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Discuss Shaw’s Candida As A Serious Comedy


Though Shaw was a very serious playwright who used his plays as a vehicle of his philosophy, his comic spirit pervades all his plays like an atmosphere. In fact, sometimes this comic spirit takes such a hold of Shaw that he finds it difficult to control it. Candida, like most other plays of Shaw, is neither a tragedy nor a comedy. It is a new kind of comedy, the serious comedy and its chief interest hinges on its serio - comic element. Its purpose is serious - the discussion of a number of social problems - but the discussion is carried on in vein of light comedy, and even the most serious matters are treated wittily and humorously. In this way, George Bernard Shaw has become the inventor and founder of a new kind of comedy, the serious comedy.

Discuss Shaw’s Candida As A Serious Comedy
Discuss Shaw’s Candida As A Serious Comedy

Shaw's Attacking on Marriage and Domestic Life: 

Shaw has attacked the economic system of society as revealed through the institution of marriage. Marriage is founded on a sexual contract between man and woman and the economic slavery of the latter. It is a drama of real passion and action. Candida's husband is a highly respectable member of the society. In private life he is an ideal and devoted husband. His wife is a treasure to him. But what he actually is, is gradually revealed to him through the course of the events of a normal day. He really is a parasite on his wife. She works for him like a slave to keep him happy, contented and undisturbed to carry on his duties as a clergyman and propagandist for the cause of socialism. Shaw has shown that domestic life is ignoble as it is based on the exploitation of women, and that the doctrine of male superiority is a mere myth invented for the domination and exploitation of women, and it condemns the fair - sex to a life of economic slavery. This problem is shown as the real problem facing the characters. The life of Eugene and Morell is apparently happy, but hollow and ignoble in reality, and this contrast is clearly brought out when it is faced with disintegration after the approach of Marchbanks. 

A Glaring Contradiction in Morell's Personality, the Source of Serio-comic Treatment: 

There is a glaring contradiction in Morell's personality, between his generosity and narrowness, between his strength and weakness. Morell is an ideal husband in his life with Candida and he is esteemed in society as a highly respectable gentleman. He is extremely devoted to his wife. But it is gradually disclosed that his wife has to do all the drudgery of the household so that he may be free from care and get leisure for his noble mission of preaching Christianity and Socialism. Morell is full of contradictions. As a socialist, he preaches equality, but he treats his wife as a slave. He believes in Christian piety, but he exploits women. He is the main support of socialists, but for his support he depends on his wife. He has external strength, but he is a victim of inner weakness. 

Morell's Possessiveness of Love: 

Morell keeps himself aloof from the traits of a typical jealous husband. Neither he drives away his rival nor does he punish and confine his wife. Instead, he puts before his wife a free choice. Either she can live with her husband or flee with her lover. Yet this proposal also betrays his fundamental weakness. It shows that his love for Candida is different from the poet's devotion to her. On the contrary, the poet feels that there is hardly any contradiction in two persons being devoted to the same woman. There is a glaring contrast to the attitude of the husband who frets and fumes and cries out. “Out with it: my wife is my wife.” He shows his generosity and broadmindedness by leaving his wife in the custody of Eugene, but he betrays his weakness and his narrowness, when, on his return, he appeals to his rival, saying: 

“Eugene: if that is not a heartless lie - if you have a spark of human feeling left in you, will you tell me that has happened during my absence?” 

A Serious Comedy, Dealing with Social Problem in a Serious Spirit: 

The play Candida is a serious comedy which deals with a social problem in a grave spirit, and the man to whom the problem occurs is an honourable gentleman who faces it in a grave and dignified manner. Not only are his dealings with his wife masked by the highest sense of propriety but he also believes that he is passionately fond of her. In fact, the intensity of his feeling for Candida, makes him a pathetic, almost a tragic figure. But in spite of all these sublimities, Shaw never loses sight of the ludicrous aspect of his characters. Morell is too much a man of the earth to reach the sublime heights of tragedy, and the presence of Candida and Eugene is a constant reminder of the comic side of the drama. Shaw's Exposing the Hollowness of Conventional Respectability and its Ideal of Happiness: If Candida had eloped with her lover, it would have been a sensational, melodramatic ending. But Shaw adopts the more dramatic method of attacking domestic life from within. Instead of fleeing with Eugene, Candida prefers to return to her husband, and to live as the respectable wife of a respectable husband. But we know things are not what they seem, that the more respectable they seem on a superficial level, the more hollow does their happiness appear to be. Though they live in happiness, there is no nobility in it. It is the poet alone who has learnt to live without happiness, who knows that life is nobler than that. The difference between nobility without happiness and happiness without nobility has been brought out in Candida's desire to live with her husband and the poet dashing forth into the unknown with the secret in his heart , which the husband and the wife do not understand. 

Thus, it can finally be observed that G. B. Shaw first creates an ideal state of married life, which appears convincing to ordinary men. After that he attacks and exposes the hollowness of the ideals of marriage one by one. Finally, he presents his views directly or with subtle ingenuity. Shaw aims at completely purging the society of all these senseless conception.