When the young novelist Bernard Shaw began collaborating with critic William Archer on what would become his first play, Widowers' Houses, he did so in the wake of London's 1885 Housing Act--a measure that enabled the Metropolitan Board of Works to develop homes for the working classes. Although Shaw's partnership with Archer dissolved and the unfinished play was set aside, he returned to it seven years later to see its completion and first production in December 1892. Importantly, the urban-historical context in which the play is situated reveals widespread political and economic corruption at the heart of a city wrestling with the impact of the Industrial Revolution. And yet while Widowers' Houses does not seek to resolve London's housing crisis, the play is indicative of Shaw's increasingly radical aesthetic--and political--assault on the formulaic traditions of Victorian theater. In particular, Widowers' Houses is a paradigmatic example of Shaw's commitment to the artistic and cultural role of theater in relation to London's urban social welfare. As James Woodfield suggests, the play's subtlety unearths shame, and in doing so, reminds its audience of their complacency.1 As a space for the exploration of ideas, theater, for Shaw, provides an outlet for the
SHAW The Annual of Bernard Shaw Studies – Penn State University Press
Published: Sep 11, 2012
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