Candida premiered in 1898 and has played in countless theaters throughout the century since. It was the first play ever staged at Horse Cave Theatre when it opened its first season in 1977. Horse Cave restaged it for its 25th-anniversary celebration in 2001, which is when KET’s field trip was produced.
Despite its classic status, Candida has proven itself to be a truly modern play with each return. Its timeless humor revolves around confusing interactions between the sexes as Candida Morell, wife of a respectable reverend, finds herself caught between two men: her husband and the free-spirited poet they’ve invited into their home.
On one hand is Morell, who knows all about the spiritual side of love, but perhaps not so much about his own wife’s needs. On the other is the young poet who believes he truly knows the heart. Which man does Candida really want? She alone must ultimately choose.
Playwright George Bernard Shaw asks, “What is the meaning of love?” But he never answers his question—instead, he lets the audience decide.
Shaw’s character of Candida is open and frank; she has been called “one of Shaw’s wisest and strongest female characters.” She’s more on top of the situation than either of her suitors, and therein lies the humor—and the lesson—of Shaw’s drama.
Finally, for the record: Shaw’s Candida is not pronounced “Can-deed”—that’s the novel by Voltaire. And it’s not “can-DEE-da.” That’s Bernstein’s musical. The title character’s name is pronounced a little like the country—“CAN-de-da.”
Depicted as a "strong woman," Candida makes the wrong choice, but being a strong woman at the time the play was written simply meant that she did have the power to make her own choices. The sad thing is in the last act, Candida chooses to be a co-dependent, because as her husband James is "the weakest" and indeed, the neediest, of her two choices, she prefers to be the strong partner by choosing the role of mother to her "baby" James. She turns to the real baby and scolds him with the reminder of their age difference, the only thing Shaw could possibly think of at the time to justify Candida's choice. So in the end putting the beggar poet's future in the hands of his own heart, Candida refuses to follow the longing in her own heart for the passion and excitement that the younger suitor's presence has allowed her "the choice...>" To put this play into production in this day and age with the last comments of Act III dedicated to the ageist excuse Candida uses to dismiss the young poet I think is quite unsuitable considering the progress women have made in regard to making their choices, at many times preferring the companionship of younger more adventurous men directed by their longing hearts, to the boredom and "comfort" of older men that in essence crave their wives to be their second "mothers."
Act 1 begins:
A fine October morning in the north east suburbs of London, a vast district many miles away from the London of Mayfair and St. James's, much less known there than the Paris of the Rue de Rivoli and the Champs Elysees, and much less narrow, squalid, fetid and airless in its slums; strong in comfortable, prosperous middle class life; wide-streeted, myriad-populated; well-served with ugly iron urinals, Radical clubs, tram lines, and a perpetual stream of yellow cars; enjoying in its main thoroughfares the luxury of grass-grown "front gardens," untrodden by the foot of man save as to the path from the gate to the hall door; but blighted by an intolerable monotony of miles and miles of graceless, characterless brick houses, black iron railings, stony pavements, slaty roofs, and respectably ill dressed or disreputably poorly dressed people, quite accustomed to the place, and mostly plodding about somebody else's work, which they would not do if they themselves could help it. The little energy and eagerness that crop up show themselves in cockney cupidity and business "push." Even the policemen and the chapels are not infrequent enough to break the monotony. The sun is shining cheerfully; there is no fog; and though the smoke effectually prevents anything, whether faces and hands or bricks and mortar, from looking fresh and clean, it is not hanging heavily enough to trouble a Londoner.
This desert of unattractiveness has its oasis. Near the outer end of the Hackney Road is a park of 217 acres, fenced in, not by railings, but by a wooden paling, and containing plenty of greensward, trees, a lake for bathers, flower beds with the flowers arranged carefully in patterns by the admired cockney art of carpet gardening and a sandpit, imported from the seaside for the delight of the children, but speedily deserted on its becoming a natural vermin preserve for all the petty fauna of Kingsland, Hackney and Hoxton. A bandstand, an unfinished forum for religious, anti-religious and political orators, cricket pitches, a gymnasium, and an old fashioned stone kiosk are among its attractions. Wherever the prospect is bounded by trees or rising green grounds, it is a pleasant place. Where the ground stretches far to the grey palings, with bricks and mortar, sky signs, crowded chimneys and smoke beyond, the prospect makes it desolate and sordid.
The best view of Victoria Park is from the front window of St. Dominic's Parsonage, from which not a single chimney is visible. The parsonage is a semi-detached villa with a front garden and a porch. Visitors go up the flight of steps to the porch: tradespeople and members of the family go down by a door under the steps to the basement, with a breakfast room, used for all meals, in front, and the kitchen at the back. Upstairs, on the level of the hall door, is the drawing-room, with its large plate glass window looking on the park. In this room, the only sitting-room that can be spared from the children and the family meals, the parson, the Reverend James Mavor Morell does his work. He is sitting in a strong round backed revolving chair at the right hand end of a long table, which stands across the window, so that he can cheer himself with the view of the park at his elbow. At the opposite end of the table, adjoining it, is a little table; only half the width of the other, with a typewriter on it. His typist is sitting at this machine, with her back to the window. The large table is littered with pamphlets, journals, letters, nests of drawers, an office diary, postage scales and the like. A spare chair for visitors having business with the parson is in the middle, turned to his end. Within reach of his hand is a stationery case, and a cabinet photograph in a frame. Behind him the right hand wall, recessed above the fireplace, is fitted with bookshelves, on which an adept eye can measure the parson's divinity and casuistry by a complete set of Browning's poems and Maurice's Theological Essays, and guess at his politics from a yellow backed Progress and Poverty, Fabian Essays, a Dream of John Ball, Marx's Capital, and half a dozen other literary landmarks in Socialism. Opposite him on the left, near the typewriter, is the door. Further down the room, opposite the fireplace, a bookcase stands on a cellaret, with a sofa near it. There is a generous fire burning; and the hearth, with a comfortable armchair and a japanned flower painted coal scuttle at one side, a miniature chair for a boy or girl on the other, a nicely varnished wooden mantelpiece, with neatly moulded shelves, tiny bits of mirror let into the panels, and a travelling clock in a leather case (the inevitable wedding present), and on the wall above a large autotype of the chief figure in Titian's Virgin of the Assumption, is very inviting. Altogether the room is the room of a good housekeeper, vanquished, as far as the table is concerned, by an untidy man, but elsewhere mistress of the situation. The furniture, in its ornamental aspect, betrays the style of the advertised "drawing-room suite" of the pushing suburban furniture dealer; but there is nothing useless or pretentious in the room. The paper and panelling are dark, throwing the big cheery window and the park outside into strong relief.
