Man and Superman

by Pericles Lewis

George Bernard Shaw‘s play Man and Superman revolves around a typical Shavian love plot: the orphaned Ann Whitefield wants to marry her youthful guardian Jack Tanner, despite his reputation as a revolutionist (Shaw published the “revolutionist’s handbook” ostensibly written by Tanner in the printed version of the play).  She pursues him to Spain, where he is briefly taken prisoner by a group of brigands who spend their spare time debating political philosophy.  What makes the play unusual is the lengthy third act, a dream sequence published separately as “Don Juan in Hell,” and seldom performed.  Unlike the contemporary dream plays of August Strindberg, “Don Juan in Hell” follows a logical sequence.  The dream is Tanner’s.  In it, figures from Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni, who correspond to the characters in Shaw’s play, debate the nature of marriage and the coming of the (Nietzschean) superman.  Although Tanner aspires to superman status, he eventually decides to submit to the “Life Force” and marry Ann.  Shaw’s feminism competes here with his dedication to hero worship; this time the result is the expected comic one.[1]

  1. ↑ This page has been adapted from Pericles Lewis’s Cambridge Introduction to Modernism (Cambridge UP, 2007), p. 202-3.