Man and Superman

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Man and Superman in Royal Court Theatre 1906.

Man and Superman (1903) by George Bernard Shaw is a four act drama, written as a response to those who had questioned Shaw as to why he had never written a play based on the Don Juan theme.


Epistle Dedicatory[edit]

George Bernard Shaw (1903), Man and Superman, Epistle Dedicatory.

  • The schoolboy who uses his Homer to throw at his fellow's head makes perhaps the safest and most rational use of him than any one ever will.
    • p. xxi
  • Our political experiment of democracy, the last refuge of cheap misgovernment, will ruin us if our citizens are ill bred.
    • p. xxi
  • Progress can do nothing but make the most of us all as we are…
    • p. xxiv
  • We must either breed political capacity or be ruined by Democracy, which was forced on us by the failure of the older alternatives. Yet if Despotism failed only for want of a capable benevolent despot, what chance has Democracy, which requires a whole population of capable voters.
    • p. xxiv
  • This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.
    • p. xxxii
  • Bunyan's perception that righteousness is filthy rags, his scorn for Mr Legality in the village of Morality, his defiance of the Church as the supplanter of religion, his insistence on courage as the virtue of virtues, his estimate of the career of the conventionally respectable and sensible Worldly Wiseman as no better at bottom than the life and death of Mr Badman: all this, expressed by Bunyan in the terms of a tinker's theology, is what Nietzsche has expressed in terms of post-Darwinian, post-Schopenhaurian philosophy; Wagner in terms of polytheistic mythology; and Ibsen in terms of mid-XIX century Parisian dramaturgy.
    • p. xxxii

Act I[edit]

George Bernard Shaw (1903), Man and Superman, Act I

  • A lifetime of happiness! No man alive could bear it: it would be hell on earth.
    • p. 11
  • The more things a man is ashamed of, the more respectable he is.
    • p. 13
  • The true artist will let his wife starve, his children go barefoot, his mother drudge for his living at seventy, sooner than work at anything but his art.
    • p. 22; Tanner
  • Since marriage began, the great artist has been known as a bad-boy husband. But he is worse: he is a child-robber, a bloodsucker, a hypocrite and a cheat. Perish the race and wither a thousand women if only the sacrifice of them enable him to act Hamlet better, to paint a finer picture, to write a deeper poem, a greater play, a profounder philosophy!
    • p. 23; Tanner

Act II[edit]

George Bernard Shaw (1903), Man and Superman, Act II

  • Octavius [earnestly]: I believe most intensely in the dignity of labor.
    Straker [unimpressed]: That's because you never done any, Mr Robinson.
    • p. 51
  • ... the book about the bird and the bee is natural history. It's an awful lesson to mankind. You think that you are Ann's suitor; that you are the pursuer and she the pursued; that it is your part to woo, to persuade, to prevail, to overcome. Fool: it is you who are the pursued, the marked down quarry, the destined prey. You need not sit looking longingly at the bait through the wires of the trap: the door is open, and will remain so until it shuts behind you for ever.
    • p. 53; Tanner
  • Marry Ann; and at the end of a week you'll find no more inspiration in her than in a plate of muffins.
    • p. 54
  • In short, the way to avoid misunderstanding is for everybody to lie and slander and insinuate and pretend as hard as they can. That is what obeying your mother comes to.
    • p. 59; Tanner
  • As he comes along the drive from the house with Mrs Whitefield he is sedulously making himself agreeable and entertaining, and thereby placing on her slender wit a burden it is unable to bear.
    • p. 62
  • You can be as romantic as you please about love, Hector; but you mustn't be romantic about money.
    • p. 67 Violet

Act III[edit]

