Harley Granville-Barker Biography
(1877–1946), Man and Superman, Prefaces to Shakespeare, The Marrying of Ann Leete, The Voysey Inheritance, Waste
British playwright, scholar, and critic, born in London, the son of a property speculator; he rose to eminence in the Edwardian theatre. He created the character of Tanner in Man and Superman, played leading roles in other plays by Shaw, and did much to prove the value of the repertory system during the period from 1905 to 1907, when he co-managed the Royal Court Theatre. In later years he turned to lecturing and writing, most importantly his Prefaces to Shakespeare (1927–47). On his death, Shaw described him as ‘altogether the most distinguished and incomparably the most cultivated person whom circumstances had driven into the theatre at that time’, meaning the first decade of the century, when all his major plays were written. These are The Marrying of Ann Leete (1901), about the daughter of an eighteenth-century politician who rejects a highly convenient aristocratic suitor for marriage to her father's gardener; The Voysey Inheritance (1905), in which a corrupt London solicitor dies, leaving his right-minded son to cope with the defalcations and debts he has inherited; Waste (1907), banned by the Lord Chamberlain for the candour with which it described the predicament of a leading politician whose mistress dies after an abortion; and The Madras House (1910), which uses the sale of a drapery store to air ideas about the place of women in Edwardian society. Granville-Barker's plays were criticized in their time for being too intellectual, subtle, and untheatrical. His later work, such as The Secret Life (1922) and His Majesty (1923), tends to substantiate that view. However, the four earlier plays have been successfully revived by the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company, winning general approval for the sweep and insight Granville-Barker brought to social and political themes seldom treated in the theatre of his day.