George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright, who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925.

See also: Man and Superman.


  • Patriotism is, fundamentally, a conviction that a particular country is the best in the world because you were born in it…
    • The World (15 November 1893)

  • Pasteboard pies and paper flowers are being banished from the stage by the growth of that power of accurate observation which is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it…
    • The World (18 July 1894), Music in London 1890-1894 being criticisms contributed week by week to The World (New York: Vienna House, 1973)

  • My method is to take the utmost trouble to find the right thing to say, and then to say it with the utmost levity.
    • Answers to Nine Questions (September 1896), answers to nine questions submitted by Clarence Rook, who had interviewed him in 1895.

  • We have no more right to consume happiness without producing it than to consume wealth without producing it.
    • Candida, Act I (1898)

  • I'm only a beer teetotaler, not a champagne teetotaler. I don't like beer.
    • Candida, Act III

  • We don't bother much about dress and manners in England, because as a nation we don't dress well and we've no manners.
    • You Never Can Tell, Act I (1898)

  • The great advantage of a hotel is that it's a refuge from home life.
    • You Never Can Tell, Act II

  • My specialty is being right when other people are wrong.
    • You Never Can Tell, Act IV

  • There is only one religion, though there are a hundred versions of it.
    • Plays Pleasant and Unpleasant, Vol. II, preface (1898)

  • You're not a man, you're a machine.
    • Arms and the Man, Act III (1898)

  • Why should you call me to account for eating decently?
    • The Vegetarian (15 January 1898)

  • The novelties of one generation are only the resuscitated fashions of the generation before last.
    • Three Plays for Puritans, Preface (1900)

  • The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that's the essence of inhumanity.
    • The Devil's Disciple, Act II (1901)

  • Martyrdom, sir, is what these people like: it is the only way in which a man can become famous without ability.
    • The Devil's Disciple, Act II

  • You must not suppose, because I am a man of letters, that I never tried to earn an honest living.
    • The Irrational Knot, Preface (1905)

  • [Chess] is a foolish expedient for making idle people believe they are doing something very clever, when they are only wasting their time.
    • The Irrational Knot (1905)

  • To understand a saint, you must hear the devil's advocate; and the same is true of the artist.
    • The Sanity of Art: An Exposure of the Current Nonsense about Artists being Degenerate (1908)

  • Assassination is the extreme form of censorship.
    • The Shewing Up of Blanco Posnet (1909): The Rejected Statement, Pt. I

  • Why was I born with such contemporaries?
    • The Dark Lady of the Sonnets, Preface (1910)

  • The word morality, if we met it in the Bible, would surprise us as much as the word telephone or motor car.
    • Fanny's First Play, Preface (1911)

  • That proves it's not by Shaw, because all Shaw's characters are himself: mere puppets stuck up to spout Shaw.
    • Fanny's First Play, Epilogue

  • As long as I have a want, I have a reason for living. Satisfaction is death.
    • Overruled (1912)

  • Custom will reconcile people to any atrocity; and fashion will drive them to acquire any custom.
    • Killing For Sport, Preface (1914)

  • All great truths begin as blasphemies.
    • Annajanska (1919)

  • You'll never have a quiet world till you knock the patriotism out of the human race.
    • O'Flaherty V.C. (1919)

  • Political necessities sometimes turn out to be political mistakes.
    • Saint Joan : A Chronicle Play In Six Scenes And An Epilogue (1923) - Full text online

  • Scratch an Englishman and find a Protestant.
    • Saint Joan : A Chronicle Play In Six Scenes And An Epilogue (1923)

  • God is on the side of the big battalions.
    • Saint Joan : A Chronicle Play In Six Scenes And An Epilogue (1923)

  • Must then a Christ perish in torment in every age to save those that have no imagination?
    • Saint Joan : A Chronicle Play In Six Scenes And An Epilogue (1923)

  • Our natural dispositions may be good; but we have been badly brought up, and are full of anti-social personal ambitions and prejudices and snobberies. Had we not better teach our children to be better citizens than ourselves? We are not doing that at present. The Russians are. That is my last word. Think over it.
    • The Apple Cart, (1928) Preface

  • One man that has a mind and knows it can always beat ten men who haven't and don't.
    • The Apple Cart (1928), Act I

  • God help England if she had no Scots to think for her!
    • The Apple Cart (1928), Act II

  • No public man in these islands ever believes that the Bible means what it says: he is always convinced that it says what he means.
    • Our Theatres In The Nineties (1930)

  • I have defined the 100 per cent American as 99 per cent an idiot.
    • New York Times (19 December 1930) remarks on Sinclair Lewis receiving the Nobel Prize

  • An American has no sense of privacy. He does not know what it means. There is no such thing in the country.
    • Speech at New York (11 April 1933)

  • You in America should trust to that volcanic political instinct which I have divined in you.
    • Speech at New York (11 April 1933)

  • The sex relation is not a personal relation. It can be irresistibly desired and rapturously consummated between persons who could not endure one another for a day in any other relation.
    • letter, 24 June 1930, to Frank Harris "To Frank Harris on Sex in Biography" Sixteen Self Sketches (1949)

  • The quality of a play is the quality of its ideas.
    • "The Play of Ideas", New Statesman(6 May 1950)