The Reverend James Mavor Morell is a Christian Socialist clergyman of the Church of England, and an active member of the Guild of St. Matthew and the Christian Social Union. A vigorous, genial, popular man of forty, robust and goodlooking, full of energy, with pleasant, hearty, considerate manners, and a sound, unaffected voice, which he uses with the clean, athletic articulation of a practised orator, and with a wide range and perfect command of expression. He is a first rate clergyman, able to say what he likes to whom he likes, to lecture people without setting himself up against them, to impose his authority on them without humiliating them, and to interfere in their business without impertinence. His well-spring of spiritual enthusiasm and sympathetic emotion has never run dry for a moment: he still eats and sleeps heartily enough to win the daily battle between exhaustion and recuperation triumphantly. Withal, a great baby, pardonably vain of his powers and unconsciously pleased with himself. He has a healthy complexion, a good forehead, with the brows somewhat blunt, and the eyes bright and eager, a mouth resolute, but not particularly well cut, and a substantial nose, with the mobile, spreading nostrils of the dramatic orator, but, like all his features, void of subtlety.
The typist, Miss Proserpine Garnett, is a brisk little woman of about 30, of the lower middle class, neatly but cheaply dressed in a black merino skirt and a blouse, rather pert and quick of speech, and not very civil in her manner, but sensitive and affectionate. She is clattering away busily at her machine whilst Morell opens the last of his morning's letters. He realizes its contents with a comic groan of despair...
The characters and the play.
Candida is the story of what happens when Eugene Marchbanks, a young, utterly romantic, completely dreamy, totally inexperienced young man who does nothing but write poetry and agonize about the world, challenges a mature, experienced, wordly, powerful public speaker, the Reverend James Morell, for the love of Morell's wife, Candida. The other people in the Morell household--his secretary, Proserpina Garnett, his curate, Lexy Mills, and his father-in-law, Mr. Burgess, find themselves caught up in what happens without really understanding what's going on. The comic--and ironic--nature of the play comes from the fact that Marchbanks gives Morell the fight of his life for his wife--and Morell is forced to learn some things about himself that Candida and Marchbanks can see with perfect clarity--things that Morell cannot see at all.
The Reverend James Mavor Morell
A mature man well-established in life, and husband to Candida. As described by Shaw, "A vigorous, genial, popular man, full of energy, with pleasant, hearty, considerate manners, and a sound unaffected voice, which he uses with the clean, athletic articulation of a practiced orator. He is Christian Socialist and clergyman of the Church of England, able to say what he likes to whom he likes, to lecture people without setting himself up against them, to impose his authority on them without humiliating them, and on occasion, to interfere in their business without impertinence. Withal, a great baby, pardonably vain of his powers and unconsciously pleased with himself." Morell loves his Candida more than life itself, and is quite disturbed by her apparent infatuation with Mr. Marchbanks.
Miss Proserpine Garnett
Is a brisk woman, unmarried, younger than Morell and about the same age as Candida, of the lower middle class. She is Mr. Morell's typist, and as described by Shaw "Notably pert and quick of speech, and not very civil in her manner, but sensitive and affectionate." She is secretly in love with Morell, and jealous of how he constantly gushes over Candida.
The Reverend Alexander Mill
Mr. Morell's curate, and the youngest man of the household except for Marchbanks. As described by Shaw, "a young gentleman gathered by Morell from the nearest University settlement, whither he had come from Oxford to give the east end of London the benefit of his university training. He is a conceitedly well intentioned, enthusiastic, immature novice, with nothing positively unbearable about him except a habit of speaking with his lips carefully closed a full half inch from each corner for the sake of finicking articulation and a set of university vowels, this being his chief means so far of bringing his Oxford refinement (as he calls his habits) to bear on Hackney vulgarity." He idolizes Morell, and tries to be just like him, and although he isn't very successful at it, he has won Morell over by his "doglike" devotion.
Candida's father, hence definitely older than Morell. He is the spitting image of Alfred Doolittle in Shaw's Pygmalion. He is a businessman, and runs what would be called today a "sweat shop" of under paid workers that make clothes. This is a main point of contention between himself and Morell. He is not a bad man however, and feels sincerely justified in the wages he pays, since he thinks that good wages will only lead to "drink and huppishness in working men". Described by Shaw as "A vulgar, ignorant, guzzling man, offensive and contemptuous to people whose labor is cheap, respectful to wealth and rank, and quite sincere without rancor or envy in both attitudes. The world has offered him no decently paid work except that of a sweater; and he has become, in consequence, somewhat hoggish. But he has no suspicion of this himself, and honestly regards his commercial prosperity as the inevitable and socially wholesome triumph of the ability, industry, shrewdness, and experience in business of a man who in private is easygoing, affectionate, and humorously convivial to a fault." Burgess is textually written to be a cockney. The actor in this role must be able to do a cockney accent.