Review of Book Androcles and the Lion by Bernard Shaw



Here is a review of the book Androcles and the Lion by Bernard Shaw.

Book Title : Androcles and the Lion
Author : Bernard Shaw
LoC Class : PR: Language and Literatures: English literature
Subject : English drama (Comedy)

Review of the book Androcles and the Lion by Bernard Shaw

Androcles and the Lion is a 1912 play written by George Bernard Shaw. Androcles and the Lion is Shaw’s retelling of the tale of Androcles, a slave who is saved by the requited mercy of a lion. In the play, Shaw makes Androcles out to be one of many Christians being led to the Colosseum for torture. Characters in the play exemplify several themes and takes on both modern and supposed early Christianity, including cultural clash between Jesus’ teachings and traditional Roman values.

One of Shaw’s plays that are wholly devoted to discussing religion, and Christianity in particular. A lengthy introduction to the short 2-act play is actually in unison with the Shavian tradition! Nonetheless, it’s an enjoyable introduction indeed, although nothing compares to the magic of drama.

Shaw renovates the old fable of Androcles and the Lion, in order to serve his view of the essence of Christianity; a true socialistic essence according to his own judgement, twisted and manipulated by those with psychological instabilities like Paul and subsequently by successive dynasties since the time of Jesus.

 

Plot of Androcles and the Lion by Bernard Shaw

Androcles, a fugitive Christian tailor, accompanied by his nagging wife, is on the run from his Roman persecutors. While hiding in the forest he comes upon a wild lion who approaches him with a wounded paw. His wife runs off. Androcles sees that the cause of the animal’s distress is a large thorn embedded in its paw, which he draws out while soothing the lion in baby language.

Androcles is captured and is sent to the Colosseum to be executed with other Christians in gladiatorial combat. They are joined by a new Christian convert called Ferrovius, who struggles to reconcile his Christian principles with his violent inclinations. The Roman captain guarding them is attracted to the genteel convert Lavinia. Eventually the Christians are sent into the arena, but Ferrovius kills all the gladiators before they can harm any Christians. He is offered a job in the Praetorian Guard, which he takes. The Christians are to be released, but the crowd demands blood. To satisfy them, Androcles offers himself to be savaged by lions. But the lion that is supposed to kill him turns out to be the one that Androcles saved, and the two dance around the arena to the delight of the crowd. The emperor comes into the arena to get a closer look, and the lion attacks him. Androcles calls him off and the emperor is saved. He then declares an end to the persecution of Christians. Androcles and his new ‘pet’ depart together.

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Preface of Androcles and the Lion by Bernard Shaw

The short play is often printed with a preface that includes a long examination of the Gospels by Shaw, in which Shaw analyzes the Bible and proclaims his findings. In summary, Shaw states that Jesus was a benevolent genius (in areas ranging from moral to social to economic) who eventually bought into popular ideas of his divinity and impending martyrdom. Shaw goes on to state that the teachings of Jesus were lost with his crucifixion, and that the Christian churches that followed are instead based on the teachings and philosophies of Paul or Barabbas. The preface is longer than the play.

This is a play in which farce and deep wisdom coexist without contradicting or undermining each other. The plot becomes predictable to those who are familiar with the ancient history of Christianity, but one must read on for the theological musings that the author inserts in the play. These theological musings are not of the high-brow kind of religious philosophies, but rather they are human, they account for the humanity.

Most religious texts want us to be righteous, never once considering that we lack the ability to be completely righteous. Androcles is the beautiful dramatisation of that fact. Another prodigious aspect of the play is that it unabashedly shows how seriously religion is considered by a vast majority of people. The handsome captain’s admiration of Lavinia, a heathen in his eyes, is a clear representation of the hypocrisy of religion.

It conveys that the good among us, despite our difference, will and can come together simply because of our human nature and nothing else. It is perhaps because of this conspicuous portrayal of the self-seriousness of religion that the play was banned in some parts of the world.

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Significance of Androcles and the Lion by Bernard Shaw

The play was written at a time when the Christian Church was an important influence on society and there was strong pressure on non-believers in public life. The reversal of roles in the play possibly served to evoke empathy from his targeted audience. The characters also represent different “types” of Christian believers. The journey and final outcome of each of the characters make it clear which believers Shaw sympathizes with the most, especially with Lavinia. One of the most famous passages of the play is Lavinia’s metaphor of capturing a mouse to converting from Christianity to believing in the Roman gods, where Lavinia shows that the most important part of religion is earnestness and a lack of hypocrisy. Hypocrisy was a characteristic in the Church that Shaw condemned.

The play has themes of martyrdom and persecution which are portrayed through the vehicle of comedy. Another point in the play is his position against vivisection, which connected to his philosophy in being a vegetarian. In the play, Shaw uses slapstick, verbal wit and physical comedy to portray his themes.

 

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