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Playwrights on Playwriting: George Bernard Shaw

June 25, 2013

Right now I’m gearing up for 2013’s “Summer Project.” Last year’s summer project resulted in ”The 200th Day” produced at the Spring 2013 Fringe of Marin, and a book review later published in Sea History. In 2011, some preliminary work on a later draft of “Hold Fast” (“Sailor on Ice” having just come out). This year, it’s my first full length play, working title “Articles of War: The Somers Affair.” Not a history of that tragic event, the only hanging to take place on a US warship. Was it a miscarriage of justice? Or was it justified by events? here are more questions than answers. Mine is: what would you have done?

My play will not be history, but it will be based on history. Some of the dialogue will come from the record, much will be fictional, spoken in real places and imagined.

By way of a curious, serendipitous turn of events, I came across a paperback “Playwrights on Playwriting” (ed. Toby Cole, Colonial Press 1960) from which the following, and some subsequent posts, have been excerpted.

–from George Bernard Shaw, in “How to Write a Popular Play” (1909)– “But the great dramatist has something better to do than to amuse either himself or his audience. He has to interpret life. This sounds a mere pious phrase of literary criticism; but a moment’s consideration will discover its meaning and its exactitude. Life as it appears to us in our daily experience is an unintelligible chaos of happenings. You pass Othello in the bazaar in Aleppo, Iago on the jetty in Cypress, and Desdemona in the nave of St. Mark’s in Venice without the slightest clue to their relations to one another. . . .

“To attempt to understand life from merely looking on at it as it happens in the streets is as hopeless as trying to understand public questions by studying snapshots of public demonstrations. . .For it is the business of [the playwright] to pick out the significant incidents from the chaos of daily happenings, and arrange them so that their relation to one another becomes significant, thus changing us from the bewildered spectators of a monstrous confusion to men intelligently conscious of the world and its destinies. This is the highest function that man can perform—the greatest work he can set his hand to. . .”

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 25, 2013 1:41 pm

    This might b a gd subject 4 discussion @ our nxt meeting.

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