George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) was a playwright and polemicist born in Dublin, though he spent most of his life in London. He is perhaps best-known for his play Pygmalion, which was successfully adapted as a musical entitled My Fair Lady by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe in 1956. Shaw initially worked as a clerk in an estate agency in Dublin and was quite successful, but he found the work so dissatisfactory that he abandoned the profession and moved to London when he was nearing his twentieth birthday. In the mid-1880s, Shaw embraced socialism and began to promote it through journalism and speeches. Shaw was a dynamic public speaker and drew large crowds, but he refused payment for his speeches.
In 1884, William Archer suggested to Shaw that they write a play together and Shaw found his true calling. He embarked on a successful dramatic career, writing plays such as Major Barbara (1905) and Androcles and the Lion (1912). With the outbreak of World War I, Shaw took a break from writing plays in order to write a political pamphlet, Common Sense about the War, in which he critiqued Britain as well as Germany and Austria, advocating for peace. Shaw’s pamphlet was decried for being unpatriotic and he was an unpopular figure for a period of time. However, by the end of the war, Shaw had returned to favor. Shaw won the Nobel Prize in 1925 and continued to write plays until his death.
Special Collections’ George Bernard Shaw Ephemera is a small collection that comprises a single manuscript box, but its materials are valuable for scholars nonetheless. The collection contains handwritten and typed correspondence between William D. Cox and Shaw, as well as a typed letter from Cox’s publisher to Cox. The collection also contains theatre programs of productions of Shaw’s plays and photocopies of press cuttings of articles by and about Shaw.