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Man and Superman

Don Juan in Hell

a play by Bernard Shaw, first published in 1903, first performed (without Act 3) in 1905; Act 3, Don Juan in Hell, was first presented, as a one-act play, in 1907. This is a witty variation on the Don Juan story, in which the brilliant John Tanner, a progressive thinker with distinct similarities to Shaw himself, is relentlessly if slyly pursued by a woman determined to make him her husband, Ann Whitefield. When Tanner is made aware of her intentions by his chauffeur Straker (an example of H. G. Wells's ‘new man’) he flees by motor-car to Spain, where he is captured by brigands and discovered by Ann, who has followed him. The play ends with her announcing their engagement and his surrendering to a fate he realizes is inevitable. There is also a sub-plot, involving Ann's tough-minded friend Violet and her secret marriage to the son of an American millionaire, Hector Malone. The story is full of coincidences and melodramatic happenings, but there is invariably something ironic or paradoxical about them. The brigands, for instance, are political thinkers. The heroine, not the hero, takes all the romantic initiatives. Tanner's emotional defeat by Ann is also the victory of one ‘life-force’ over another, of the female need to perpetuate the species over the male desire for intellectual accomplishment. Still more incongruously, Act 3 is a dream-debate, ‘Don Juan in Hell’, in which Tanner, or Juan, puts the case for the aspiring intellect and the Devil for conventional happiness. The play as a whole is heavily imbued with Shavian metaphysics, and this particular sequence was described by its author as ‘a new book of Genesis for the Bible of the Evolutionists’.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Madras House to Harriet Martineau Biography