Theatre as Social Criticism

Heartbreak House (1919)
by George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)

The Cherry Orchard (1903)
by Anton Chekhov (1860-1904)

Both Shaw and Chekhov portrayed human unconsciousness as social decay and irresponsible behavior in P-B. Both target the landowner class living on their estates as idle and selfish, while the intellectuals of both Russia and England are clueless as to the self-destructive injustice of the caste system operating in both countries. In many of their plays, including Heartbreak House and The Cherry Orchard,  both men portray the effete upper classes, the oligarchy, playing childish games of pearls (material gain), pleasure (romance and intrigue), and power (social and economic manipulation) while fin de siècle civilization is about to crumble about them.

The reason for all of the upper-class fun and games as we know is to act as a distraction from the suffering of an unsatisfactory life. Somnolence is the goal. All of the partying, gambling, drinking, eating, and adultery takes place in a dreamlike nightmare. Before the modern age of anxiety-reducing medication, this was the way the upper classes self-medicated. The pursuit of plenty, pleasure and power remain today as a false-self survival strategy, the behavior that many of us choose to attain hypersomnia, the avoidance of reality.


Find a more in-depth discussion in printed books by Roy Charles Henry. 

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