An author who, in his day, was regarded as so witty that his name ultimately bequeathed a new adjective to the English language-"Shavian," meaning characteristically witty and perceptive-George Bernard Shaw was born in Dublin in 1856, where his mother fostered in him at an early age a love of music. Early in his adulthood, he became associated with the Socialist movement in Britain. In 1884, he joined the Fabian Society, an organization that rejected the classic, Marxist theory of class struggle in favor of a more gradual "permeation" approach to changing society and its institutions. At about the same time, Shaw also became a friend and follower of William Morris, who was not only a noted socialist but also a poet and a renowned artist. Largely through his Kelmscott Press, Morris advocated a return to the aesthetics of the Middle Ages-a goal that would influence Shaw's Saint Joan, as readers can note in the preface.
Shaw spent the 1880s as a literary, theatrical, and musical critic before turning his hand to writing plays. "Though he had no particular love for the theater of his own time, [Shaw] was not slow to recognize its value as a platform which could be used to further the interests of the causes he had espoused" (Oxford Companion to the Theatre, p. 762). His admiration of the Scandinavian playwright Henrik Ibsen (who also advocated for social change through such dramas as A Doll's House and An Enemy of the People) also led Shaw to begin his work as a dramatist. His first play was produced in 1892. "Thought, not action, was the mainspring of the Shavian play; but, as audiences were eventually to realize, it was thought seasoned by wit and enlivened by eloquence, which in the long run provided more rewarding entertainment than the theater had been able to offer for a very long time" (Oxford Companion to the Theatre, p. 762). Along with Saint Joan (first produced in 1924, the year before Shaw was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature), some of Shaw's other major works for the stage include Pygmalion (upon which Lerner and Loewe based their 1955 Broadway musical My Fair Lady) and Arms and the Man, a satirical look at Victorian social mores and values.
Shaw was married to his wife, Charlotte Payne-Townshend, in 1898. She died in 1943, and Shaw died seven years later in 1950.