  • The apparent multiplicity of Gods is bewildering at the first glance; but you presently discover that they are all the same one God in different aspects and functions and even sexes. There is always one uttermost God who defies personification. This makes Hinduism the most tolerant religion in the world, because its one transcendent God includes all possible Gods… Hinduism is so elastic and so subtle that the profoundest Methodist and the crudest idolater are equally at home in it.
    Islam is very different, being ferociously intolerant. What I may call Manifold Monotheism becomes in the minds of very simple folk an absurdly polytheistic idolatry, just as European peasants not only worship Saints and the Virgin as Gods, but will fight fanatically for their faith in the ugly little black doll who is the Virgin of their own Church against the black doll of the next village. When the Arabs had run this sort of idolatry to such extremes ... they did this without black dolls and worshipped any stone that looked funny, Mahomet rose up at the risk of his life and insulted the stones shockingly, declaring that there is only one God, Allah, the glorious, the great… And there was to be no nonsense about toleration. You accepted Allah or you had your throat cut by someone who did accept him, and who went to Paradise for having sent you to Hell. Mahomet was a great Protestant religious force, like George Fox or Wesley….
    There is actually a great Hindu sect, the Jains, with Temples of amazing magnificence, which abolish God, not on materialist atheist considerations, but as unspeakable and unknowable, transcending all human comprehension.
    • Letter to the Reverend Ensor Walters (1933), as quoted in Bernard Shaw : Collected Letters, 1926-1950 (1988) by Dan H. Laurence, p. 305; Shaw actually errs here in characterizing Jainism as simply a sect of Hinduism, as it is usually regarded as a separate and independent tradition, though Hindu and Jain philosophers have long had influence on each other, as well as other traditions.

  • I have always held the religion of Muhammad in high estimation because of its wonderful vitality. It is the only religion which appears to me to possess that assimilating capability to the changing phase of existence which can make itself appeal to every age. The world must doubtless attach high value to the predictions of great men like me. I have prophesied about the faith of Muhammad that it would be acceptable to the Europe of tomorrow as it is beginning to be acceptable to the Europe of today. The medieval ecclesiastics, either through ignorance or bigotry, painted Muhammadanism in the darkest colours. They were in fact trained both to hate the man Muhammad and his religion. To them Muhammad was Anti-Christ. I have studied him — the wonderful man, and in my opinion far from being an Anti-Christ he must be called the Saviour of Humanity. I believe that if a man like him were to assume the dictatorship of the modern world he would succeed in solving its problems in a way that would bring it the much-needed peace and happiness. But to proceed, it was in the 19th century that honest thinkers like Carlyle, Goethe and Gibbon perceived intrinsic worth in the religion of Muhammad, and thus there was some change for the better in the European attitude towards Islam. But the Europe of the present century is far advanced. It is beginning to be enamoured of the creed of Muhammad.

  • I hold the Prophet of Arabia in great esteem and I can quite understand that it would have been impossible to restrain and wean that illiterate and perverse race, sunk in the miasma of utter moral depravity, from committing the most heinous of crimes, and imbue its people with enthusiasm to strive after righteousness and assimilate high morals and virtues, without projecting such a terrible and intensely awe inspiring spectacle of Hell and an equally captivating and enticing image of a land flowing with milk and honey to represent Heaven before their vision.

  • A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.
    • Everybody's Political What's What (1944) Ch. 30

  • The road to ignorance is paved with good editions. Only the illiterate can afford to buy good books now.
    • As quoted in Days with Bernard Shaw (1949) by Stephen Winsten

  • The secret of success is to offend the greatest number of people.
    • As quoted in Days with Bernard Shaw (1949) by Stephen Winsten

  • Consistency is the enemy of enterprise, just as symmetry is the enemy of art.
    • As quoted in Bernard Shaw : The Lure of Fantasy (1991) by Michael Holroyd

  • The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.
    • As quoted in Leadership Skills for Managers (2000) by Marlene Caroselli, p. 71

Quintessence Of Ibsenism (1891; 1913)

A review of the works and ideas of Henrik Ibsen

  • I have never admitted the right of an elderly author to alter the work of a young author, even when the young author happens to be his former self. In the case of a work which is a mere exhibition of skill in conventional art, there may be some excuse for the delusion that the longer the artist works on it the nearer he will bring it to perfection. Yet even the victims of this delusion must see that there is an age limit to the process, and that though a man of forty-five may improve the workmanship of a man of thirty-five, it does not follow that a man of fifty-five can do the same.
    When we come to creative art, to the living word of a man delivering a message to his own time, it is clear that any attempt to alter this later on is simply fraud and forgery. As I read the old Quintessence of Ibsenism I may find things that I many things then unnoted by me that they take on a different aspect. But though this may be a reason for writing another book, it is not a reason for altering an existing one.
    • Preface to the 1913 edition

  • Just as the liar's punishment is, not in the least that he is not believed, but that he cannot believe any one else; so a guilty society can more easily be persuaded that any apparently innocent act is guilty than that any apparently guilty act is innocent.
    • The Two Pioneers

The Philanderer (1893)

  • It's well to be off with the Old Woman before you're on with the New.
    • Act II

  • The fickleness of the women I love is only equaled by the infernal constancy of the women who love me.
    • Act II

  • The test of a man or woman's breeding is how they behave in a quarrel.
    • Act IV

Mrs. Warren's Profession (1893)

  • People are always blaming circumstances for what they are. I don't believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can't find them, make them.
    • Vivie, Act II

  • There are no secrets better kept than the secrets everybody guesses.
    • Crofts, Act III

  • I know Miss Warren is a great devotee of the Gospel of Getting On.
    • Praed, Act IV

Caesar and Cleopatra (1898)

