Analysis of the Text «the Man of Destiny» by George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), a prominent playwright, was born of an impoverish middle-class family in Dublin where he attended a college. In 1876 he started working as a journalist in London. He become a socialist in 1882 and in 1884 joined the Fabian Society, an organization of petty bourgeois intellectuals. In 1887 G. B. Shaw took up writing plays, in which he criticized the vices of bourgeois society. Bernard Shaw is famous for his brilliant dialogues, full of witty paradoxes and often bitterly satirical. He was a friend of the Soviet Union which he visit in 1931.
The Man of Destiny is an 1897 play by George Bernard Shaw. It was published as a part of Plays Pleasant, which also included Arms and the Man, Candida and You Never Can Tell. It is based on an historic incident at the early stage of Napoleon Bonaparte’s military career following upon his advancement to General. This text is written in a form of play. The style is informal, with elements of formal. There are such bookish words as “affrighted”, “unvoluntarily”, “reproof”, “enraptured”, “tranquil”, “confronting” and so on.
Such words as “lad”, “shew”, “Aha! ”, “eh” are informal. Also Author uses present tenses, all that to make us feel that we are the members of this conversation. The plot is quite simple: a Lady tricked Lieutenant Bonaparte’s out of letters on the road in order to intercept a personal one written previously by a woman to a man, who is not her husband and sent to Bonaparte out of sheer malice. He did not know that the love letters were written to his “friend” Director Barras by his wife Josephine before she had met Bonaparte and fell in love with him.
And this letters uncovered that she had lied to him about her age, her income, her social position, about everything that silly women lie about. Napoleon attempted to retrieve his despatches while the Lady attempted to keep him from reading the contents of Josephine’s personal letter. There are two main characters – Lady and Napoleon. Through the direct method of characterization Author shows us the appearance of the Lady : «She was tall and extraordinary graceful with a delicately intelligent face: character in her chin: all keen, refined, and original.
She was very feminine, but by no means weak. » Also through indirect method – and remarks – author shows her character. He depicts her as very calm and obedient, but tricky person. She speaks “humbly”, “nods placidly”, “innocently turns her face”, “meets Napoleon’s angry searching gaze with tranquil indifference”, at the same time she bitter-sweetly tickles the ear in order to return the letters. Knowingly the author uses reminiscential metaphor to show her character deeply: NAPOLEON: Dalila! Dalila, you have been trying your tricks on me!
Napoleon is shown by Bernard Shaw as ambitious, rude and coarse person, also as a practical business-like man who makes his career at the cost of human lives. Author uses different adjectives and epithets to characterize him. For instance, “bluntly”, “haughtily”, “menacingly”, “savagely”, “with coarse familiarity”, “in a stealthy coldly furious whisper” and so on. To show Napoleon’s power, authority author uses syntactical parallelism: LADY: Only that you believe in yourself. You can fight and conquer for yourself and for nobody else. You are not afraid of your own destiny.
You teach us what we all might be if we had the will and courage. Also he uses imperative mood in his replies to show his power and social position. NAPOLEON: My despatches: come! Quick, I tell you! With a help of few lines we can know his attitude to the happiness, and that completes the picture of Napoleon. He doesn’t care about his happiness at all, he concerns only over capturing the whole world, putting in practice the great plans of destiny, the instrument of which Napoleon considers himself. LADY: I am going to see you lose your honor and your happiness NAPOLEON: Happiness!
Happiness is the most tedious thing in the world to me. Should I be what I am if I cared for happiness. To show his expressive character Shaw uses repetitions: NAPOLEON: Tut! Tut! Pray! Pray! No, no: this is folly. Come: be calm, be calm. There! There! My girl. The main idea of Shaw’s play, The Man of Destiny, is shown in the title: how destiny turns on single events and remarks and changes our whole life. Shaw illustrates that Bonaparte has several chances to change the course of his destiny by how he does or does not react to the situation and to the words the Lady speaks.
A pivotal example of this is when she, almost overpowered by Bonaparte’s efforts to keep control of his newly gained mail, says: LADY (springing up with a bright flush in her cheeks). Oh, you are too bad. Keep your letters. Read the story of your own dishonor in them; and much good may they do you. Good-bye. (She goes indignantly towards the inner door. ) The key phrase is spoken by the Lady because her brief comments, in the face of sure defeat, turn events in favor of her achieving her end by raising the right questions and motives in Bonaparte’s mind.
LADY (earnestly): No: on my honor I ask for no letter of yours: not a word that has been written by you or to you. That packet contains a stolen letter: a letter written by a woman to a man: a man not her husband: a letter that means disgrace, infamy…. The key word is letter(s) and some it’s synonyms: despatches, papers and Paris correspondence (synecdoche), because the action is spanned around it. Another key word is destiny. Shaw uses it From the start (title) till the end. And it also helps to understand the main idea.
Napoleon considers himself an instrument in a hand of destiny, but destiny plays a low-down trick with him. Tension of the story rises when pleased Napoleon to give her letter back and said that it was sent maliciously, just injure the women who wrote it, at the same time she is hinting at definite woman. The moment she said about it, we become involved in the action. Climax comes when we know that the letter compromised director Barras, Napoleon’s attached personal friend. In that moment we almost understand what the letter is about.
The denouement of the story is the last Lady’s words. LADY: A vain, silly, extravagant creature, with a very able and ambitious husband who knows her through and through: knows that she had lied to him about her age, her income, her social position, about everything that silly women lie about: knows that she is incapable of fidelity to any principle or any person; and yet cannot help loving her – cannot help his man’s instinct to make use of her for his own advancement with Barras Now we have no doubt the woman who wrote this letter is Josephine – Napoleon’s wife.
To my mind, in spite of Bonaparte was crazy in love with that woman, but he also was afraid of becoming a laughing-stock in the eyes of France and he couldn’t risk his reputation. In conclusion I want to say that Bernard Shaw was a great playwright. In such a little extract of a play he was able to depict the figure of another great person – Napoleon. He succeeded in showing his real expressive and ambitious character.