Gallery of the Month – portraits of GBS at Shaw’s Corner

Stefan Mrozewski’s woodcut might be one of the most interesting portraits of George Bernard Shaw here at Shaw’s Corner, but its far from the only portrait of the man hanging on the walls of his home. May’s object of the month was the glorious Augustus John portrait celebrating its 100th birthday this year, but there are plenty more.

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Object of the Month: Stefan Mrozewski Woodcut

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We don’t know a huge deal about August’s Object of the Month, but we do know that it is one of our favourite objects. It is a wood cut of Shaw by the Polish artist Stefan Mrozewski, which he presented to Shaw in 1935. There is an inscription, in pencil from Mrozewski that says:

To Mr. Bernard Shaw

with apologies and thanks

London October 4th 1935

Stefan Mrozewski


An inscription that raises more questions than in answers… Why the apologies and thanks? This image was produced for Time and Tide Magazine and is part of a series that also included images of Shaw’s friends and fellow authors H G Wells and G K Chesterton as well as King George V and the young Princess Elizabeth. You can find these images and more from the time in the National Portrait Gallery which received them as a donation from Mrozewski’s grandson Andrzej who has produced a fantastic website dedicated to his grandfather with a comprehensive chronology of his long and productive life.

One of the things we love so much about this image is the rich details that surround the writing Shaw. Mrozewski picks up little images from Shaw’s work and reputation and put them into the picture. He does the same in his print of H G Wells which you can see here and is full of references to War of the Worlds.

In Shaw’s portrait we see St Joan at the stake and Don Quixote that looks remarkably familiar, riding off to battle.

Mrozewski Joan crop 20141216_133342 20141216_133331

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Irish Academy of Letters: Shaw to W.B. Yeats, 1932

Ayot St Lawrence, Welwyn

20th September 1932

My dear Yeats

I am against myself as President [of the Irish Academy of Letters]. The President should also be a Resident, and should be a man with a presence who loves gassing at public banquets, be state unveilings, and foundation stone layings. The chairman of the Council, who should be a man of business, and who under the rules is often changed, cannot always fill the bill. I am really a London man; and I loathe public functions: there is everything against me. Assuming that you are also no Mahaffy, what about Russell? He is on the spot and has the requisite Jehovesque beard and aspect.



PS Anyhow if I am to be President there must be a resident Vice President, which is d——d nonsense.

From: Lawrence, D H (Ed.) Collected Letters of Bernard Shaw, vol 4, pg 308 – 309

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“John Bull’s Other Island” – No Laughing Matter!

It may be apocryphal, but it’s a good story. When King Edward VII went to see a performance of John Bull’s Other Island on 11 March 1905 he laughed so hard that he broke the chair he was sitting on. The play was running at the Royal Court Theatre, where it had opened on 1 November 1904 as part of the now famous seasons managed at the Court by John Vedrenne and Harley Granville Barker between 1904 and 1907. No fewer than eleven plays by Shaw were produced in those three seasons, cementing Shaw’s reputation as the leading playwright of his day. John Bull enjoyed 121 performances, surpassed only by Man and Superman (176) and You Never Can Tell (149). Not to be outdone by royalty, politicians flocked to John Bull as well. Prime Minister Arthur Balfour saw it five times. Presumably he laughed a lot too, but Shaw himself was not amused by the amusement.

In 1894 he complained that audience laughter ruined Arms and the Man, and twenty years later he sat through uproarious laughter during the opening performance of Pygmalion at His Majesty’s Theatre, “writhing in hell.”

He thought he had made his views on laughter and applause clear at a revival of John Bull at the Kingsway Theatre in 1913. As audiences sat down to read their programme, they found a leaflet inserted in its folds. It was a message—quite a lengthy one—from “your faithful servant, THE AUTHOR.” It consisted of a series of pointed questions. “Are you aware,” asked Shaw, “that you could get out of the theatre half an hour earlier if you listened to the play in silence and did not applaud until the fall of the curtain?” Is not “the naturalness of the representation destroyed, and therefore your own pleasure greatly diminished, when the audience insists on taking part in it by shouts of applause and laughter, and the actors have repeatedly to stop acting until the noise is over?” “Would you dream of stopping the performance of a piece of music to applaud every bar that happened to please you?” The more laughter and applause there is during the performance, he declared, “the angrier I feel with you for spoiling your enjoyment and my own.”

And so, Shaw concluded, “Can I persuade you to let the performance proceed in perfect silence just this once to see how you like it?”

To which the answer surely was, then and now, “Not bloody likely!”


Leonard Conolly

Former President of the International Shaw Society (and an unredeemed laugher).

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Object of the Month: Irish Academy of Letters Medal


George Bernard Shaw’s Irish Academy of Letters medal

July’s Object of the Month could very easily be overlooked if you were to stand in Shaw’s study looking at his crowded desk and yet, like June’s Object of the Month, it represents another of Shaw’s great friendship networks and takes us back to his homeland.