  • Hail, Sphinx: salutation from Julius Caesar! I have wandered in many lands, seeking the lost regions from which my birth into this world exiled me, and the company of creatures such as I myself. I have found flocks and pastures, men and cities, but no other Caesar, no air native to me, no man kindred to me, none who can do my day's deed, and think my night's thought.
    • Act I

  • My way hither was the way of destiny; for I am he of whose genius you are the symbol: part brute, part woman, and part God — nothing of man in me at all. Have I read your riddle, Sphinx?
    • Act I

  • THEODOTUS: Caesar: you are a stranger here, and not conversant with our laws. The kings and queens of Egypt may not marry except with their own royal blood. Ptolemy and Cleopatra are born king and consort just as they are born brother and sister.
    BRITANNUS (shocked): Caesar: this is not proper.
    THEODOTUS (outraged): How!
    CAESAR (recovering his self-possession): Pardon him. Theodotus: he is a barbarian, and thinks that the customs of his tribe and island are the laws of nature.
    • Act II; sometimes paraphrased as: The customs of your tribe are not laws of nature.

  • Again, there is the illusion of "increased command over Nature," meaning that cotton is cheap and that ten miles of country road on a bicycle have replaced four on foot. But even if man's increased command over Nature included any increased command over himself (the only sort of command relevant to his evolution into a higher being), the fact remains that it is only by running away from the increased command over Nature to country places where Nature is still in primitive command over Man that he can recover from the effects of the smoke, the stench, the foul air, the overcrowding, the racket, the ugliness, the dirt which the cheap cotton costs us.
    • Notes

Love Among the Artists (1900)

  • The way to deal with worldly people is to frighten them by repeating their scandalous whisperings aloud.

  • The public want actresses, because they think all actresses bad. They don't want music or poetry because they know that both are good. So actors and actresses thrive and poets and composers starve.

  • There are some men who are considered quite ugly, but who are more remarkable than pretty people. You often see that in artists.

  • All very fine, Mary; but my old-fashioned common sense is better than your clever modern nonsense.

  • If you leave your art, the world will beat you back to it. The world has not an ambition worth sharing, or a prize worth handling. Corrupt successes, disgraceful failures, or sheeplike vegetation are all it has to offer. I prefer Art, which gives me a sixth sense of beauty, with self-respect: perhaps also an immortal reputation in return for honest endeavour in a labour of love.

  • Perhaps woman's art is of woman's life a thing apart, 'tis man's whole existence; just as love is said to be the reverse — though it isn't.

  • I hate singers, a miserable crew who think that music exists only in their own throats.

  • A man's own self is the last person to believe in him, and is harder to cheat than the rest of the world.

  • Composers are not human; They can live on diminished sevenths, and be contented with a pianoforte for a wife, and a string quartet for a family.

  • Geniuses are horrid, intolerant, easily offended, sleeplessly self-conscious men, who expect their wives to be angels with no further business in life than to pet and worship their husbands. Even at the best they are not comfortable men to live with; and a perfect husband is one who is perfectly comfortable to live with.

Man and Superman (1903)

See also: Man and Superman.

  • The only man I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measurements anew each time he sees me. The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them.

  • There is no love sincerer than the love of food.

  • The confusion of marriage with morality has done more to destroy the conscience of the human race than any other single error.
    • This has also been paraphrased as: Confusing monogamy with morality has done more to destroy the conscience of the human race than any other error.

Major Barbara (1905)

  • The greatest of evils and the worst of crimes is poverty.
    • Preface

  • The faults of the burglar are the qualities of the financier: the manners and habits of a duke would cost a city clerk his situation.
    • Preface

  • It is quite useless to declare that all men are born free if you deny that they are born good. Guarantee a man's goodness and his liberty will take care of itself. To guarantee his freedom on condition that you approve of his moral character is formally to abolish all freedom whatsoever, as ever man's liberty is at the mercy of a moral indictment which any fool can trump up against everyone who violates custom, whether as a prophet or as a rascal.
    • Preface

  • Society, with all its prisons and bayonets and whips and ostracisms and starvations, is powerless in the face of the Anarchist who is prepared to sacrifice his own life in the battle with it. Our natural safety from the cheap and devastating explosives which every Russian student can make ... lies in the fact that brave and resolute men, when they are rascals, will not risk their skins for the good of humanity, and, when they are sympathetic enough to care for humanity, abhor murder, and never commit it until their consciences are outraged beyond endurance. The remedy is, then, simply not to outrage their consciences.
    • Preface

  • I can't talk religion to a man with bodily hunger in his eyes.
    • Act II

  • You cannot have power for good without having power for evil too. Even mother's milk nourishes murderers as well as heroes.

  • Undershaft: You have made for yourself something that you call a morality or a religion or what not. It doesnt fit the facts. Well, scrap it. Scrap it and get one that does fit. That is what is wrong with the world at present. It scraps its obsolete steam engines and dynamos; but it wont scrap its old prejudices and its old moralities and its old religions and its old political constitutions. Whats the result? In machinery it does very well; but in morals and religion and politics it is working at a loss that brings it nearer bankruptcy every year.

  • Cusins: Call you poverty a crime?
    Undershaft: The worst of crimes. All the other crimes are virtues beside it: all the other dishonors are chivalry itself by comparison. Poverty blights whole cities; spreads horrible pestilences; strikes dead the very souls of all who come within sight, sound or smell of it. What you call crime is nothing: a murder here and a theft there, a blow now and a curse then: what do they matter? they are only the accidents and illnesses of life: there are not fifty genuine professional criminals in London. But there are millions of poor people, abject people, dirty people, ill fed, ill clothed people. They poison us morally and physically: they kill the happiness of society: they force us to do away with our own liberties and to organize unnatural cruelties for fear they should rise against us and drag us down into their abyss. Only fools fear crime: we all fear poverty.

