Shakes versus Shav

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Shakes versus Shav
Written by George Bernard Shaw
Genre Puppet

Shakes versus Shav (1949) is a puppet play written by George Bernard Shaw. It was Shaw's penultimate dramatic work. The play runs for 20 minutes in performance.

The play was written by Shaw for the Lanchester Marionettes who were based in their own theatre in Foley House, Malvern, Worcestershire, UK. The company's founders, Waldo and Muriel Lanchester, performed regularly in the Malvern Festival. Shaw, having seen their performances over the years, wrote Shakes Versus Shav for the company in 1949.[1] The play comprises a comic argument between the two playwrights, as a form of intellectual equivalent of Punch and Judy.

In 2007 it was revived by Henry Bell at the Orange Tree Theatre with Dudley Hinton and John Paul Connelly playing the parts written for puppets. John Thaxter of The Stage described it as 'history making'.[2]

Plot summary[edit]

William Shakespeare challenges Shaw as an upstart, quoting lines from his own plays. Shaw claims that Macbeth has been bettered by Scott's novel Rob Roy, and "proves" the point by staging a fight between the ghosts of the two Scots, which Rob Roy wins.

Shaw then asserts that Adam Lindsay Gordon has outdone Shakespeare's verse, quoting the lines "The beetle booms adown the glooms/And bumps among the clumps" (in fact a garbled version of lines by James Whitcomb Riley). Shakespeare laughs at this. He tells Shaw that he could never have written Hamlet or King Lear. Shaw replies that Shakespeare could not have written Heartbreak House, and creates a pastiche of his own play with the characters posed in imitation of Millais's painting The North-West Passage.

Shakespeare defends the emotional power of his work. Shaw defends the practical value of his. Shaw ends by quoting Shakespeare's own words and bringing into being a small light to symbolise his own reputation. Shakespeare puts out the light and the play ends.


Waldo Lanchester carved the six marionettes (heads were carved by Jack Whitehead) and Muriel costumed them, having sought advice from Scotland on the correct tartans.[3] The Shaw puppet is now housed in the George Bernard Shaw Museum, Shaw's Corner, at Ayot St Lawrence, the Shakespeare puppet is in the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and the other four puppets - MacBeth, Rob Roy, Captain Shotover and his Daughter - are in the Staffordshire County Museum[4] at Shugborough Hall.


  1. ^ Peterson (1949). The Puppet Master 2 (6). 
  2. ^ The Stage, Review, 2007.
  3. ^ Peterson (1949). The Puppet Master 2 (8). 
  4. ^ Acession numbers: 2007.022.0178 (MacBeth); 2007.22.0179 (Rob Roy); 2007.22.0180 (Captain Shotover); 2007.22.0181 (Captain Shotover's daughter)

External links[edit]