Relations Between the Sexes in the Plays of George Bernard Shaw

Author: Pagliaro, Harold
Examines the many heterosexual configurations in the plays and to demonstrate by the accumulation of evidence that the actions of Shaw’s chief characters are typically the result of their sexual concerns, often coupled with issues of principle. This book is a must for all Shaw specialists and will be of great interest to teachers and students of English and Continental drama and literature of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.


"... given Shaw's genius for the stage, one should indeed find expect a rich and varied exploration of male-female sexuality in his work. And this is precisely what Pagliaro finds in and documents so well in this illuminating study ... Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty." - CHOICE

“Granted that Shaw’s sexuality and his expression of it are not usual, but can only latent homosexuality account for this? Granted that Shaw sometimes radiates sexual ambivalence, but is the choice necessarily between hetero and homo? Or is that just our age speaking? Harold Pagliaro, Professor Emeritus at Swarthmore College, has been wondering the same things, and he has decided that the answer, if there is one, is more likely in the work than in the life, Shaw’s works being where, presumably, the unconscious works its miracles of self-revelation. When Shaw said that he had no more real control over his characters “than I have over my wife,” this is further good news for the critic who thinks he’s likely to get more honest answers by studying the work rather than the life. And such a descriptive method as Pagliaro uses excuses him, he hopes, from the biographer’s playing of God or mind-reading. He describes the plays from the outside as much as possible, not from presuppositions about the author’s mind or divinations of intention or hidden motive. Looking at the plays with laser-like focus, then, Pagliaro finds overwhelming evidence of a fundamentally heterosexual dynamics at work, with not the slightest suggestion of homosexual code, as occurs in Oscar Wilde’s plays….. Pagliaro is aware of what an elusive and various character Shaw was and how experimental-minded he was, and that there is always the evidence of Shaw’s moral neutrality in his support of Oscar Wilde during his darkest hours, so he does not go so far as to claim that he has shut the door forever on speculations about Shaw’s sexuality. He knows too that Shaw had no aspirations to be thought usual, and, in fact, would perhaps roguishly prefer that we not put anything past him. And he knows that Shaw himself happily supplied enough loose threads for any deconstructor who wishes to pull on them. Yet Pagliaro has made the case as solid as it can be made that the large design of Shaw’s life, insofar as reflected in his plays, was overwhelmingly heterosexual, and that insofar as Shaw felt any sexual ambivalence, it was between hetero and no-no rather than between hetero and homo.” – (From the Commendatory Preface) R. F. Dietrich, Professor Emeritus, University of South Florida; Florida Shaw Series Editor for the University Press of Florida; and President of the International Shaw Society

"Pagliaro's portrait of a complex, multi-layered, sensual Shaw is eloquent and convincing." - Prof. Brendan Kennelly, Trinity College, Dublin

Table of Contents

Setting the Stage
A Brief Look at Sexuality in Shaw’s Plays
Lovers Coupled by the Life Force
Truncated Love
Mothers, Sons, Fathers, Daughters
The Sexuality of Shaw’s Prophets