  • If we were reasoning, farsighted people, four fifths of us would go straight to the Guardians for relief, and knock the whole social system to pieces with most beneficial reconstructive results. The reason we do not do this is because we work like bees or ants, by instinct or habit, not reasoning about the matter at all. Therefore when a man comes along who can and does reason, and who, applying the Kantian test to his conduct, can truly say to us, If everybody did as I do, the world would be compelled to reform itself industrially, and abolish slavery and squalor, which exist only because everybody does as you do, let us honor that man and seriously consider the advisability of following his example.
  • A movement which is confined to philosophers and honest men can never exercise any real political influence: there are too few of them. Until a movement shows itself capable of spreading among brigands, it can never hope for a political majority.
    • Mendoza
  • Abnormal professions attract two classes: those who are not good enough for ordinary bourgeois life and those who are too good for it. We are dregs and scum, sir: the dregs very filthy, the scum very superior.
    • Mendoza
  • Hell is the home of honor, duty, justice, and the rest of the seven deadly virtues. All the wickedness on earth is done in their name: where else but in hell should they have their reward?
    • Don Juan
  • You may remember that on Earth--though of course we never confessed it--the death of anyone we knew, even those we liked best, was always mingled with a certain satisfaction at being finally done with them.
    • Don Juan
  • Written over the gate here are the words "Leave every hope behind, ye who enter." Only think what a relief that is! For what is hope? A form of moral responsibility. Here there is no hope, and consequently no duty, no work, nothing to be gained by praying, nothing to be lost by doing what you like. Hell, in short, is a place where you have nothing to do but amuse yourself.
    • The Statue
  • I was a hypocrite; and it served me right to be sent to heaven.
    • The Statue
  • ... for Englishmen never will be slaves: they are free to do whatever the Government and public opinion allows them to do.
    • The Devil
  • At every one of those concerts in England you will find rows of weary people who are there, not because they really like classical music, but because they think they ought to like it. Well, there is the same thing in heaven. A number of people sit there in glory, not because they are happy, but because they think they owe it to their position to be in heaven.
    • The Statue
  • The earth is a nursery in which men and women play at being heroes and heroines, saints and sinners; but they are dragged down from their fool's paradise by their bodies: hunger and cold and thirst, age and decay and disease, death above all, make them slaves of reality: thrice a day meals must be eaten and digested: thrice a century a new generation must be engendered: ages of faith, of romance, and of science are all driven at last to have but one prayer "Make me a healthy animal."
    • Don Juan
  • But Heaven cannot be described by metaphor. Thither I shall go presently, because there I hope to escape at last from lies and from the tedious, vulgar pursuit of happiness, to spend my eons in contemplation.
    • Don Juan
  • Senor Commander: I do not blame your disgust: a picture gallery is a dull place for a blind man. But even as you enjoy the contemplation of such romantic mirages as beauty and pleasure; so would I enjoy the contemplation of that which interests me above all things namely, Life: the force that ever strives to attain greater power of contemplating itself. What made this brain of mine, do you think? Not the need to move my limbs; for a rat with half my brains moves as well as I. Not merely the need to do, but the need to know what I do, lest in my blind efforts to live I should be slaying myself.
    • Don Juan
  • What a piece of work is man! says the poet. Yes: but what a blunderer! Here is the highest miracle of organization yet attained by life, the most intensely alive thing that exists, the most conscious of all the organisms; and yet, how wretched are his brains! Stupidity made sordid and cruel by the realities learnt from toil and poverty: Imagination resolved to starve sooner than face these realities, piling up illusions to hide them, and calling itself cleverness, genius! And each accusing the other of its own defect: Stupidity accusing Imagination of folly, and Imagination accusing Stupidity of ignorance: whereas, alas! Stupidity has all the knowledge, and Imagination all the intelligence.
    • Don Juan
  • And a pretty kettle of fish they make of it between them. Did I not say, when I was arranging that affair of Faust's, that all Man's reason has done for him is to make him beastlier than any beast. One splendid body is worth the brains of a hundred dyspeptic, flatulent philosophers.
    • The Devil
