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Candida, a comedy by playwright George Bernard Shaw, was written in 1894 and first published in 1898, as part of his Plays Pleasant. The central characters are clergyman James Morell, his wife Candida and a youthful poet, Eugene Marchbanks, who tries to win Candida's affections. The play questions Victorian notions of love and marriage, asking what a woman really desires from her husband. The cleric is a Christian Socialist, allowing Shaw—himself a Fabian Socialist—to weave political issues, current at the time, into the story.
Shaw attempted but failed to have a production of the play put on in the 1890s. However, in late 1903 actor Arnold Daly had such a great success with the play that Shaw would write by 1904 that New York was seeing "an outbreak of Candidamania." The play would soon be done in a notable London production, when, in 1904, The Royal Court Theatre performed it in six matinees. The same theatre would go on to successfully stage several of Shaw's plays from 1904 to 1907, including further revivals of Candida.
In order of appearance
Miss Proserpine Garnett
The Reverend James Mavor Morell
The Reverend Alexander (Lexy) Mill
The play is set in the north-east suburbs of London in the month of October. It tells the story of Candida, the wife of a first-rate clergyman, the Reverend James Mavor Morell. Morell is a Christian Socialist, popular in the Church of England, but Candida is responsible for much of his success. Candida returns home briefly from a trip to London with Eugene Marchbanks, a young poet who wants to rescue her from what he presumes to be her dull family life. Marchbanks is in love with Candida and believes she deserves something more than just complacency from her husband. He considers her divine, and his love eternal. In his view, it is quite improper and humiliating for Candida to have to attend to petty household chores. Morell believes Candida needs his care and protection, but the truth is quite the contrary. Ultimately, Candida must choose between the two gentlemen. She reasserts her preference for the "weaker of the two" who, after a momentary uncertainty, turns out to be her husband Morrell.
Criticism and interpretation
In Bernard Shaw and the Aesthetes, Elsie Bonita Adams has given this assessment of Marchbanks, comparing him to two real-life artists:
Though Marchbanks has many of the external characteristics and some of the attitudes of the aesthete-artist such as Sholto Douglas or Adrian Herbert, he does not pay mere lip-service to art, his sensitivity is no pose, and he tries to rid himself of illusions.
Shaw himself describes Eugene's story-arc as a realization that Candida is not at all what he wants from life, that the kind of domestic love she could provide "is essentially the creature of limitations which are far transcended in his own nature". When Eugene departs into the night, it is not "the night of despair and darkness but the free air and holy starlight which is so much more natural an atmosphere to him than this stuffy fireside warmth of mothers and sisters and wives and so on". Eugene, according to Shaw, "is really a god going back to his heaven, proud, unspeakably contemptuous of the 'happiness' he envied in the days of his blindness, clearly seeing that he has higher business on hand than Candida". For her part, Candida is "very immoral" and completely misreads Eugene's transformation over the course of the play.
In 2003 the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation broadcast a production of the play.
Famed actress Katharine Cornell played the lead role on Broadway in five different productions, the last four of which were for her own production company. She was the actress most closely associated with this role, and Shaw stated that because of her success, she had created "an ideal British Candida in my imagination" as she essentially re-envisioned the role of Candida, making her the central character in the play. Previously, Candida was not conceived by directors or actresses as important as the issues and themes that Shaw was trying to convey. The first time she played the role in 1924, she was so acclaimed that The Actors' Guild, which controlled the production rights to the play in the United States, forbade any other actress from playing the role while Cornell was still alive. In her final production of 1946, a young Marlon Brando played the role of Marchbanks.
In 2009, Writers' Theatre presented a musical adaptation of the play under the title A Minister's Wife, with music by Josh Schmidt; lyrics by Jan Tranen; book by Austin Pendleton; conceived and directed by Artistic Director Michael Halberstam. The production was critically acclaimed and in 2011, the Lincoln Center mounted a new production of the piece (also directed by Halberstam). The production featured Kate Fry as Candida; Bobby Steggert as Marchbanks; Marc Kudisch as Morell; Liz Baltes as Prossy; and Drew Gehling as Lexy. The production received outstanding notices in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. An original cast recording from PS Classics was released on 30 August.
The West Coast Premiere of the musical adaptation will open June 2013 at The San Jose Reparatory Theater directed by Michael Halberstam.
- Adams, Elsie Bonita, Bernard Shaw and the Aesthetes (Ohio State University Press, 1986, ISBN 0-8142-0155-5), p. 107 at books.google.com, accessed 25 January 2008
- Shaw, letter to William Archer, c. 21 April 1898. Printed in Eight Modern Plays, ed. Anthony Caputi. Norton Critical Ed. New York: Norton, 1991. pp. 489–490.
- Shaw, letter to James Huneker, 6 April 1904. Printed in Eight Modern Plays, ed. Anthony Caputi. Norton Critical Ed. New York: Norton, 1991. pp. 490–491.
- Tad Mosel, Leading Lady: The World and Theatre of Katharine Cornell, Little, Brown & Co., 1978
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