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The Man of Destiny

  10/02/2012       akseG      0 Comments

by George Bernard Shaw

Category: Architecture

  • Type: Paperback
  • Pages: 52 pages
  • ISBN: none
  • ASIN: B0082XLQC8
  • Edition Language: English

Napoleon Outwitted14 January 2016 This is a short one act play about a guy named Napoleon. Just in case you dont know what Napoleon looked like here is a picture: If you dont happen to know who Napoelon is then I suggest you check him out on Wikipedia. Now that we have sorted out everybody who didnt pay attention in high school history (and those who werent taught about this guy in high school history – if history was actually taught at their high school because some people, like Henry Ford, believe that history is bunk) I can now start talking about the play without having to go into a huge about of background material. The play is set at an inn in the Italian Alps when Napoleon was still a general and after he had defeated the Italians at the battle of Lodi. According to Shaw Napoleon came to the conclusion that cannons would be a lot more effective if you actually fired them at the enemy as opposed to, well, anywhere eles (though Im sure military commanders were always firing cannons at people because, unless those people are behind a wall, what is the good of having a cannon – okay, to knock down walls, but Im sure armies used cannons for a lot more than knocking down walls and scaring horses). He also indicated that Napoleon made effective use of an underpaid and unequipped army simply by telling them that once that had won the battle then they were free to plunder the enemy (which, once again, I hardly consider all that original). Anyway, the play isnt about the battle, or Napoleons tactics, but rather a tête-� -tête between Napoleon and an unnamed lady. We are never revealed the name of this woman (I thought that it may have been Josephine, but it is suggested that he was already married to Josephine at the time). This lady had managed to convince one of Napoleons officers to hand over some correspondence that was being delivered from Paris, and then proceeds to spend the entire play teasing Napoleon about having this correspondence, but not actually giving it to him. Actually, come to think of it, it could have been Josephine since one of the letters was about how Josephine was having an affair in Paris with one of the directors, and if Napoleon were to receive this letter then it would cause a huge disruption inside France, which would hinder its ability to successfully rage war against, well, everybody else. Why Napoleon never actually recognised her is beyond me, but then again I suspect that Shaw was using a bit of poetic license (and once again, as I have suggested, the ladys identity is never revealed to us). The title of the play gives us a hint as to one of the themes running through it, namely that this event occurs before Napoleon becomes emperor, but also at a time when he is on the cusp of seizing power. We are reminded throughout the play of his common origins, and the fact that not only was he technically not French, but he was also provincial. We are also reminded that he wasnt the best soldier, and was also a failed novelist, and the idea of him even getting to this point was nothing short of absurd – yet here he is. The play looks forward to what he is to become – an emperor and a conqueror. In a way it is suggesting that destiny is truly behind Napoleon because a man of his stature, and origins, is not the type of person one would expect to sit on the cusp of ruling continental Europe. In a way the play is very typical of Shaw. We are not seeing Napoleon as a great hero (or a nasty villain) but as a ordinary man in an ordinary situation. Further, we are seeing him being bamboozled by a woman, not so much because Shaw is making him a laughing stock (though I wouldnt put it past him because the British were well known for their caricatures of the French Emperor), but rather painting him as an ordinary person in an extra-ordinary situation. I guess there are also elements of the romantic in this play, though this isnt necessarily a story of how two lovers come together, but rather the tension that exists between the sexes (though I did sense a lot of sexual tension in the play). Another interesting thing that I did pick up is how Napoleon is portrayed as somewhat of a buffoon. In a way the British portrayal of Napoleon seems to be different to the portrayal of Hitler – who was a dangerous man that had to be stopped. Sure, Napoleon had conquered Europe, but England spent a lot of the war comfortably sitting on their island across the channel. In fact it seems that, with the exception of Trafalgar, the British didnt sent troops to the continent until Napoleon was well and truly defeated. After Trafalgar it seemed as if the attitude was he cant get us, so lets just sit back and watch the show. I guess the play also adds to that rather clownish image that has come down to us.A Nation of Shopkeepers16 January 2016 It isnt normal that I would go back to a book so soon after I have published a review of it online, however for some reason thoughts continued to swim around my head, especially in relation to the last couple of pages where we have a reasonably long discourse from Napoleon in relation to the character