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Major Barbara


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Gilbert Murray (1866—1957) classical scholar and internationalist

Plato (c. 429—347 bc)

 

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A play by Bernard Shaw, performed 1905, published 1907.

It portrays the conflict between spiritual and worldly power embodied in Barbara, a major in the Salvation Army, and her Machiavellian father, millionaire armaments manufacturer Andrew Undershaft. While visiting her East End shelter for the poor, he reveals that the shelter's benefactor, Lord Saxmundham, made his money through ‘Bodgers' whisky’, and she suffers a crisis of faith; the next day, visiting his factory with her mother Lady Britomart and her fiancé, classical scholar Adolphus Cusins, she is further shaken to discover her father is a model employer. Cusins enters the debate, reveals that he is technically a foundling and therefore eligible to inherit the Undershaft empire (as Undershaft's own children are not), strikes a hard bargain with his prospective father‐in‐law, and agrees to enter the business, partly persuaded by Undershaft's quoting of Plato to the effect that ‘society cannot be saved until either the Professors of Greek take to making gunpowder, or else the makers of gunpowder become Professors of Greek.’ Barbara, recovering her spirits, embraces this synthesis as a possibility of hope for the future. The portrait of Cusins is based on G. Murray.

Subjects: Literature.


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George Bernard Shaw (1856—1950) playwright and polemicist


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