Candida: by G. B. Shaw - Summary & Analysis

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      Candida (1894) is often considered Shaw's best play, specially by those who dislike his propaganda plays. The Reverend James Morell is a handsome, successful Christian socialist cleric, aged forty. Candida is his lovely and intelligent wife, aged thirty three. The eighteen year-old poetic genius, Eugene Marchbanks falls in love with Candida and wants her to elope with him. He thinks that a woman like Candida cannot love a man like James Morell who is proud of his worldly success but has allowed Candida to clean the room and trim the lamp. He has romantic passion for Candida for whom he will make golden boots to make a trip to snowy mountains. Morrell who loves his wife becomes jealous and asks his wife to choose between the two. The conflict is between Morell, the practical 'advanced' man of present worldly success, and Marchbanks, the impractical genius. Candida chooses: "I give myself to the weaker of the two." Morell is surprised; but Marchbanks understands and departs. Candida chooses Morell because he needs her. The artist will win out even without the help of Candida, but the so-called successful man with conventional ideas about marriage will require her help. Morell and Candida come to a genuine realisation of their relationship.

Candida by George Bernard Shaw

Critical Analysis

      The play is a witty intellectual plea for realistic instead of romantic interpretations of love, and marriage, Eugene is a catalyst agent who forces a truer understanding between husband and wife. The conflict is brought out through conversations which are witty and humorous. Shaw makes propaganda art by highlighting the conflict through contrasts and confrontation of different standpoints. Candida is the New woman. As per name suggests, she is candid (frank). She shatters Morell's illusions about his worldly success. She makes her understand that his strength is rooted in his wife. She does not love Morell, yet she chooses him because she wants domestic security and bliss. The poet has imagination and can live with his poetry. There is a 'secret' in him, but Morell cannot do without her and she also depends on domestic security for her sons. The play is subtitled, a Mystery.

      George Bernard Shaw’s critics often bring a two fold charge against the plays: (1) his characters are too academic and lifeless ; (2) his plays are merely for expressing Shavian ideas on love, war, property morals, and revolution. This charge, however, is not usually leveled at Candida. Usually, the most completely anti Shaw critic concedes that here is one play false, for the most part, from any really revolutionary ideas, aside from a few comments on socialism and corruption in government. In fact, in the lively Candida, Shaw is saluting an old, established institution marriage. But as he salutes, the author is as usual, winking.

      Candida belongs to the group of his Plays, Pleasant and Unpleasant published in 1898. It was given its first public London production in 1904, after a private presentation in 1897, and has gone on to become one of the most popular plays in the Shaw repertory probably ranking second only to Saint Joan. It was an early favorite with Shaw himself. He held on to it for some time before allowing its productions preferring to read it properly to his friends, who, it is said, would weep loudly at the more touching scenes.

      Shaw and the English and American theatres are correct in their veneration for Candida for the play is put together in masterly form, with respect for a uniformity that is often lacking in some of his other works. Here is a play that gives an audience highly comic scenes on other one hand, and yet moments of highly serious in sights on the other. Finally, here is an extremely actable play. Candida herself is one of the great roles in the modern theatre, that of the self possessed woman who, as in many homes, subtly runs the household while appearing subservient to her husband. The Reverend James Mayor Morel, the husband in question, is another excellent role the hearty Christian Socialist clergymam, the popular speaker always in demand, the unintimidated man who is happy and secure in his important position until untoward events began to occur, brought about by a young wild, seemingly effeminate friend of the family, the poet Eugene Marchbanks. The role of Marchbanks, the eighteen year old worshipper of Candida, has also been a favorite of many stage juveniles though others have seen it as a highly distasteful, unrealistic part the thought of Candida’s peeling onions, who rants, raves and whines over the thought of the earthly, boorish Motel being married to such a poetic delight and inspiration as Candida, Marchbanks often reminds us of the young and ethereal Shelley, and is possibly a younger Bernard Shaw.

      Most readers and viewers are quick to note that Candida bears a great resemblance to Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. Shaw, however, has reversed Ibsen. In the latter’s play, Nora is the doll, the puppet; but in Candida, the tables are turned. Morell, thought a likable, highly principled fellow, is actually the doll, it is his wife, as he eventually learns, who is responsible for his success. Thus when Candida is “forced” to choose between Marchbanks and Morell, she chooses Morell, the weaker of the two. This is, supposedly Shaw’s Virgin Mother Play; certainly Candida plays the role of Morell’s wife, mother, and sisters rolled into one. She is the one who arranges his affairs, who keeps him happy and content, who peels his onions for him. Her true status Morel finally comes to realize, though later he will probably rationalize - his way out of his paradoxical victory. Mere, then, is one aspect of the play and to many the main idea behind it: the coming of a husband and wife to fuller understanding of each other.

      All of this bears a certain resemblance to romantic drama, and perhaps that is the secret of the play’s success among non-Shaw theatergoers Shaw traded against romanticism, but Candida is often romantic. Although Candida discovers, a typical Shavian thought that service and not necessarily contentment is the greatest triumph in life the Play and its celebration of the wife-mother role seems greatly romantic in comparison with other Shavian dramas.

      If one takes the view that the play concerns growing severeness
between a husband and wife, Marchbanks serves as the catalyst bringing about the final result. Through the poetic railings of the young poetaster, Morell begins to wonder if he is actually too commonplace for Candida. But when Morell is accepted and the poet is a spurned in the famous choosing scene, Marebanks leaves as a more adult being with a secret in his heart, and apparently quite eager to go out into the night. It may well be that Marchbanks realizes that this mundane domesticity is not for him he has a greater destiny than this. Candida has revealed the average happy marriage to him, and he realizes there is no poetry in it. A poet must go out into the night, and on to greater and more exalted triumphs.

      This, quite possibly, is another of Shaw’s main ideas in the play that the man of genius is out of place in conventional society. However, the fact that the role of Marchbanks often unrealistic and overdrawn reduces the total effect of this particular Shavian premise. Through his excessive behavior, the conflict between Marchbanks and Morell fails to convince many readers and viewers; to some, there is no choice at all between the likable clergyman and the effeminate boy.

      Most others, however, are willing to overlook this flaw and to ignore the charge that Candida, in the “choosing” scene, behaves in a most conceited fashion. Audiences have much more preferred to delight in the high comedy of Candida, its amusing situations and the witty, sparkling dialogue which is generally consistent throughout the play. This is, next to Saint Joan, Shaw’s best-constructed drama. And there is no doubt that its great popularity is due not only to its form, but also to the fact that in Candida we have Shaw’s safest play.

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