Bernard Shaw and the Subtextual Irish Question

  • Gustavo A. Rodríguez Martín


Bernard Shaw was one of the most prominent writers of his age on the world stage. His political commitment and his sharp, witty tongue made him an authoritative figure on practically every burning question of his time. However, he modulated his outspoken activism when it came to the ‘Irish Question’. In fact, despite being born in Dublin and having a lifelong link with all things Irish, his views on topics such as Irish nationalism and the process by which Ireland gained its independence did not inform his plays and prefaces as a general rule. Unsurprisingly, one can find little material on the aforementioned questions in his dramatic writings outside his only ‘Irish play’, John Bull’s Other Island. All this has resulted in a widespread critical neglect of his plays as part of the Irish literary tradition.

Despite Shaw’s seemingly uninterested stance, there exist a number of subtextual references in two of his major plays (Caesar and Cleopatra and Saint Joan), in which the detached historical setting and the nature of the characters allow him to weave an intricate network of symbolic and allegorical elements (both lexical and phraseological) that can plausibly be linked to the political situation of Ireland. These include anachronistic comparisons with the status of Ireland within the British Empire, the subverted use of contemporary political discourse or religious parallelisms with Ireland, among several others. All of them portray an indirect picture of Shaw’s opinions on the ‘Irish Question’, thus shedding light on and complementing his public political position. Most importantly, these stylistic phenomena reinforce the view that Shaw was genuinely Irish—perhaps in spite of himself.


Bernard Shaw Ireland Nationalism Symbolism Intertextuality 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gustavo A. Rodríguez Martín
    • 1
  1. 1.Universidad de ExtremaduraCáceresSpain

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