  • And is Man any the less destroying himself for all this boasted brain of his? Have you walked up and down upon the earth lately? I have; and I have examined Man's wonderful inventions. And I tell you that in the arts of life man invents nothing; but in the arts of death he outdoes Nature herself, and produces by chemistry and machinery all the slaughter of plague, pestilence and famine.
    The peasant I tempt to-day eats and drinks what was eaten and drunk by the peasants of ten thousand years ago; and the house he lives in has not altered as much in a thousand centuries as the fashion of a lady's bonnet in a score of weeks.
    But when he goes out to slay, he carries a marvel of mechanism that lets loose at the touch of his finger all the hidden molecular energies, and leaves the javelin, the arrow, the blowpipe of his fathers far behind.
    • The Devil
  • In the arts of peace Man is a bungler. I have seen his cotton factories and the like, with machinery that a greedy dog could have invented if it had wanted money instead of food. I know his clumsy typewriters and bungling locomotives and tedious bicycles: they are toys compared to the Maxim gun, the submarine torpedo boat. There is nothing in Man's industrial machinery but his greed and sloth: his heart is in his weapons. This marvellous force of Life of which you boast is a force of Death: Man measures his strength by his destructiveness.
    • The Devil
  • What is his religion? An excuse for hating ME. What is his law? An excuse for hanging YOU. What is his morality? Gentility! an excuse for consuming without producing. What is his art? An excuse for gloating over pictures of slaughter. What are his politics? Either the worship of a despot because a despot can kill, or parliamentary cockfighting.
    • The Devil
  • ...Man, the inventor of the rack, the stake, the gallows, and the electrocutor; of the sword and gun; above all, of justice, duty, patriotism and all the other isms by which even those who are clever enough to be humanely disposed are persuaded to become the most destructive of all the destroyers.
    • The Devil
  • Man gives every reason for his conduct save one, every excuse for his crimes save one, every plea for his safety save one; and that one is his cowardice. Yet all his civilization is founded on his cowardice, on his abject tameness, which he calls his respectability. There are limits to what a mule or an ass will stand; but Man will suffer himself to be degraded until his vileness becomes so loathsome to his oppressors that they themselves are forced to reform it.
    • Don Juan
  • Man, who in his own selfish affairs is a coward to the backbone, will fight for an idea like a hero. He may be abject as a citizen; but he is dangerous as a fanatic. He can only be enslaved whilst he is spiritually weak enough to listen to reason.
    • Don Juan
  • When the military man approaches, the world locks up its spoons and packs off its womankind. No: I sing, not arms and the hero, but the philosophic man: he who seeks in contemplation to discover the inner will of the world, in invention to discover the means of fulfilling that will, and in action to do that will by the so-discovered means."
    • Don Juan
  • The confusion of marriage with morality has done more to destroy the conscience of the human race than any other single error.
    • Don Juan
  • Those who talk most about the blessings of marriage and the constancy of its vows are the very people who declare that if the chain were broken and the prisoners left free to choose, the whole social fabric would fly asunder. You cannot have the argument both ways. If the prisoner is happy, why lock him in? If he is not, why pretend that he is?
    • Don Juan
  • I have had my share of vanity; for as a young man I was admired by women; and as a statue I am praised by art critics.
    • The Statue
  • Your friends are all the dullest dogs I know. They are not beautiful: they are only decorated. They are not clean: they are only shaved and starched. They are not dignified: they are only fashionably dressed. They are not educated they are only college passmen. They are not religious: they are only pewrenters. They are not moral: they are only conventional. They are not virtuous: they are only cowardly. They are not even vicious: they are only "frail." They are not artistic: they are only lascivious. They are not prosperous: they are only rich. They are not loyal, they are only servile; not dutiful, only sheepish; not public spirited, only patriotic; not courageous, only quarrelsome; not determined, only obstinate; not masterful, only domineering; not self-controlled, only obtuse; not self-respecting, only vain; not kind, only sentimental; not social, only gregarious; not considerate, only polite; not intelligent, only opinionated; not progressive, only factious; not imaginative, only superstitious; not just, only vindictive; not generous, only propitiatory; not disciplined, only cowed; and not truthful at all--liars every one of them, to the very backbone of their souls.
    • Don Juan