  • Undershaft: My religion? Well, my dear, I am a Millionaire. That is my religion.
    • Act II

  • You have learnt something. That always feels at first as if you had lost something.
    • Act III

  • It is not the sale of my soul that troubles me: I have sold it too often to care about that. I have sold it for a professorship. I have sold it for an income. ... What is all human conduct but the daily and hourly sale of our souls for trifles?

John Bull's Other Island (1907)

  • A healthy nation is as unconscious of its nationality as a healthy man of his bones. But if you break a nation's nationality it will think of nothing else but getting it set again.
    • Preface

  • You can't be a hero without being a coward.
    • Preface

  • What really flatters a man is that you think him worth flattering.

  • My way of joking is to tell the truth. It's the funniest joke in the world.
    • Act II

Getting Married (1908)

Full text online

  • There is no subject on which more dangerous nonsense is talked and thought than marriage. If the mischief stopped at talking and thinking it would be bad enough; but it goes further, into disastrous anarchical action. Because our marriage law is inhuman and unreasonable to the point of downright abomination, the bolder and more rebellious spirits form illicit unions, defiantly sending cards round to their friends announcing what they have done. Young women come to me and ask me whether I think they ought to consent to marry the man they have decided to live with; and they are perplexed and astonished when I, who am supposed (heaven knows why!) to have the most advanced views attainable on the subject, urge them on no account to compromise themselves without the security of an authentic wedding ring.
    • Preface

  • Home life as we understand it is no more natural to us than a cage is natural to a cockatoo.
    • Preface

  • When two people are under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive, and most transient of passions, they are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal, and exhausting condition continuously until death do them part.
    • Preface

  • Monogamy has a sentimental basis which is quite distinct from the political one of equal numbers of the sexes. Equal numbers in the sexes are quite compatible with a change of partners every day or every hour Physically there is nothing to distinguish human society from the farm-yard except that children are more troublesome and costly than chickens and calves, and that men and women are not so completely enslaved as farm stock. Accordingly, the people whose conception of marriage is a farm-yard or slave- quarter conception are always more or less in a panic lest the slightest relaxation of the marriage laws should utterly demoralize society; whilst those to whom marriage is a matter of more highly evolved sentiments and needs (sometimes said to be distinctively human, though birds and animals in a state of freedom evince them quite as touchingly as we) are much more liberal, knowing as they do that monogamy will take care of itself provided the parties are free enough, and that promiscuity is a product of slavery and not of liberty.

  • The whole strength of England lies in the fact that the enormous majority of the English people are snobs.
    • Hotchkiss

  • You don't learn to hold your own in the world by standing on guard, but by attacking, and getting well hammered yourself.
    • Mrs. George

  • Religion is a great force — the only real motive force in the world; but what you fellows dont understand is that you must get at a man through his own religion and not through yours. Instead of facing that fact, you persist in trying to convert all men to your own little sect, so that you can use it against them afterwards. You are all missionaries and proselytizers trying to uproot the native religion from your neighbor's flowerbeds and plant your own in its place. You would rather let a child perish in ignorance than have it taught by a rival sectary. You can talk to me of the quintessential equality of coal merchants and British officers; and yet you cant see the quintessential equality of all the religions.
    • Hotchkiss

Misalliance (1910)

  • It is more dangerous to be a great prophet or poet than to promote twenty companies for swindling simple folk out of their savings.
    • Preface

  • Optimistic lies have such immense therapeutic value that a doctor who cannot tell them convincingly has mistaken his profession.
    • Preface

  • A perpetual holiday is a good working definition of Hell.

  • I like a bit of a mongrel myself, whether it's a man or a dog; they're the best for every day.
    • Episode I

  • If parents would only realize how they bore their children!
    • Episode I

A Treatise on Parents and Children (1910)

  • When will we realize that the fact that we can become accustomed to anything, however disgusting at first, makes it necessary to examine carefully everything we have become accustomed to.

  • Death is for many of us the gate of hell; but we are inside on the way out, not outside on the way in.

The Doctor's Dilemma (1911)

  • Do not try to live for ever. You will not succeed.
    • Preface

  • All professions are conspiracies against the laity.
    • Act I

  • I don't believe in morality. I'm a disciple of Bernard Shaw.
    • Act III

  • Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.
    • Act V

Pygmalion (1912)

  • It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him.
    • Preface

  • The English have no respect for their language, and will not teach their children to speak it.
    • Preface

  • He ain't a copper just look at 'is boots!
    • Act I

  • Ah-ah-ah-ah-ow-ow-oo-oo!!! I ain't dirty: I washed me face and hands afore I come, I did!
    • Act II

  • Women upset everything. When you let them into your life, you find that the woman is driving at one thing and you're driving at another.
    • Act II

  • What is life but a series of inspired follies? The difficulty is to find them to do. Never lose a chance: it doesn't come every day.
    • Act II

  • I wouldn't have ate it, only I'm too lady-like to take it out of my mouth.
    • Act II

  • I don't want to talk grammar, I want to talk like a lady.
    • Act II

  • I ask you, what am I? I’m one of the undeserving poor: thats what I am. Think of what that means to a man.
    • Act II

  • I aint such a mug as to put up my children to all I know myself.
    • Act II

  • "Not bloody"
    • Act III

  • I heard your prayers Thank God it's all over!
    • Act IV

  • You see, lots of the real people can't do it at all: they're such fools that they think style comes by nature to people in their position; and so they never learn. There's always something professional about doing a thing superlatively well.

