Summary of George Bernard Shaw’s Candida

Candida is a domestic comedy written by George Bernard Shaw. Candida is a three-act play revolving around Candida, an attractive and vibrant lady, James Mavor Morell, a clergyman and Candida’s husband and Marchbanks, an eighteen year old boy entranced with Candida. The play is primarily a love triangle but has elements of wit, positive exploration of love, marriage, loyalty and position of women in the family. The play has a comic tone yet provokes the thoughts of the viewers.

Short Summary

James Morell is a very popular speaker. His father-in-law, Burgess comes to meet him and they decide to put an end to an old quarrel. An adolescent poet, Eugene Marchbanks, is in love with Morell’s wife, Candida. Eugene shocks and infuriates Morell by telling him that he loves his wife and that Morell is nothing more than a preacher with empty words. Morell, in rage, seizes him by his collar. Candida comes and smells that there is something wrong. On her invitation, Eugene stays for dinner.

The play moves slowly towards the climax. Eugene’s views about love are described. His reaction to Candida’s routine domestic tasks is both revealing as well as amusing. Candida’s repetition of words of Marchbanks pierces the heart of Morell. He is shocked that his own wife feels that his speeches are useless. Her praise of Eugene is too much for him. But his faith in her is not shaken. He leaves her and Eugene back at home and goes out, with others, to deliver his lecture.

In the only private meeting between Candida and Eugene, the best of both the characters is revealed. Eugene gains unusual insight in his love for Candida. His love becomes spiritual. However, Morell forces him to accept the challenge. Both ask Candida to choose one of them. Candida chooses her husband as he is emotionally weaker of the two and is totally dependent on her. Eugene, broken hearted, leaves the stage. Nobody knows anything about the ‘secret’ in his heart.


Act 1

Reverend James Mavor Morell is the parson of St. Dominic’s Church. The scene of the play is set in the drawing room of his parsonage.

When the curtain rises, James Morell, portrayed as a friendly and a physically fit man, is going through his letters. His typist, Proserpine Garnett, portrayed as an active lady, is working at the typewriter. The scene creates an understanding in the mind of the viewer that Morell is always called upon by various societies to come and talk to people about his social ideas. These lectures keep him very busy. Some of the invitations received include those from Hoxton Freedom group and Founders’ Company. He decides to go for the former and reject the latter invitation.

Then, Morell’s curate, Alexander Mill or Lexy, enters the scene. Morell prepares to leave to receive his wife, Candida at the railway station. Proserpine informs Lexy about his day’s schedule and Lexy informs Morell that his father-in-law, Burgess will visit him today. Morell is taken by surprise as Burgess had not visited him for last three years after a heated quarrel.

After this, Morell exits leaving Proserpine and Lexy on the scene. Lexy praises Morell, whereas Proserpine criticizes Morell for too much praising his wife. Lexy accuses Proserpine that she is jealous of Candida’s beauty. Proserpine counter-accuses Lexy of trying to imitate Morell.

As Lexy is about to leave for his day’s works, Burgess enters the scene. He insults Proserpine treating her as a non-worthy low working class person. Morell enters the scene. Burgess states that he has come to meet out of love and to make up for the old quarrel. The viewer is given an idea about a quarrel over a contract which Burgess could not secure due to Morell as the latter doubted that former will pay in-adequate wages to women and the issue of child labour involved in the contract. Both of them fall into a heated exchange of words. Burgess presents himself as a changed person who now pays Trade Union wage rates to labour and does not employ women labour. However, he soon exposes himself by telling that he is doing so to get a contract of County Council of Hackney. Morell asks him to behave in the same way as he did earlier so that Morell can continue calling Burgess a scoundrel and Burgess can continue calling Morell a fool. Burgess tells Morell that the quarrel is now over and even tries to flatter him that he is going to be the next Bishop if he changes his ideas of preaching about socialism.

After this, Candida appears on the scene. Morell expresses his regrets about not being able to receive her at the railway station due to detaining conversation with her father, Burgess. When enquired about inconvenience with the luggage handling, she shares that Eugene Marchbanks took care of that. She asks Morell to go and pay the cabman before the Marchbanks does so.

When Morell leaves, Candida tells Burgess about Marchbanks as Morell’s discovery. She tells that Marchbanks was sleeping on embankment and Morell brought him home. She tells that former is a shy boy, of eighteen years of age and an Earl’s nephew. Burgess suddenly becomes interested in him due to his royal background and invites him to have dinner with him at his club on one of the nights. He excuses himself as he has to catch a train and exits followed by Morell to see him off.

As Morell returns, Candida leaves the scene to look after the house. Morell invites Marchbanks to dinner which he refuses stating Candida has asked him to do so even if her husband invites him to dinner. Both of them enter into a conversation with each other. Morell tells him that he is enjoying a happy married life. Marchbanks counter questions Morell that does he really think so or it is just his illusion. Marchbanks blames Morell to use Candida, his wife, as a slave which shocks Morell. Marchbanks further asks that does he really think that a lady like Candida can be truly happy with his sermons and preaching when all she wants is reality, truth and freedom. Morell is enraged by his statement that though Morell loves Candida, but Candida actually hates Morell. Morell catches hold of Marchbanks by the collar to which the latter boldly states that former may have more physical strength but is not a match to his revolutionary ideas. Marchbanks challenged that Candida must be given an opportunity to choose between the two and Marchbanks will free Candida of Morell’s slavery. When Morell advances to catch hold of him again, then he turns away challenging him to tell Candida about the true reason of his leaving.

