don't know when he ever saw me wooing anybody! ...At that time I ran a café here, in addition to my duties as postmistress, and Mrs Arthur Wontner and her children came in one day for tea. She said, 'You're the lady who inspired G.B.S. for the play, and you must go up and see it'--so I did. Following it in the same programme was one of Galsworthy's plays called The Little Man, which I enjoyed much more than Village Wooing. I don't say Mr Shaw's aren't good plays, but I think they lack suspense. In spite of that, I wrote and congratulated Dame Sybil Thorndike on her wonderful portrayal of a postmistress in a little village shop. She autographed her picture for me and wrote on the back that she was most interested to know that she had been playing me, and would come and see me one day. [4]

Shaw's friend Archibald Henderson agrees that the action in the village shop cum post-office was inspired by Shaw's experiences with Mrs. Lyth, but thinks the character of Z was mainly based on Shaw's wife Charlotte Payne-Townshend,

Archibald Henderson (professor) American professor of mathematics

Archibald Henderson was an American professor of mathematics who wrote on a variety of subjects, including drama and history. He is well known for his friendship with George Bernard Shaw.

Charlotte Payne-Townshend British writer

Charlotte Frances Payne-Townshend was an Irish political activist in Britain. She was a member of the Fabian Society and was dedicated to the struggle for women's rights. She married the playwright George Bernard Shaw.

Like Charlotte, "Z" is an adventurous uninhibited young woman of the new dispensation, who knows what she wants, is breezily amusing in her frankness; and after "A" has come like a homing pigeon to the village and purchased the shop, plucks him like a daisy, as did Charlotte, who, as we recall, purchased the marriage license...The vision of marriage drawn by "A" is memorable as a literary facsimile of the "marital compact" for the fin de siecle union of the Shaws. The "romance" of the marriage of "A" and "Z" reveals consummation, not as mere sensual gratification of the senses, but as a mystic rite of sublimation, in the discovery of life's aesthetic magic and wonder. [5]

Critical views

Critic John Bertolini sees the play as an allegory of the relation between writer and text, "In Village Wooing Shaw dramatizes his own creative process as a writer of comedies, by figuring the subject of comedy, courtship and marriage, as the marriage of writer and text." The marriage at the end is "the paradigmatic one of all written comedy, hence the play is the closed circle of its own writing and reading." [6]

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  1. Archibald Henderson, George Bernard Shaw: Man of the Century, Appleton-Century-Crofts, New York, 1956, p.575
  2. 1 2 Blanche Patch, Thirty Years with G. B. S., Dodd, Mead, New York, 1951, p.92
  3. Holroyd, Michael, Bernard Shaw, Random House, 2011, p679.
  4. Allan Chappelow, Shaw the Villager and Human Being: A Biographical Symposium, Macmillan, New York, 1962, p.81
  5. Archibald Henderson, George Bernard Shaw: Man of the Century, Appleton-Century-Crofts, New York, 1956, pp.574-5
  6. John A. Bertolini, The Playwrighting Self of Bernard Shaw, Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale, IL., 1991, p.166.