  • Time enough to think of the future when you haven't any future to think of.

  • I have to live for others and not for myself; that's middle-class morality.
    • Act V

  • Independence? That's middle-class blasphemy. We are all dependent on one another, every soul of us on earth.
    • Act V

Androcles and the Lion (1913)

  • The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. The happiness of credulity is a cheap and dangerous quality.

  • Revolutionary movements attract those who are not good enough for established institutions as well as those who are too good for them.

Back to Methuselah (1921)

Full text online

  • I hear you say "Why?" Always "Why?" You see things; and you say "Why?" But I dream things that never were; and I say "Why not?"
    • The Serpent, in Pt. I : In the Beginning, Act I; this is often paraphrased slightly in a few different ways, including:
You see things as they are and ask, "Why?" I dream things as they never were and ask, "Why not?"

  • I worship you, Eve. I must have something to worship. Something quite different to myself, like you. There must be something greater than the snake.
    • The Serpent, in Pt I : In the Beginning

  • Everything is possible: everything. Listen. I am old. I am the old serpent, older than Adam, older than Eve. I remember Lilith, who came before Adam and Eve. I was her darling as I am yours. She was alone: there was no man with her. She saw death as you saw it when the fawn fell; and she knew then that she must find out how to renew herself and cast the skin like me. She had a mighty will: she strove and strove and willed and willed for more moons than there are leaves on all the trees of the garden. Her pangs were terrible: her groans drove sleep from Eden. She said it must never be again: that the burden of renewing life was past bearing: that it was too much for one. And when she cast the skin, lo! there was not one new Lilith but two: one like herself, the other like Adam. You were the one: Adam was the other.
    • The Serpent, in Pt. I, Act I

  • Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire; you will what you imagine; and at last you create what you will.
    • The Serpent, in Pt. I, Act I

  • Conceive. That is the word that means both the beginning in imagination and the end in creation.
    • The Serpent, in Pt. I, Act I

  • Life must not cease. That comes before everything. It is silly to say you do not care. You do care. It is that care that will prompt your imagination; inflame your desires; make your will irresistible; and create out of nothing.
    • The Serpent, in Pt. I, Act I

  • I am very subtle; but Man is deeper in his thought than I am. The woman knows that there is no such thing as nothing: the man knows that there is no such day as tomorrow. I do well to worship them.
    • The Serpent, in Pt. I, Act I

  • THE SERPENT: The voice in the garden is your own voice.
    ADAM: It is; and it is not. It is something greater than me: I am only a part of it.
    EVE: The Voice does not tell me not to kill you. Yet I do not want you to die before me. No voice is needed to make me feel that.
    ADAM [throwing his arm round her shoulder with an expression of anguish]: Oh no: that is plain without any voice. There is something that holds us together, something that has no word —
    THE SERPENT: Love. Love. Love.
    ADAM: That is too short a word for so long a thing.
    • The Serpent, Adam, and Eve, in Pt. I, Act I

  • I make no vows. I take my chance. ... It means that I fear certainty as you fear uncertainty. It means that nothing is certain but uncertainty. If I bind the future I bind my will. If I bind my will I strangle creation.
    • The Serpent, in Pt. I, Act I

  • You can feel nothing but a torment, and believe nothing but a lie. You will not raise your head to look at all the miracles of life that surround you; but you will run ten miles to see a fight or a death.
    • Eve to Cain, in Pt. I, Act II

  • Your father is a fool skin deep; but you are a fool to your very marrow.
    • Eve to Cain, in Pt. I, Act II

  • Any sort of plain speaking is better than the nauseous sham good fellowship our democratic public men get up for shop use.
    • Franklyn, in Pt. II : The Gospel of the Brothers Barnabas

  • There are no secrets except the secrets that keep themselves.
    • Confucius, in Pt. III : The Thing Happens

  • Everything happens to everybody sooner or later if there is time enough.
    • Pt. V : As Far as Thought Can Reach

  • Silence is the perfect expression of scorn.
    • Pt. V

  • The worst cliques are those which consist of one man.
    • Pt. V

  • Life is not meant to be easy, my child but take courage: it can be delightful.
    • Pt. V; see also the later phrasing of Malcolm Fraser, "life wasn't meant to be easy".

  • THE HE-ANCIENT: When a thing is funny, search it for a hidden truth
    STREPHON: Yes; and take all the fun out of it.
    • Pt. V

  • Art is the magic mirror you make to reflect your invisible dreams in visible pictures. You use a glass mirror to see your face: you use works of art to see your soul. But we who are older use neither glass mirrors nor works of art. We have a direct sense of life. When you gain that you will put aside your mirrors and statues, your toys and your dolls.
    • The She-Ancient, in Pt. V

  • When the master has come to do everything through the slave, the slave becomes his master, since he cannot live without him.
    • The He-Ancient, in Pt. V

  • Love is a simple thing and a deep thing: it is an act of life and not an illusion. Art is an illusion.
    • Acis, in Pt. V

  • Even a vortex is a vortex in something. You cant have a whirlpool without water; and you cant have a vortex without gas, or molecules or atoms or ions or electrons or something, not nothing.
    • Acis, in Pt. V

  • The body was the slave of the vortex; but the slave has become the master; and we must free ourselves from that tyranny. It is this stuff [indicating her body], this flesh and blood and bone and all the rest of it, that is intolerable. Even prehistoric man dreamed of what he called an astral body, and asked who would deliver him from the body of this death.
    • The She-Ancient, in Pt. V

