Well, even though it has been included in the collection of Shavian plays known as Play's Pleasant, I was a little surprised to discover that this particular play was written at almost the opposite end of Shaw's career to the first play – Arms & the Man. Anyway, I was making my way to Adelaide by train and I wanted something that I could read while on the train, and hopefully write a review on it in the same breath. Well, a three-act Bernard Shaw play certainly fits the bill, though I would have to say that this is certainly not one of his best plays. In fact, to be honest with you, it's sort of rather ordinary.
One can simply describe this play as being a love triangle, pure and simple. However there isn't anything all that exciting or wonderful about this particular love triangle, and in a way you already know how it is going to work out in the end. Okay, Shaw did write a pretty decent romantic comedy, and his protagonist does hold similar views as to him (with the exception that he is a Christian Pastor, though like Shaw he is also a practising socialist), however in the end it is just another tired old story where you have two guys competing over the same girl. Well, that might be being a little bit too harsh because there are some interesting aspects to this story, and in a way we know that our protagonist, Morell, is always going to win out.
So, the heroine of the play, Candida, who is married to Morell, returns home after three weeks with this young poet in tow. When Candida is out of the room the young poet then begins to bait Morell in suggesting that not only is she no longer in love with him, but that she is having an affair. This, of course, causes a lot of tension, but it seems for a while that Morell isn't all that great a person, and is little more than a tired old pastor. Yet we quickly discover that this is not the case. Our poet friend is quite mistaken (and actually a bit of a shark on top of that) and is sent off packing into the darkness.
The reason that we realise that the Poet is actually a pretty cunning little character is because of something referred to as 'Prossie's Complaint'. The name comes from one of the supporting characters – Proserpina – who happens to be Morell's secretary. The complaint is that she happens to be in love with Morell, along with quite a number of other women, however they can't say or do anything about it because he is already married. This revelation is put to him by none other than his wife Candida, which is why I came to the realisation that Candida was never going to leave Morell for another man simply because she actually possesses somebody who, in her mind, is an awesome catch.
This is the second play that I have read of Shaw's where he borrows a figure from Greek Mythology, the other being Pygmalion. However, I struggle to see how Proserpina (or Persepbone) fits in with this place since Persephone was the daughter of Demeter who was kidnapped by Hades, lord of the underworld, to become his wife. After a bit of a tussle she would spend six months of the year with her mother (thus bringing on Summer) and six months with Hades (thus bringing on Winter). To be honest, I struggle to see how Proserpina's love (or apparent love) for Morell is related to this ancient Greek Myth.
However, another thought does come to mind – Prossie's complaint simply comes from the mouth of Candida. Sure, Morell has quite a number of women attending his socialist meetings, but Candida's claim is that the reason they do this is because they are in love with him. Sure, this may actually be the truth, but we must also remember that this is coming from the mouth of Candida, in much the same way that Marchbank's (the poet) claim that Candida is in love with him turns out to be false. In a way a number of the conflicts that arise in this play simply arise through people's perceptions.
It is not at all surprising that Proserpina, and the women who attend Morell's talks, are in love with him. I remember when I was in youth group there were a couple of leaders who would regularly stand out the front and deliver talks. Okay, there would be a number of people who would deliver talks, but these two guys caught the attention of the young ladies because they were both single. How do I know – well the young ladies (or at least one of them) told me. There is something, well, sexy about a person that has the confidence to stand out in front of a group of people and deliver a talk, though I am going to add that you do need to do it well – there is no point in being a speaker if you are crap at public speaking – you aren't going to impress anybody.
The first time I read this play I was wandering whether it was going to end well (Candida remains with Morell) or end badly (Candida goes with Marchbank). Since this play is included in a collection of plays called 'Plays Pleasant' it was probably a dead giveaway that Candida wasn't going to leave Morell (especially since it appears that Morell is actually a pretty nice person). On this second reading, where I picked up on the idea of Prossie's complaint, it became clear that Candida would have been foolish to leave Morell.