  • Yes, it is mere talk. But why is it mere talk? Because, my friend, beauty, purity, respectability, religion, morality, art, patriotism, bravery and the rest are nothing but words which I or anyone else can turn inside out like a glove. Were they realities, you would have to plead guilty to my indictment; but fortunately for your self-respect, my diabolical friend, they are not realities. As you say, they are mere words, useful for duping barbarians into adopting civilization, or the civilized poor into submitting to be robbed and enslaved. That is the family secret of the governing caste; and if we who are of that caste aimed at more Life for the world instead of at more power and luxury for our miserable selves, that secret would make us great.
    • Don Juan
  • Here there is nothing but love and beauty. Ugh! it is like sitting for all eternity at the first act of a fashionable play, before the complications begin. Never in my worst moments of superstitious terror on earth did I dream that Hell was so horrible. I live, like a hairdresser, in the continual contemplation of beauty, toying with silken tresses. I breathe an atmosphere of sweetness, like a confectioner's shopboy.
    • Don Juan
  • ... men get tired of everything, of heaven no less than of hell; and that all history is nothing but a record of the oscillations of the world between these two extremes. An epoch is but a swing of the pendulum; and each generation thinks the world is progressing because it is always moving. But when you are as old as I am; when you have a thousand times wearied of heaven, like myself and the Commander, and a thousand times wearied of hell, as you are wearied now, you will no longer imagine that every swing from heaven to hell is an emancipation, every swing from hell to heaven an evolution. Where you now see reform, progress, fulfilment of upward tendency, continual ascent by Man on the stepping stones of his dead selves to higher things, you will see nothing but an infinite comedy of illusion. You will discover the profound truth of the saying of my friend Koheleth, that there is nothing new under the sun. Vanitas vanitatum.
    • The Devil
  • Were I not possessed with a purpose beyond my own I had better be a ploughman than a philosopher; for the ploughman lives as long as the philosopher, eats more, sleeps better, and rejoices in the bosom of his wife with less misgiving.
    • Don Juan
  • The philosopher is Nature's pilot. And there you have our difference: to be in hell is to drift: to be in heaven is to steer.
    • Don Juan
  • Well, well, go your way, Senor Don Juan. I prefer to be my own master and not the tool of any blundering universal force. I know that beauty is good to look at; that music is good to hear; that love is good to feel; and that they are all good to think about and talk about. I know that to be well exercised in these sensations, emotions, and studies is to be a refined and cultivated being. Whatever they may say of me in churches on earth, I know that it is universally admitted in good society that the prince of Darkness is a gentleman; and that is enough for me.
    • The Devil
  • As to your Life Force, which you think irresistible, it is the most resistible thing in the world for a person of any character. But if you are naturally vulgar and credulous, as all reformers are, it will thrust you first into religion, where you will sprinkle water on babies to save their souls from me; then it will drive you from religion into science, where you will snatch the babies from the water sprinkling and inoculate them with disease to save them from catching it accidentally; then you will take to politics, where you will become the catspaw of corrupt functionaries and the henchman of ambitious humbugs; and the end will be despair and decrepitude, broken nerve and shattered hopes, vain regrets for that worst and silliest of wastes and sacrifices, the waste and sacrifice of the power of enjoyment: in a word, the punishment of the fool who pursues the better before he has secured the good.
    • The Devil
  • Beware of the pursuit of the Superhuman: it leads to an indiscriminate contempt for the Human.
    • The Devil
  • This Don Juan was kind to women and courteous to men as your daughter here was kind to her pet cats and dogs; but such kindness is a denial of the exclusively human character of the soul.
    • The Devil
  • ANA. ...Tell me where can I find the Superman?
    THE DEVIL. He is not yet created, Senora.
    THE STATUE. And never will be, probably[...]
    ANA. Not yet created! Then my work is not yet done. [Crossing herself devoutly] I believe in the Life to Come. [Crying to the universe] A father--a father for the Superman!
  • [between his teeth] Goon. Talk politics, you idiots: nothing sounds more respectable. Keep it up, I tell you.
    • Mendoza
  • Hell is full of musical amateurs. Music is the brandy of the damned.
  • An Englishman thinks he is moral when he is only uncomfortable.
  • What is virtue but the Trade Unionism of the married?
    • p. 121

