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Shaw did not write a single autobiography, unless the essays in Sixteen Self-Sketches (Constable Standard Edition) can be considered such, but rather autobiographical pieces are to be found scattered around in various places, much of it collected in Stanley Weintraub’s two-volume  SHAW: An Autobiography (New York: Weybright and Talley, 1970).  


The most recent biography of Shaw is A. M. Gibbs’ single-volume Bernard Shaw: A Life, available at and  


A four-volume biography (also available in a one-volume paperback edition) authored by Michael Holroyd can be purchased at


There are many other biographies of Shaw, mostly out of print, but an online search will turn up used copies of many of them.   An example is Archibald Henderson’s Bernard Shaw: Man of the Century, which was the authorized standard for many years. 


A Google search will turn up many online biographical summaries, such as the one at and on Wikipedia, and below is a very condensed version of Shaw’s life.







Provided by Denis Johnston of The Shaw Festival Theatre


George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)


     An acclaimed playwright, critic, and social reformer, George Bernard Shaw (but he hated being called George) was born in 1856 into a family he described as of shabby genteel lineage. He grew up a Protestant in the predominantly Catholic city of Dublin, the capital of Ireland. Although he quit school at age 14 and was always critical of formal education, Shaw gave himself a rigorous informal education, frequenting the National Gallery of Dublin and reading voraciously. Through his mother's work as a music teacher and vocalist, he also developed a keen interest in classical music that would assist him in his early career as a music critic.


     At age 20, Shaw followed his mother to London to embark on a literary career. He struggled through the late 1870s and much of the 1880s trying to establish a name for himself by writing reviews and criticism for numerous publications: book reviews for The Pall Mall Gazette, art criticism for The World, music criticism for The Star and The World, and drama criticism for Saturday Review. During these years he also wrote five highly original novels that no one would publish until friends serialized them in magazines, started on his first play, and made public speeches on various topics of political and social controversy. Influenced by socialist lectures and by reading Marx's Das Kapital, Shaw joined the fledgling Fabian Society in 1884. The Fabian Society was an influential group dedicated to establishing a socialist democracy in Britain. Shaw quickly became a major spokesperson for the Fabians and their ideas. Among his associates in the Society were the artist William Morris, author H.G. Wells, feminist Annie Besant, and economic reformers Sidney and Beatrice Webb.


Shaw's first play, Widowers' Houses, was produced in 1892 by J.T. Grein's Independent Theatre, a company founded to produce new plays by new modern playwrights. Widowers' Houses was this company's second production, following the English premiere of Ibsen's Ghosts the year before.


     Like many of his peers, Shaw was greatly impressed with Ibsen's new drama of social realism. In 1891 he wrote an essay on the subject entitled The Quintessence of Ibsenism. Shaw despised the sentimental romance being presented to London audiences in contemporary plays. He advocated instead that greater attention be paid to Ibsen and his innovations. Shaw valued the way the stage could become a platform for the communication of ideas: through his own plays he sought to confront audiences with issues of social and political importance. He aimed to stimulate not only the hearts, but also the minds of London's theatre-goers. One of the major innovations of Shavian drama was the unusually large role he gave to thought and debate - but thought enlivened with a love of wordplay and paradox.


     Although initially considered subversive because of the subjects he chose to portray, by the turn of the century Shaw had secured his reputation as a major playwright. His plays were produced on both sides of the Atlantic, and his scripts were published and distributed widely. The young actor-manager Harley Granville Barker helped to advance Shaw's popularity with three landmark seasons (1904-7) at the Royal Court Theatre in London. Of the thousand performances presented under the Barker-Vedrenne management, over 700 were of eleven plays by Shaw. Barker himself created a number of memorable Shavian roles, including John Tanner in Man and Superman, Adolphus Cusins in Major Barbara, and Louis Dubedat in The Doctor's Dilemma At the Court, Barker also directed the first popular production of You Never Can Tell, the success of which was partly due to his own performance as Valentine.


     After the advent of talking films in the 1920s, Shaw's scripts began to find a place in the burgeoning film industry. Although a fan of movies since the early days of silent films, Shaw refused to sell the screen rights to his scripts unless he could retain some control over the final product. In the 1930s and 1940s he adapted several of his plays for film, including How He Lied to Her Husband (1931), Arms and The Man (1932), Pygmalion (1938), Major Barbara (1941), and Caesar and Cleopatra (1945).


     Shaw was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for 1925 and donated the prize money to the founding of the Anglo-Swedish Literary Foundation. In the 1930s he travelled around the world with his wife, Charlotte Payne-Townshend, an Irish heiress whom he had married in 1898. He continued to write plays and essays on religion and socialism until his death in 1950.





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