George Bernard Shaw’s Historical Plays by R. N. Roy (auth.)

By R. N. Roy (auth.)

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Many patricians feared that any day might see him proclaimed a king. •11 These things are not the symptoms of a mind that is free from ambitions and averse to worldly glory. On the contrary, these are the symptoms of the megalomania of a mail who has applied himself heart and soul to achieve, by hook or by crook, political and military eminence. Mommsen, who is Shaw's source, has diluted Caesar's rationalism with occasional mysticism and his worldliness with a tinge of unworldliness. Shaw has taken a hint from him and transformed the ambitious adventurer, Caesar, into an unworldly mystic, an exile into this world which he spurns.

Shaw has taken up Caesar's Egyptian war, the most difficult and dangerous war Caesar had ever undertaken, for the theme of his drama. As Roman consul Caesar arrives in Egypt to settle a dynastic dispute between young Ptolemy and his sister-wife Cleopatra and to exact the tribute the father of the two rivals owed to Rome. Soon he finds himself entangled in a dangerous conflict with the Egyptian soldiers, the city mob and the Roman army of occupation under the leadership of Achillas. He is in a foreign country vastly outnumbered by a well equipped and cunning enemy, the north west wind prevailing at this season of the year is unfavourable to him; all his communications by sea have been cut off and he has been deprived of all drinking water; in a short time he and his troops are faced with the danger of imminent destruction.

11. The statement of Allardyce Nicoll that 'Napoleon in The Man of Destiny is nothing more than a successful captain, easily attracted by a pair of blue eyes' seems to be ill·founded (British Drama, p. 438). The Life of Napoleon, p. 76. Napoleon, p. 68. Our Theatres in the Nineties, vol. III, p. 110. Vol. I, p. 409. Recollections, vol. II, pp. 271-3. H. Rose, The Personality of Napoleon (1919), p. 21. Emil Ludwig, Napoleon, p. 71. , p. 72. p. 32. 3. Caesar and Cleopatra I Shaw's second historical play, Caesar and Cleopatra, is a much weightier and more impressive work than his first venture, The Man of Destiny.

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