Scene from "Man and Superman" (Act Four)

Jack Tanner and Ann Whitefield

Man and Superman by George Bernard Shaw is a remarkably long yet fascinating comedy. Running about four hours, it is not nearly as popular as Shaw’s romantic-comedy Pygmalion. Yet, Man and Superman is my personal favorite of Shaw’s vast body of work. Although it was written over one hundred years ago, the play offers a great deal of insight into the thoughts of men and women.

The following two-person scene (from Act IV) is the final battle between the two main characters, Jack Tanner and Ann Whitefield.

Throughout the play Ann has been seductively luring Jack into marriage. He has been resisting as much as possible, but he is about to give in!

ANN. Violet is quite right. You ought to get married.

TANNER. (explosively) Ann: I will not marry you. Do you hear? I won’t, won’t, won’t, won’t, WON’T marry you.

ANN. (placidly) Well, nobody asked you, sir she said, sir she said, sir she said. So that’s settled.

TANNER. Yes, nobody has asked me; but everybody treats the thing as settled. It’s in the air. When we meet, the others go away on absurd pretexts to leave us alone together. Ramsden no longer scowls at me: his eye beams, as if he were already giving you away to me in church. Tavy refers me to your mother and gives me his blessing. Straker openly treats you as his future employer: it was he who first told me of it.

ANN. Was that why you ran away?

TANNER. Yes, only to be stopped by a lovesick brigand and run down like a truant schoolboy.

ANN. Well, if you don’t want to be married, you needn’t be (she turns away from him and sits down, much at her ease).

TANNER (following her) Does any man want to be hanged? Yet men let themselves be hanged without a struggle for life, though they could at least give the chaplain a black eye. We do the world’s will, not our own.

I have a frightful feeling that I shall let myself be married because it is the world’s will that you should have a husband.

ANN. I daresay I shall, someday.

TANNER. But why me—me of all men? Marriage is to me apostasy, profanation of the sanctuary of my soul, violation of my manhood, sale of my birthright, shameful surrender, ignominious capitulation, acceptance of defeat. I shall decay like a thing that has served its purpose and is done with; I shall change from a man with a future to a man with a past; I shall see in the greasy eyes of all the other husbands their relief at the arrival of a new prisoner to share their ignominy. The young men will scorn me as one who has sold out: to the women I, who have always been an enigma and a possibility, shall be merely somebody else’s property—and damaged goods at that: a secondhand man at best.

ANN. Well, your wife can put on a cap and make herself ugly to keep you in countenance, like my grandmother.

TANNER. So that she may make her triumph more insolent by publicly throwing away the bait the moment the trap snaps on the victim!

ANN. After all, though, what difference would it make? Beauty is all very well at first sight; but who ever looks at it when it has been in the house three days?

I thought our pictures very lovely when Papa bought them; but I haven’t looked at them for years. You never bother about my looks: you are too well used to me. I might be the umbrella stand.

TANNER. You lie, you vampire: you lie.

ANN. Flatterer. Why are you trying to fascinate me, Jack, if you don’t want to marry me?

TANNER. The Life Force. I am in the grip of the Life Force.

ANN. I don’t understand in the least: it sounds like the Life Guards.

TANNER. Why don’t you marry Tavy? He is willing. Can you not be satisfied unless your prey struggles?

ANN (turning to him as if to let him into a secret) Tavy will never marry. Haven’t you noticed that that sort of man never marries?

TANNER. What! a man who idolizes women! who sees nothing in nature but romantic scenery for love duets!

Tavy, the chivalrous, the faithful, the tenderhearted and true! Tavy, never marry! Why, he was born to be swept up by the first pair of blue eyes he meets in the street.

ANN. Yes, I know. All the same, Jack, men like that always live in comfortable bachelor lodgings with broken hearts, and are adored by their landladies, and never get married. Men like you always get married.

TANNER (smiting his brow) How frightfully, horribly true! It has been staring me in the face all my life; and I never saw it before.

ANN. Oh, it’s the same with women. The poetic temperament’s a very nice temperament, very amiable, very harmless and poetic, I daresay; but it’s an old maid’s temperament.

TANNER. Barren. The Life Force passes it by.

ANN. If that’s what you mean by the Life Force, yes.

TANNER. You don’t care for Tavy?

ANN (looking round carefully to make sure that Tavy is not within earshot) No.

TANNER. And you do care for me?

ANN (rising quietly and shaking her finger at him) Now, Jack! Behave yourself.

TANNER. Infamous, abandoned woman! Devil!

ANN. Boa-constrictor! Elephant!

TANNER. Hypocrite!

ANN (softly) I must be, for my future husband’s sake.

TANNER. For mine! (Correcting himself savagely) I mean for his.

ANN (ignoring the correction) Yes, for yours.

You had better marry what you call a hypocrite, Jack. Women who are not hypocrites go about in rational dress and are insulted and get into all sorts of hot water. And then their husbands get dragged in too, and live in continual dread of fresh complications. Wouldn’t you prefer a wife you could depend on?

TANNER. No: a thousand times no: hot water is the revolutionist’s element. You clean men as you clean milk-pails, by scalding them.

ANN. Cold water has its uses too. It’s healthy.

TANNER (despairingly) Oh, you are witty: at the supreme moment the Life Force endows you with every quality. Well, I too can be a hypocrite. Your father’s will appointed me your guardian, not your suitor. I shall be faithful to my trust.

ANN (in low siren tones) He asked me who I would have as my guardian before he made that will. I chose you!

TANNER. The will is yours then! The trap was laid from the beginning. 324

ANN (concentrating all her magic) From the beginning—from our childhood—for both of us—by the Life Force.

TANNER. I will not marry you. I will not marry you.

ANN. Oh, you will, you will.

TANNER. I tell you, no, no, no.

ANN. I tell you, yes, yes, yes.

TANNER. No.

ANN (coaxing—imploring—almost exhausted) Yes.

Before it is too late for repentance. Yes.

TANNER (struck by the echo from the past) When did all this happen to me before? Are we two dreaming?

ANN (suddenly losing her courage, with an anguish that she does not conceal) No. We are awake; and you have said no: that is all.

TANNER (brutally) Well?

ANN. Well, I made a mistake: you do not love me.

TANNER (seizing her in his arms) It is false: I love you. The Life Force enchants me: I have the whole world in my arms when I clasp you. But I am fighting for my freedom, for my honor, for my self, one and indivisible.

ANN. Your happiness will be worth them all.