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"Caesar and Cleopatra":

- the 20th century literature is characterized by a rebirth of dramatic interest both in


Great Britain and in the United States. In England the influence of Ibsen made itself
strongly felt in the problem plays of G.B. Shaw and in the realism of John Galsworthy
and Somerset Maugham. T.S. Eliot revived and enriched the verse drama, John
Osborne expressed the rebellious attitude of the "Angry Young Men" in Look Back in
Anger. Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller gave America a serious
drama, with modern features, influenced by the European experiments.
- the modern "drama of ideas" is exemplified in the plays of Ibsen, Shaw, Galsworthy,
and many others. The problem plays represent in dramatic form a general social
problem, a philosophic idea, shown as it is confronted by or must be solved by the
protagonist.
- Shaw's plays are conflicts of ideas and his characters prime reason for existence is to
put forward these ideas. His heroes were often created as mouthpieces for the
playwright's ideas. They tend to make a lot of witty, intellectual speeches through which
Shaw's ideas are conveyed to the audience.
- the true subject of a debate drama being an idea, the events in the plot are less
important. Shaw said about his plots: "Shavian plots are as silly as Shakespearean plots
and, like Shakespeare's they are all stolen from other writers".
the innovatory technique is based on reversal: Shaw takes a familiar theatrical type or
situation and reverses it so that his audience is forced to reassess things radically. In
Caesar and Cleopatra Shaw reverses the traditional view on the two legendary
characters. His Caesar has no trace of heroism and grandeur. He looks like an old
gentleman, a well-educated member of the English middle-class, endowed with a sense
of dry humour. Cleopatra, the glamorous, ambitious and clever Queen of Egypt,
appears in Shaw's play as a rather common, timid young girl who has nothing from the
majestic figure of the legendary queen.
-in Shaw's plays paradox is the most important comical device.
Shaw's reinterpretation of history:
Shaw's historical plays deglamorize history, underlining the discrepancy between the
legend surrounding historical personalities and the reality that lies beneath the "myth".
The technique of reversal functions with great comic effect when applied to famous
historical characters like Caesar and Cleopatra. Caesar, far from being a heroic figure,
is seen by Cleopatra as an elderly gentleman, who cannot scare even a girl. What is
even funnier, he is told by a girl (for that is Cleopatra's image in Shaw's play) how to
govern: "You are very sentimental, Caesar; but you are clever; and if you do as I tell
you, you will soon learn to govern".
G.B. Shaw explained in his Notes to Caesar and Cleopatra that he intended "to produce
an impression of greatness by exhibiting Caesar as a man, not mortifying his nature by
doing his duty, but as simply doing what he naturally wants to do".