of England. While historically, when Napoleon referred to England as being a nation of shopkeepers, no doubt he was painting the nation as being weak militarily and that all they were interested in was running their shops. I suspect he also thought that by simply cutting off their ability to trade would cripple them significantly. Obviously he was wrong, considering he lost his navy at the battle of Trafalgar, and was eventually beaten by them twice in the twilight of his reign. The climax of the play comes down to a harsh criticism of English Colonialism in Shaws time, and of course Shaw does this by putting it into the mouth of Napoleon. It is a very clever way of doing it because by putting such criticism into the mouth of Englands traditional enemy the audience can chose to listen to it and think about it, or simply write it off as typical French propaganda. Mind you, by the time of this play the traditional alliances had shifted to the point that England and France were no longer fighting against each other, but fighting with each other. Still, the Napoleonic Wars were still fresh in the mind of the English that Napoleon was seen (and in many ways is still seen) as the enemy of Britain. It is interesting how Shaw has turned this idea of the nation of shopkeepers around. Where Napoleon originally made the statement to suggest that it was a weakness of England, Shaw paints this idea as being not so much one of Englands strengths, but rather that which paints England as little more than another imperialist power. As a background Shaw creates the idea of three segments to society – the low, the middle, and the high. Shaw suggested that the low and the high (being the aristocracy and the peasantry) are not guided by morality, namely because the peasantry are a crude lot that pay no attention, while the aristocracy consider themselves to be above morality. It is the middle class that Shaw points out as the dangerous class as they are the ones that are guided by morality. It is interesting that Shaw makes this observation because I read a similar thing in Slavoj Zizeks First a Tragedy, then a Farce where he also talks about three elements to society: the working class, the middle class, and the ruling class. Like Shaws example, the ruling class has always been threatened by the middle class namely because they are educated. The working class has always been controllable, namely because while they may be educated, they generally spend their lives drinking, gambling, and are easily distracted. It is the middle class that needs to be controlled because that is the class that questions what is thrown at them. In the modern age it is seen as the modern urban professional, the ones sitting in their inner city cafes drinking lattes and discussing literature, while the working class tends to sit in the pubs watching football, playing pool, and then going home to continue drinking. Yet Shaw indicates that it is the English who are the dangerous ones, namely because they use this ideal of merchantilism to push their agenda. Being a shopkeeper is not seen as a bad occupation, and opening up areas for trade is not seen in a similar light as raising armies and sending them across borders to rape and pillage the land. While in the past England had sent troops onto the continent for the purpose of conquest this had not happened since the Hundred Years War. Ever since they were pushed out of the continent Englands focus on expansion, after bringing the British Islands together under the monarchy, had been to the rest of the world. Their wars of conquest had not been on the continent, but rather in the colonies. Yet Shaw indicates that these wars of expansion were thinly disguised under the auspices of expanding trade and of spreading religion. As one writer had put it, the English would first send out the missionaries, and once the missionaries had established themselves, then would come the colonist, and finally the army would arrive to protect the colonies. Mind you, it wasnt as if the government intentionally sent out the missionaries, the churches would generally do that of their own accord. However they were still British subjects on foreign soil, and if the missionaries landed up in trouble, then the troops wouldnt be far behind. It is also interesting how he paints England as a land of contrasts, similar to Orwells doublespeak. England claims that there is no slavery on their shores, yet children would be working horrendous hours in appalling conditions in the factories. People would be locked up on the simplest of pretexts, and then set across the ocean as labourers to establish new colonies. The British army would invade other lands, sometimes quite brutally, to push their trade agenda. If a market refused to trade with the merchants, then the navy would go in to force them to open up. This new idea of conquest has been taken up in the 20th Century by the United States, where we had them sending warships into the Japanese Harbour in the late 19th Century, as well as troops into the Middle East in an attempt to create new markets and access new resources. What Shaw is suggesting is that the term A Nation of Shopkeepers is not a term of mockery, or a reference to weakness, but rather a new form of imperialism that he hidden by a veil of respectability.

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