  • I am justified. For I chose wisdom and the knowledge of good and evil; and now there is no evil; and wisdom and good are one. It is enough.
    • The Serpent, in Pt. V

  • They have accepted the burden of eternal life. They have taken the agony from birth; and their life does not fail them even in the hour of their destruction.
    • Lilith, in Pt. V

  • I had patience with them for many ages: they tried me very sorely. They did terrible things: they embraced death, and said that eternal life was a fable. I stood amazed at the malice and destructiveness of the things I had made...
    • Lilith, in Pt. V

  • They have redeemed themselves from their vileness, and turned away from their sins. Best of all, they are still not satisfied: the impulse I gave them in that day when I sundered myself in twain and launched Man and Woman on the earth still urges them: after passing a million goals they press on to the goal of redemption from the flesh, to the vortex freed from matter, to the whirlpool in pure intelligence that, when the world began, was a whirlpool in pure force.

  • I can wait: waiting and patience mean nothing to the eternal. I gave the woman the greatest of gifts: curiosity. By that her seed has been saved from my wrath; for I also am curious; and I have waited always to see what they will do tomorrow.

  • I say, let them dread, of all things, stagnation; for from the moment I, Lilith, lose hope and faith in them, they are doomed. In that hope and faith I have let them live for a moment; and in that moment I have spared them many times. But mightier creatures than they have killed hope and faith, and perished from the earth; and I may not spare them for ever. I am Lilith: I brought life into the whirlpool of force, and compelled my enemy, Matter, to obey a living soul. But in enslaving Life's enemy I made him Life's master; for that is the end of all slavery; and now I shall see the slave set free and the enemy reconciled, the whirlpool become all life and no matter. And because these infants that call themselves ancients are reaching out towards that, I will have patience with them still; though I know well that when they attain it they shall become one with me and supersede me, and Lilith will be only a legend and a lay that has lost its meaning. Of Life only is there no end; and though of its million starry mansions many are empty and many still unbuilt, and though its vast domain is as yet unbearably desert, my seed shall one day fill it and master its matter to its uttermost confines. And for what may be beyond, the eyesight of Lilith is too short. It is enough that there is a beyond.
    • Lilith, in Pt. V

On the Rocks (1933)

On the Rocks : A Political Comedy

  • In this play a reference is made by a Chief of Police to the political necessity for killing people: a necessity so distressing to the statesmen and so terrifying to the common citizen that nobody except myself (as far as I know) has ventured to examine it directly on its own merits, although every Government is obliged to practise it on a scale varying from the execution of a single murderer to the slaughter of millions of quite innocent persons. Whilst assenting to these proceedings, and even acclaiming and celebrating them, we dare not tell ourselves what we are doing or why we are doing it; and so we call it justice or capital punishment or our duty to king and country or any other convenient verbal whitewash for what we instinctively recoil from as from a dirty job. These childish evasions are revolting. We must strip off the whitewash and find out what is really beneath it. Extermination must be put on a scientific basis if it is ever to be carried out humanely and apologetically as well as thoroughly.
    • Preface; Extermination
    • Ignoring the satirical elements of Shaw's rhetoric, and that he is presenting many arguments of sometimes questionable sincerity for the "humane" execution of criminals, the last sentence here has sometimes been misquoted as if it as part of an argument for exterminations for the sake of eugenics, by preceding it with a selected portion of a statement later in the essay: "If we desire a certain type of civilization, we must exterminate the sort of people who do not fit into it ... Extermination must be put on a scientific basis if it is ever to be carried out humanely and apologetically as well as thoroughly."

  • In law we draw a line between the killing of human animals and non-human ones, setting the latter apart as brutes. This was founded on a general belief that humans have immortal souls and brutes none. Nowadays more and more people are refusing to make this distinction. They may believe in The Life Everlasting and The Life to Come; but they make no distinction between Man and Brute, because some of them believe that brutes have souls, whilst others refuse to believe that the physical materializations and personifications of The Life Everlasting are themselves everlasting. In either case the mystic distinction between Man and Brute vanishes; and the murderer pleading that though a rabbit should be killed for being mischievous he himself should be spared because he has an immortal soul and a rabbit has none is as hopelessly out of date as a gentleman duellist pleading his clergy. When the necessity for killing a dangerous human being arises, as it still does daily, the only distinction we make between a man and a snared rabbit is that we very quaintly provide the man with a minister of religion to explain to him that we are not killing him at all, but only expediting his transfer to an eternity of bliss.
    • Preface; The Sacredness of Human Life

  • The extermination of what the exterminators call inferior races is as old as history. "Stone dead hath no fellow" said Cromwell when he tried to exterminate the Irish. "The only good nigger is a dead nigger" say the Americans of the Ku-Klux temperament. "Hates any man the thing he would not kill?" said Shylock naively. But we white men, as we absurdly call ourselves in spite of the testimony of our looking glasses, regard all differently colored folk as inferior species. Ladies and gentlemen class rebellious laborers with vermin. The Dominicans, the watchdogs of God, regarded the Albigenses as the enemies of God, just as Torquemada regarded the Jews as the murderers of God. All that is an old story: what we are confronted with now is a growing perception that if we desire a certain type of civilization and culture we must exterminate the sort of people who do not fit into it. There is a difference between the shooting at sight of aboriginal natives in the back blocks of Australia and the massacres of aristocrats in the terror which followed the foreign attacks on the French Revolution. The Australian gunman pots the aboriginal natives to satisfy his personal antipathy to a black man with uncut hair. But nobody in the French Republic had this feeling about Lavoisier, nor can any German Nazi have felt that way about Einstein. Yet Lavoisier was guillotined; and Einstein has had to fly for his life from Germany. It was silly to say that the Republic had no use for chemists; and no Nazi has stultified his party to the extent of saying that the new National Socialist Fascist State in Germany has no use for mathematician-physicists. The proposition is that aristocrats (Lavoisier's class) and Jews (Einstein's race) are unfit to enjoy the privilege of living in a modern society founded on definite principles of social welfare as distinguished from the old promiscuous aggregations crudely policed by chiefs who had no notion of social criticism and no time to invent it.
    • Preface; Previous Attempts Miss the Point

