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In the Catbird Seat/Joe Kirkish

Wit from George Bernard Shaw

June 7, 2012
The Daily Mining Gazette

Those of you fortunate to see this week's Club Indigo will have the pleasure of experiencing G. B. Shaw only briefly, but enough to learn why his clever writings still live on.

To experience Shavian wit in larger doses can be daunting, especially since we have gradually lost the ability to appreciate inspired writing, with limited vocabularies (mostly vulgar or obscene) made popular.

To know Shaw well is to love him or hate him, depending on one's appreciation for a man dedicated to an educated, very definite approach to life.

What does one think of a person, once married himself, who made the statement in one of his plays: "When two people are under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive and most transient of passions, they are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal and exhausting condition continuously until death do them part."

Opinionated? Most definitely. But also brilliant in his perception of life.

George Bernard Shaw was born in 1856, the son of a Dublin civil servant. His formal education was irregular; he disliked any organized training. He moved to London as a young man where he felt the need to write plays to illustrate his most severe criticisms of the English mien.

While he grew in experience with the medium, he made stinging attacks on social hypocrisy; he wrote excoriations on society's condemnation of questionable occupations (as in "Mrs. Warren's Profession") and praised the life of the French maiden wearing armor and doing battle along with men (in "Saint Joan") or in his castigation of the ignorance of medical men ("The Doctor's Dilemma"). In his most successful play, "Pygmalion," he created a witty study of phonetics while making a sharp stab at middle-class morality and class distinctions.

Lauded for his brilliance in writing, he remained staunch in his radical thoughts, his utter contempt for conventions, and his keen dialectic interest and verbal wit - not only in his plays, but in articles, novels and lectures. He brought to literature a special flavor that has existed well past his death at the age of 94, in 1950.

Some examples of Shavian wit:

Fashion is nothing but an induced epidemic.

A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.

A happy family is but an earlier heaven.

An asylum for the sane would be empty in America.

Americans adore me and will go on adoring me until I say something nice about them.

Life isn't about finding yourself; it's about creating yourself.

Make it a rule never to give a child a book you would not read yourself.

Animals are my friends. I am a vegetarian because I do not eat my friends.

You see things and you say, "Why?" I dream of things that never were; I say, "Why not?"

Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.

People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.

The liar's punishment is, not in the least that he is not believed, but that he cannot believe anyone else.

Better to see rightly on a dollar a week than squint on a million.

An Englishman thinks he is moral when he is only uncomfortable.

When approached by an actress of mediocre talent, telling him she's like to have a child by him, gushing, "Just think, if he had my looks and your talent." Shaw replied, "But, my dear, what if he had my looks and your talent!"

Finally, Shaw proved himself willing to take roasting as well as give it. When he wrote to Winston Churchill, "I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play. Bring a friend - if you have one," Churchill's response was, "Cannot possibly attend first night. Will attend second, if there is one."

Rotten Tomatoes average: "Snow White & the Huntsman," C+



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