Act IV[edit]

  • There are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart's desire. The other is to get it.
    • p.174; Statement by Mendoza[1], who some have declared an Oscar Wilde-like figure; this line is apparently derived from one of Wilde's in Act III of Lady Windermere's Fan (1892): In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.

Maxims for Revolutionists[edit]

George Bernard Shaw (1903), Man and Superman, Maxims for Revolutionists

  • Do not do unto others as you would that they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same.
    Never resist temptation: prove all things: hold fast that which is good.
    Do not love your neighbor as yourself. If you are on good terms with yourself it is an impertinence: if on bad, an injury.
    The golden rule is that there are no golden rules.
    • p. 227 The Golden Rule
  • The art of government is the organization of idolatry.
    • p. 227 Idolatry
  • Kings are not born: they are made by universal hallucination.
    • p. 228 Royalty
  • Democracy substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few.
    • p. 228 Democracy
  • He who confuses political liberty with freedom and political equality with similarity has never thought for five minutes about either.
    • p. 229 Liberty and Equality
  • Nothing can be unconditional: consequently nothing can be free.
    • p. 229 Liberty and Equality
  • Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.
    • p. 229 Liberty and Equality
  • He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.
    • p. 230 Education
  • Activity is the only road to knowledge.
    • p. 230 Education
  • Marriage is popular because it combines the maximum of temptation with the maximum of opportunity.
    • p. 231 Marriage
  • Imprisonment is as irrevocable as death.
    • p. 232 Crime and Punishment
  • It is the deed that teaches, not the name we give it. Murder and capital punishment are not opposites that cancel one another, but similars that breed their kind.
    • p. 232 Crime and Punishment
  • Whilst we have prisons it matters little which of us occupy the cells.
    • p. 232 Crime and Punishment
  • Titles distinguish the mediocre, embarrass the superior, and are disgraced by the inferior.
    • p. 233 Titles
  • There are no perfectly honorable men; but every true man has one main point of honor and a few minor ones.
    • p. 233 Honor
  • Man is the only animal which esteems itself rich in proportion to the number and voracity of its parasites.
    • p. 234 Servants
  • If you strike a child, take care that you strike it in anger, even at the risk of maiming it for life. A blow in cold blood neither can nor should be forgiven.
    • How to Beat Children
  • Beware of the man whose god is in the skies.
    • p. 235 Religion
  • What a man believes may be ascertained, not from his creed, but from the assumptions on which he habitually acts.
    • p. 235 Religion
  • No specific virtue or vice in a man implies the existence of any other specific virtue or vice in him, however closely the imagination may associate them.
    Virtue consists, not in abstaining from vice, but in not desiring it.
    Self-denial is not a virtue : it is only the effect of prudence on rascality.
    Obedience simulates subordination as fear of the police simulates honesty.
    Disobedience, the rarest and most courageous of the virtues, is seldom distinguished from neglect, the laziest and commonest of the vices.
    Vice is waste of life. Poverty, obedience and celibacy are the canonical vices.
    Economy is the art of making the most of life.
    The love of economy is the root of all virtue.
    • p. 235 Virtues and Vices
  • In heaven an angel is nobody in particular.
    • p. 236 Greatness
  • Happiness and beauty are by-products.
    • p. 237 Beauty and Happiness, Art and Riches
  • The unconscious self is the real genius. Your breathing goes wrong the moment your conscious self meddles with it.
    • p. 238 The Unconscious Self
  • The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
    • p. 238 Reason
  • Men are wise in proportion, not to their experience, but to their capacity for experience.
    • p. 239 Experience
  • Hell is paved with good intentions, not with bad ones.
    • p. 239 Good Intentions
  • The right to live is abused whenever it is not constantly challenged.
    • p. 239 Natural Rights
  • Civilization is a disease produced by the practice of building societies with rotten material.
    • p, 241 Civilization
  • Every man over forty is a scoundrel.
    • p. 242 Stray Sayings
  • Youth, which is forgiven everything, forgives itself nothing: age, which forgives itself everything, is forgiven nothing.
    • p. 242 Stray Sayings
  • Take care to get what you like or you will be forced to like what you get. Where there is no ventilation fresh air is declared unwholesome. Where there is no religion hypocrisy becomes good taste. Where there is no knowledge ignorance calls itself science.
    • p. 242 Stray Sayings
  • If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience!
    • p. 243 Stray Sayings
  • Those who understand evil pardon it: those who resent it destroy it.
    • p. 243 Stray Sayings
  • It is dangerous to be sincere unless you are also stupid.
    • p. 243 Stray Sayings
  • Beware of the man who does not return your blow: he neither forgives you nor allows you to forgive yourself.
    • p. 243 Stray Sayings
  • Two starving men cannot be twice as hungry as one; but two rascals can be ten times as vicious as one.
    • p. 243 Stray Sayings
  • Self-sacrifice enables us to sacrifice other people without blushing.
    • p. 243 Self-Sacrifice
  • If you begin by sacrificing yourself to those you love, you will end by hating those to whom you have sacrificed yourself.
    • p. 243 Self-Sacrifice

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