Man and Superman is a philosophical comedy (or comedic philosophy?) written by George Bernard Shaw.
What Has Happened So Far:
In Act One, we meet the characters John (Jack) Tanner and Anne Whitefield, among others. By Act Two, we learn that although Tanner wants to remain independent and unmarried, young Anne is in hot pursuit, figuratively and literally. By the end of Act Two, Tanner discovers Anne's intentions, so he and his chauffeur, Henry Straker, drive away. They travel all the way from England to the Sierra Nevada mountains in Spain.
Act Three - Meet Mendoza:
The third act of Man and Superman begins with a band of criminals (who romantically refer to themselves as brigands) about to start a meeting. They are very politically minded brigands, consisting of Frenchmen, Englishmen, Socialist-Democrats, and a single, rather grumpy anarchist. Their leader is a charismatic Jew named Mendoza.
Once their meeting is adjourned, Tanner and Straker are brought into he camp as captives. Mendoza is in he business of kidnapping passing motorists (who are always wealthy since this is he early 1900s and only the wealthy own cars). Tanner, being a member of the idle rich, is happy to pay whatever ransom Mendoza requests; hence, the two men become instant friends.
As the brigands return to their camps and caves to drift off to sleep, Mendoza confides in his captives, explaining that he still longs for a beautiful girl that turned him away because he was Jewish. Her name is Louisa, and coincidentally it turns out to be Straker's sister. The chauffeur becomes distraught, but Tanner chides him, saying: "All this family pride is very old fashioned." Mendoza then begins to share some of the world's most pathetic love poetry, to which Tanner falls fast asleep.
The Dream Sequence:
Tanner's dream during Act Three is so lengthy, so philosophical that it is often cut whenever the play is performed. When Man and Superman is performed in its entirety it runs over four hours. Omitting the dream sequence trims about 90 minutes.
Note: The dream takes place in the afterlife. The people in the dream parallel the characters in Man and Superman:
- Don Juan = John Tanner
- Dona Ana = Anne Whitefield
- The Statue = Roebuck Ramsey
- The Devil = Mendoza
This play-within-a-play takes place in a smoky yellow void called Hell. An Old Woman (Dona Ana), recently deceased, wanders through the void until she meets Don Juan, the world famous seducer of women. Having led a virtuous life, she is aghast when Don Juan informs her that she is in Hell. She is also upset because she could have been so much wickeder, instead of spending so much time and energy being pious.
Don Juan explains that Hell and Heaven are quite different than one would expect.
Shaw's Heaven and Hell:
Heaven is far beyond the human concept of justice. It is not an idle paradise. It is a place for contemplation. Don Juan compares Heaven to being backstage, behind the scenes. The goal of Heaven is to urge life toward higher forms. Above all, Heaven exemplifies reality, whereas Hell deals only in illusion.
Hell, in contrast, is a place for meaningless pleasure, attractive surface appearances, and fantasy. (It sounds like Las Vegas, don't you think?). Because nothing is real, and nothing matters, Don Juan is miserable in Hell. He claims that, "Hell is the home of honor, duty, justice, and the rest of the seven deadly virtues." However, many other people enjoy this infamous underworld.
In Hell, people can appear whatever age they like. When the Old Woman transforms her age to 27, Don Juan recognizes her as Dona Ana de Ulloa, a virtuous woman he once tried to seduce. Her father died while fighting him in a duel. Then, the angry Dad returned to Earth in the form of a statue, grabbed the unrepentant Don Juan, and dragged the seducer down into Hell.
Ana is shocked to learn that her dead father, who has become bored with Heaven, has decided to move to Hell and party with the Devil. Her father appears, still donning his statue form, and is soon joined by the Devil.
Meet the Devil:
Instead of wielding a pitchfork and stomping around on hooves, the Devil is described as "not unlike Mendoza, though not so interesting." This version of Lucifer "looks older" and is "prematurely bald." The Devil claims he wants "sympathy with love and joy." In contrast, Don Juan longs to know reality; he seeks to ameliorate life on Earth.
The Devil doesn't believe that the human race is worth saving. He claims that mankind's greatest technological advances have only furthered the art of warfare. Don Juan disagrees, arguing hat man "loves to think of himself as bold and bad. He is neither one nor the other: he is only a coward." Humans can overcome fear when they believe they are fighting for a higher purpose.