  • There have been summits of civilization at which heretics like Socrates, who was killed because he was wiser than his neighbors, have not been tortured, but ordered to kill themselves in the most painless manner known to their judges. But from that summit there was a speedy relapse into our present savagery.
    • Preface; Cruelty's Excuses

  • I dislike cruelty, even cruelty to other people, and should therefore like to see all cruel people exterminated. But I should recoil with horror from a proposal to punish them. Let me illustrate my attitude by a very famous, indeed far too famous, example of the popular conception of criminal law as a means of delivering up victims to the normal popular lust for cruelty which has been mortified by the restraint imposed on it by civilization. Take the case of the extermination of Jesus Christ. No doubt there was a strong case for it. Jesus was from the point of view of the High Priest a heretic and an impostor. From the point of view of the merchants he was a rioter and a Communist. From the Roman Imperialist point of view he was a traitor. From the commonsense point of view he was a dangerous madman. From the snobbish point of view, always a very influential one, he was a penniless vagrant. From the police point of view he was an obstructor of thoroughfares, a beggar, an associate of prostitutes, an apologist of sinners, and a disparager of judges; and his daily companions were tramps whom he had seduced into vagabondage from their regular trades. From the point of view of the pious he was a Sabbath breaker, a denier of the efficacy of circumcision and the advocate of a strange rite of baptism, a gluttonous man and a winebibber. He was abhorrent to the medical profession as an unqualified practitioner who healed people by quackery and charged nothing for the treatment. He was not anti-Christ: nobody had heard of such a power of darkness then; but he was startlingly anti-Moses. He was against the priests, against the judiciary, against the military, against the city (he declared that it was impossible for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven), against all the interests, classes, principalities and powers, inviting everybody to abandon all these and follow him. By every argument, legal, political, religious, customary, and polite, he was the most complete enemy of the society of his time ever brought to the bar. He was guilty on every count of the indictment, and on many more that his accusers had not the wit to frame. If he was innocent then the whole world was guilty. To acquit him was to throw over civilization and all its institutions. History has borne out the case against him; for no State has ever constituted itself on his principles or made it possible to live according to his commandments: those States who have taken his name have taken it as an alias to enable them to persecute his followers more plausibly.
    It is not surprising that under these circumstances, and in the absence of any defence, the Jerusalem community and the Roman government decided to exterminate Jesus. They had just as much right to do so as to exterminate the two thieves who perished with him.
    • Preface, Leading Case of Jesus Christ

  • All government is cruel; for nothing is so cruel as impunity.
    • Pilate, as portrayed in Preface, Difference Between Reader And Spectator

  • I am no mere chance pile of flesh and bone: if I were only that, I should fall into corruption and dust before your eyes. I am the embodiment of a thought of God: I am the Word made flesh: that is what holds me together standing before you in the image of God. ... The Word is God. And God is within you. ... In so far as you know the truth you have it from my God, who is your heavenly father and mine. He has many names and his nature is manifold. ... It is by children who are wiser than their fathers, subjects who are wiser than their emperors, beggars and vagrants who are wiser than their priests, that men rise from being beasts of prey to believing in me and being saved. ... By their fruits ye shall know them. Beware how you kill a thought that is new to you. For that thought may be the foundation of the kingdom of God on earth.
    • Jesus, as portrayed in Preface, Difference Between Reader And Spectator

  • The kingdom of God is striving to come. The empire that looks back in terror shall give way to the kingdom that looks forward with hope. Terror drives men mad: hope and faith give them divine wisdom. The men whom you fill with fear will stick at no evil and perish in their sin: the men whom I fill with faith shall inherit the earth. I say to you Cast out fear. Speak no more vain things to me about the greatness of Rome. ... You, standing for Rome, are the universal coward: I, standing for the kingdom of God, have braved everything, lost everything, and won an eternal crown.
    • Jesus, as portrayed in Preface, Difference Between Reader And Spectator

  • Law is blind without counsel. The counsel men agree with is vain: it is only the echo of their own voices. A million echoes will not help you to rule righteously. But he who does not fear you and shews you the other side is a pearl of the greatest price. Slay me and you go blind to your damnation. The greatest of God's names is Counsellor; and when your Empire is dust and your name a byword among the nations the temples of the living God shall still ring with his praise as Wonderful! Counsellor! the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
    • Jesus, as portrayed in Preface, Difference Between Reader And Spectator

  • The last word remains with Christ and Handel; and this must stand as the best defence of Tolerance until a better man than I makes a better job of it.
    Put shortly and undramatically the case is that a civilization cannot progress without criticism, and must therefore, to save itself from stagnation and putrefaction, declare impunity for criticism. This means impunity not only for propositions which, however novel, seem interesting, statesmanlike, and respectable, but for propositions that shock the uncritical as obscene, seditious, blasphemous, heretical, and revolutionary.
    • Preface, The Sacredness Of Criticism


  • If you're going to tell people the truth, you better make them laugh; otherwise they'll kill you.
    • Credited to Shaw in the lead in to the mockumentary C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America (2004), and other recent works, but this or slight variants of it are also sometimes attributed to W. C. Fields, Charlie Chaplin, and Oscar Wilde. It might be possibly derive from Shaw's statement in John Bull's Other Island (1907): "My way of joking is to tell the truth. It's the funniest joke in the world."
    • Variants:
    • If you are going to tell people the truth, you'd better make them laugh. Otherwise, they'll kill you.
    • If you're going to tell people the truth, you'd better make them laugh. Otherwise, they'll kill you.
  • To correct anyones pronunciation is to imply that he is not quite a gentleman.

