Engaging with critical discourses on new media’s impact on conceptions of the body, voice, and gender, Sos Eltis will read Pygmalion (1912) and Village Wooing (1933) as meditations on the unfixed and multiple nature of modern identity. In her paper, “Disembodied Voices: the Phonograph, the Telephone, and the Question of Identity,” Eltis will argue that Shaw uses the phonograph and telephone to separate the voice from the body on stage, while exploring the social value of speech — not only as a marker of class, but also as a facet of identity. Linking Liza Doolittle’s and Z’s upper-class masquerades to the Pygmalion myth and to classic and contemporary Cinderella stories (including Cicely Hamilton’s 1908 hit feminist play Diana of Dobson’s), Eltis will analyze how Shaw’s theatrical experimentation with new media challenges the primary value given to women’s bodies in the myths, and so becomes a means of investigating modern identity. Exploring the relation between new technologies, women’s bodies, and voices, Eltis will track what she argues is a complex intertextual conversation between these plays and Man and Superman (1903), with its “imagined” bodies in Hell. Finally, she will suggest that Village Wooing is best considered in relation to another new medium — radio — and that the play can be understood both as a mis-staged radio play, and as a comic ‘afterlude’ to the metaphysical debates of Man and Superman.
Jonathan Goldman will continue the session’s investigation of Shaw in the 1930s begun in Eltis’s analysis of Village Wooing. In his paper, “Lunching with G.B.: The Art of Shavian Self-caricature,” Goldman will examine the role of print culture in creating GBS as a celebrity. Tracing the emergence of GBS and the adjective “Shavian” in mass-reproducible caricatures, in the paratexts published with his plays, and in reports of encounters with Shaw printed in a range of formats, Goldman will argue that these textualized versions of Shaw contribute to a persona that simultaneously courts and resists modernist celebrity. Shaw, that is, employs the mechanics of celebrity to create an easily consumable version of himself even as he critiques its own reductions — a dynamic made visible by the media Goldman will scrutinize. He will pay particular attention to Shaw’s relationship with Max Beerbohm, which began with Shaw’s successful solicitation of the artist as his de facto publicist. Beerbohm’s caricatures — including one that depicts Shaw standing on his head, as if to do anything to gain the artist’s attention — serve as early contributors to Shaw’s global renown. Beerbohm also participated in generating the term “Shavian,” the history and varying valences of which Goldman will treat, noting that Shaw himself spurred the use and rise of the term in his writings. Goldman will conclude by assessing popular magazine interviews with Shaw in the period in which his stature had reached a zenith of such height that even his habit of lunching publicly became a story fit for (mass) print.
John Wyver’s paper will shift the panel’s attention to the immediate prewar and postwar periods, in which Shaw was a favored writer for the fledgling medium of television. In “The Shavian Screen: the Embrace of Bernard Shaw by the Early Intermedial Forms of British Television,” Wyver will draw on production records from the BBC’s Written Archives Centre and on contemporary reviews to answer the question of why Shaw’s plays were so frequently and significantly produced in the medium’s early days. Despite no play by Shaw having been presented on British television since 1991, in his adopted country he still remains the medium’s second most-performed dramatist. Having been described by one critic as “the ideal radio dramatist,” Shaw quickly became a preferred writer for television, and his work was often called on to mark important occasions. On the day in June 1946 when the television service returned to the air, the BBC mounted The Dark Lady of the Sonnets; Saint Joan opened a small-screen season for the Festival of Britain in 1951; and the following year the television service gave over five consecutive Tuesday evenings to the rarely staged cycle of futuristic speculation, Back to Methuselah. While Wyver will note the popularity of Shaw’s plays on the British stage during this period, he will argue that their strong presence on television can be accounted for by their unique suitability for what was then an “intermedial” broadcasting format, one which drew heavily on radio, the theatre, and the music-hall for both its form and content. Wyver will demonstrate that only in the late 1950s did British television begin to establish its own specificities as a medium, and as it did so, its interest in Shaw rapidly declined.