Shaw's Irish Academy of Letters medal

Shaw’s Irish Academy of Letters medal

It is a medal, from 1934 commemorating Shaw’s membership of the Irish Academy of Letters. The Irish Academy of Letters was the brainchild of poet William Butler Yeats, who by the 1930s had known Shaw for over forty years; since they were both young men moving in the Bedford Park circle around William Morris. They had a complex relationship, with Yeats once describing Shaw as a “smiling typewriter” and Shaw finding Yeats’ romantic and idealistic view of Ireland difficult to cope with. Despite this (and both men being involved with the rather fabulous Florence Farr) they did establish a strong and long-lasting relationship.

It was Yeats who commissioned John Bull’s Other Island for the opening of the Abbey Theatre in 1904. The poet rejected the play as too long, too difficult to produce and too controversial. As Shaw wrote in the preface to the published edition of the play: “Like most people who have asked me to write plays, Mr Yeats got rather more than he bargained for.” There are still tickets available for our performances of John Bull’s Other Island at the end of the month. Have a look at our website to find out more and book your tickets!

As well as being a member of the Irish Academy of Letters, Shaw was also elected its first president in 1932, despite initially agreeing to Yeats’ proposal only on the condition that he would not have to take an active part in it. He served as president until 1935, when Yeats took over, then was re-elected for another year after Shaw’s death.

This image of W B Yeats  hangs on the wall of Shaw's study and is taken from the poet's obituary.

This image of W B Yeats hangs on the wall of Shaw’s study and is taken from the poet’s obituary.

As well as Shaw and Yeats, other founder members included George “AE” Russell (see February’s Object of the Month), St John Ervine and Edith OE Sommerville (who was also Charlotte Shaw’s cousin). T E Lawrence and Eugene O’Neil were also nominated as associates. Sean O’Casey and James Joyce were also invited to join, but declined. You can find out more about Joyce at the Irish Academy of Letters here.

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“Mrs Warren’s Profession – American Style”

Leading Shaw expert Leonard Conolly tells us more about the history of Mrs Warren’s Profession

Openings of Shaw plays at Shaw’s Corner are always exciting events, but it is unlikely that the opening of Mrs Warren’s Profession will be as exciting as the New York opening on 30 October 1905. At that point there hadn’t been an opening in England, the play having been banned from public performance by the Lord Chamberlain when a licence was applied for by the manager of Victoria Hall in Bayswater in March 1898. In late Victorian England plays about prostitutes were fine—provided they were dead, or at least repentant, by the end of the play. Mrs Warren is neither, so she had to wait nearly thirty years before the Lord Chamberlain decided that the morals of the English theatregoing public would survive her outspoken defence of her chosen profession. It probably helped that the première was in Birmingham (at the Prince of Wales Theatre on 27 July 1925), the morals of Brummies  perhaps being viewed as beyond redemption anyway.

Shaw was uneasy about how the play would be received in the United States, rightly so. This was the era of Anthony Comstock, founder of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. Comstock is said to have been responsible for the destruction of more than 50 tons of indecent books and some four million allegedly obscene pictures and photographs. And in 1905 he was ready to take on Bernard Shaw.

Mrs Warren’s Profession had a short pre-Broadway run in New Haven. It turned out to be a very short run. The day after it opened at the Hyperion Theatre, the New Haven mayor revoked the theatre’s licence, and the company quickly left town. Waiting in New York, licking his lips like a hungry fox waiting to pounce on a tasty chicken, was Anthony Comstock. He hadn’t read the play, but he knew it was “filthy” anyway. New York’s police commissioner, William McAdoo, let the opening go ahead at the Garrick Theatre on 30 October 1905, but only after he had censored the play to get rid of what he decided were “dangerous” bits.

The Garrick Theatre was packed, and there were huge crowds outside. The actress playing Mrs Warren (Mary Shaw, no relation of GBS) needed a police escort to get to the theatre. As in New Haven, the play lasted for just one performance. Next day the press was almost uniformly hostile: “If New York’s sense of shame is not aroused to hot indignation at this theatrical insult, it is indeed in a sad plight,” thundered the New York Herald. To Comstock’s delight the whole cast was arrested the next day on a charge of “offending public decency.”

The case meandered through New York’s legal system for several months, but there was a happy ending. By the time it reached the New York Court of Special Sessions on 6 July 1906 all charges had been dropped. Mrs Warren’s Profession re-opened at the Manhattan Theatre in March 1907, still with Mary Shaw as Mrs Warren, and subsequently went on a lengthy tour, free from Comstockian molestation, throughout the United States.

Leonard Conolly

Former President of the International Shaw Society (and an unredeemed Brummie).

Mrs Warren’s Profession will be performed at Shaw’s Corner Fri 26 – Sun 28 June. You can get your tickets here.

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Mrs Warren’s Profession: meet the cast!

A week away from opening night of Mrs Warren’s Profession, we thought that it was about time we gathered it’s colourful cast of characters together for you to meet. Shaw’s miniature pen portraits of Mrs Warren et all are succinct, satirical and vivid, instantly conjuring people from the page to the stage.

Tickets are still available to book for this fantastic production via BookMrsWarren.

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