Anecdotal dialogue

  • GBS: Madam, would you sleep with me for a million pounds?
  • Actress: My goodness, Well, I'd certainly think about it
  • GBS: Would you sleep with me for a pound?
  • Actress: Certainly not! What kind of woman do you think I am?!
  • GBS: Madam, we've already established that. Now we are haggling about the price.

(This dialogue is also attributed to Winston Churchill).


  • In my view, Anglo-Irish history is for Englishmen to remember, for Irishmen to forget.
    • Ireland in the New Century (1904) by Horace Plunkett
      • Often quoted as: Irish history is something no Englishman should forget and no Irishman should remember.

Quotes about Shaw

  • Shaw's plays are the price we pay for Shaw's prefaces.
    • James Agate, diary, 1933-03-10

  • Shaw knows at any moment, on any subject, what he thinks, what you will think, what others have thought, what all this thinking entails; and he takes the most elaborate pains to bring these thoughts to light in a form which is by turns abstract and familiar, conciliatory and aggressive, obvious and inferential, comic and puzzling. In a word, Shaw is perhaps the most consciously conscious mind that has ever thought — certainly the most conscious since Rousseau; which may be why both of them often create the same impression of insincerity amounting to charlatanism. Yet it is by excess of honesty that Shaw himself lent color to his representation as an inconsequential buffoon bent on monopolizing the spotlight.
    • Jacques Barzun, in "Bernard Shaw in Twilight" in The Kenyon Review (Summer 1943)

  • Seeing clearly within himself and always able to dodge around the ends of any position, including his own, Shaw assumed from the start the dual role of prophet and gadfly.
    • Jacques Barzun, in "Bernard Shaw in Twilight" in The Kenyon Review (Summer 1943)

  • Shaw does not merely decorate a proposition, but makes his way from point to point through new and difficult territory.
    • Jacques Barzun, in "Bernard Shaw in Twilight" in The Kenyon Review (Summer 1943)

  • He never invested his whole moral capital in a man, a book, or a cause, but treasured up wisdom wherever it could be picked up, always with scrupulous acknowledgment ... His eclecticism saving him from the cycle of hope-disillusion-despair, his highest effectiveness was as a skirmisher in the daily battle for light and justice, as a critic of new doctrine and a refurbisher of old, as a voice of warning and encouragement. That his action has not been in vain, we can measure by how little Shaw's iconoclasm stirs our blood; we no longer remember what he destroyed that was blocking our view.
    • Jacques Barzun, in "Bernard Shaw in Twilight" in The Kenyon Review (Summer 1943)

  • Bernard Shaw remains the only model we have of what the citizen of a democracy should be: an informed participant in all things we deem important to the society and the individual.
    • Jacques Barzun "Bernard Shaw," in A Jacques Barzun Reader : Selections from his works (2002), p. 231

  • As a teacher, as a propagandist, Mr. Shaw is no good at all, even in his own generation. But as a personality, he is immortal.
    • Max Beerbohm, unsourced.

  • The writers of our century delight in the weaknesses of the human condition; the only one capable of inventing heroes was Bernard Shaw.
    • Jorge Luis Borges, Obra Completa (1996), Vol. IV, p. 487

  • "God spare you, reader, of long prefaces". That was written by Quevedo, who, in order not to commit an anachronism that would have been found out in the long run, never read Shaw´s.
    • Jorge Luis Borges, Obra Completa (1996), Vol. II, p. 400

  • I never read a reply by Shaw that did not leave me in better and not worse temper or frame of mind; which did not seem to come out of inexhaustible fountains of fairmindedness and intellectual geniality; which did not savor somehow of that native largeness which the philosophers attributed to Magnanimous Man.
    • G. K. Chesterton, commenting on twenty years of debate with Shaw on political, religious and other social issues.

  • I found many men to whom I felt deeply grateful — especially Guy de Maupassant, Jack London, and H. L. Mencken — but the first man to whom I felt definitely related was George Bernard Shaw. This is a presumptuous or fatuous thing to mention, perhaps, but even so it must be mentioned. ... I myself, as a person, have been influenced by many writers and many things, and my writing has felt the impact of the writing of many writers, some relatively unknown and unimportant, some downright bad. But probably the greatest influence of them all when an influence is most effective — when the man being influenced is nowhere near being solid in his own right — has been the influence of the great tall man with the white beard, the lively eyes, the swift wit and the impish chuckle. ... I have been fascinated by it all, grateful for it all, grateful for the sheer majesty of the existence of ideas, stories, fables, and paper and ink and print and books to hold them all together for a man to take aside and examine alone. But the man I liked most and the man who seemed to remind me of myself — of what I really was and would surely become — was George Bernard Shaw.
    • William Saroyan, in Hello Out There (1941)
Quoternity © 2019. All rights reserved.