Annotated Bibliography of Criticism
Afrozuddin, Mohamad. “The Face Behind the Mask: Selected Plays of George Bernard Shaw.” Shodhganga.com, Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University, 13 Aug. 2015, http://hdl.handle.net/10603/47017.
George Bernard Shaw, once having worked for a firm of estate agents collecting their tiny sums of rent from slum dwellers in Dublin, wrote Widowers’ Houses in correlation to the idea of social realism that emerged in the Europe. Social realism, an artistic movement during the industrial revolution, focused on the everyday conditions of the working class and the poor. Social realists are critical of the social structures that maintain these conditions, as we see in Widowers’ Houses with Mr. Sartorius’ tenements. The essay shows us how Shaw intended to implicate every member of the audience about exploitation of the destitute and homeless as well as the upper classes.
Dukore, B. F. “Widowers’ Houses: A Question of Genre.” Modern Drama 17 (1974): 27-32. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/mdr.1973.0033
Widowers’ Houses by George Bernard Shaw was very poignant in the period of its initial release and production due to the changing socio-economic climate of the fin de siècle. Despite being published 80 years after the release of the play, this article by Bernard. F. Dukore critically engaged with the question of genre with respect to this play that seamlessly embodies many of the common literary techniques and trends of the end of the Victorian period while also inverting some of the norms. Dukore writes about the borderline melodramatic, romantic, well structured, and comedic elements of this play. Through “blending the humor and the hurt, [this] Shavian tragicomedy reveals the one through the other” according to Dukore (27). Dukore highlights the Shavian aspects of Widowers’ Houses. He exults in the way Shaw refuses to simply write to entertain audiences. “Widowers’ Houses both flatters spectators with an apparently amusing entertainment and at the same time turns them into guilty creatures” (32). Being identified as a “guilty creature” speaks to the way in which audience members were captivated by the social realism and cultural commentary present in Shaw’s work. The realism of Shaw’s characters is what makes his play difficult to classify. Dukore points out in his article that Dr. Henry Trench is perhaps the hero because he is described as a handsome young well-to-do gentleman; however, Sartorius is not an obvious or straightforward foe or obstacle and neither is Blanche. Blanche’s conversation with her father on the status of the poor who live in the tenement houses is also divergent from the formula of popular fin de siècle works; thus, Shaw’s work was a perfect choice for the Independent Theatre Society. Sartorius’s sympathy for the poor but inability to justify offering more humane treatment at an affordable price add complexity and depth to this character and bring the play into the real world. Changing class structures, gender relations, and demographics help to make Widowers’ Houses the tragic romantic comedy that traverses genres.
Morikawa, Hishahi. “Widowers’ Houses: Shaw’s Spin on Das Rheingold.” Shaw: The Annual of Bernard Shaw Studies. Vol. 31. Ed. Michel M. Pharand. Penn State University Press, 2011, 46-58. Print.
Hishashi Morikawa’s essay “Widowers’ Houses: Shaw’s Spin on Das Rheingold” describes the similarities between Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold and Shaw’s Widowers’ Houses, and the clear influence of Das Rheingold, an allegorical music drama that criticizes capitalism, on Shaw’s depiction of a corrupt nineteenth-century capitalist society. Morikawa explains that the original title of Widowers’ Houses was to be “Rhinegold,” and despite Shaw changing this title, the new ending of Widowers’ Houses was more similar to Das Rheingold than the ending portrayed in his first draft that he worked on with William Archer, still titled Rhinegold. A happy ending was originally planned, in which Trench does not marry into a family that is a part of the corrupt capitalist system. Instead, Shaw ends his play by reestablishing the power dynamic of the rich above the poor, in a way that parallels Das Rheingold. Morikawa cites many of these parallels, both in characters and plot, to Das Rheingold. Both Blanche from Widowers’ Houses and Freia from Das Rheingold are “pawns in business transactions” (48) as opposed to brides in marriage for true love. Another general parallel mentioned is that no character pursues justice for the wrongs incurred. Morikawa then draws more direct parallels, naming the exact characters from Das Rheingold that these characters in Widowers’ Houses would be. Sartorius is Alberich, Lickcheese is Mime, Trench and Cokane are “ lesser gods” (53), and Sartorius and Lickcheese can also be paralleled to Wotan and Loge respectively.
Morikawa does concede some differences between these characters and notes that Shaw does deviate slightly from the plot of Das Rheingold at the end of the play. While Blanche and Freia may be similar in their position as business transactions in the world of marriage, Blanche actively pursues what she wants, while Freia is more passive. Morikawa also finds that Blanche is not quite the developed “New Woman” character that she could be (55). Finally, in plot structure, Widowers’ Houses does not predict the “downfall of the gods” (56) that Das Rheingold does, despite sharing the similarity that the ending benefits the upper class characters onstage, but not the poorer characters offstage. Morikawa concludes his essay about the similarities and influence of Das Rheingold on Widowers’ Houses by offering that despite this, Shaw’s first work isn’t the “mature” (57) play his later works turn out to be. Morikawa says, “It is a good, realistic Socialist play, but not yet a fully Shavian play in which one or more characters, full of vitality or the Life Force, clash with each other or with the System.” (57)