When Marchbanks was about to leave, Candida enters the scene. She is surprised by the ruffled collar of Marchbanks and tidies his collar and hair. She invites him to dinner which is affirmed by Morell. The scene closes with the dinner being laid and comment of Marchbanks as “I am happiest of the mortals” and subsequent closing remarks of Morell as “So was I an hour ago”.

Act 2

The play moves over to the afternoon of the same day in this Act. Marchbanks is shown alone in Morell’s office meddling with Proserpine’s typewriter. Proserpine is not happy when she comes to know about this. She asks Marchbanks if he was trying to write a love letter to which he counter-attacks by asking that whether she does so. On sensing Proserpine’s anger, he says that she is shy like him. All shy people crave for love but fail to express it. Only wicked people ask for it as they do not have any of their own to give. Proserpine stops talking to him.

After this, Burgess enters and express sympathy towards Marchbanks that he must be getting bored talking to none but the typist. Proserpine gets enraged and titles him as ‘a silly old fathead’ and squelches that Marchbanks may now be benefitted by his ‘polished conversation’. Burgess threatened Proserpine that he would complain to Morell, her employer for her behavior. At this point, Proserpine leaves.

Burgess shares with Marchbanks that he considers Morell to be mad. When Morell comes in, he tells Burgess that Candida is filling oil in lamps and will soon join them. Marchbanks gets shocked and accuses him of getting all dirty work done by Candida while he is sitting in comfort in his office. Marchbanks offers to go and help Candida which Morell refuses.

Candida enters complaining Morell that he has used her favourite scrubbing brush for polishing with graphite. Marchbanks is deeply hurt and cries “Horror, horror, horror’. Burgess starts thinking that he, too, is mad to which Candida titled it as ‘poetic horrors’. She tries to appease Marchbanks by coaxing him to buy her a new elegant scrubbing brush. Listening this, Marchbanks fell into poetic trance and starts talking about taking Candida to a place where Nature takes care of household chores.

Morell makes fun of his dreamland by calling it as fit for lazy, selfish and useless to which Marchbanks retorts by calling it as fit for beautiful, free and happy. He accuses him of preaching and leaving his wife for scrubbing.

Candida does not like Marchbanks humiliating Morell. She defends him saying that Morell cleans his own boots and for wrongly accusing Morell, Marchbanks would have to clean his boots the next day.

Proserpine enters with a telegram for Morell to which he writes a reply and goes out. Candida too leaves, taking Marchbanks with her to peel and slice onions. Proserpine confides in Burgess that Marchbanks is mad to which he affirms that Marchbanks is truly strange. Morell returns and Burgess goes out to smoke. Morell, in a humourous way, teases Proserpine to call his father-in-law ‘a silly old fathead’ to which she starts crying and leaves.

Candida returns alone and finds that Morell is not happy and is disappointed. She sits close to him and asks him to talk to her. She advises him to look after his health and stop lecturing. She shares with him that people do not come to hear him because they like it. They come because they want to relax after six days of hard work. She further shares that women come to listen to him not because of attraction for his words but for his physical appearance. They are all in secret love with him, just like Proserpine (or Prosssy). When Morell looks shocked, she tells him that she not only works for a lower salary for Morell but also helps in minor household chores just to be near her love, Morell.

Candida expresses her feelings for Marchbanks that he needs love and care. She further expresses her thoughts about him. When Morell tells that he has confidence in her goodness and purity, she mocks him by saying that she would happily give both to Marchbanks. It is her love for Morell that he should put his trust in. She acknowledges that if this love will be gone, she would not care to listen to his sermons which are mere phrases that cheat all. Morell is shocked as these are exact repetition of Marchbanks’ words. Candida responds by praising Marchbanks that latter has better understanding and insight than Morell. Morell asks Candida to stay away from Marchbanks.

When Burgess and Marchbanks enter, Morell is sitting down at his table sadly. When Marchbanks enquired the reason, Morell responded that either former was correct earlier that morning or Candida has gone mad. Burgess is surprised and expresses ‘Candida mad too…’ as he already considers Morell and Marchbanks mad.

Lexy enters and tells that there is great agitation at Guild of St. Matthews upon cancellation of address by Morell at such a short notice. Morell says that he has never done it earlier. Candida succeeds in urging Morell not to cancel his address. Morell consents and everyone agrees to join and listen to his address. Morell asks Candida and Marchbanks not to join to which they both agree.

The Act closes with Marchbanks remarks that it is brave and beautiful on Morell’s part to leave Candida and Marchbanks back home together.

Act 3

The Act switches to ten o’ clock the same day. Marchbanks and Candida are seated in the drawing room. Marchbanks begins with reciting one of his poems to her. Candida is lost in her dreams holding a poker. It is shown that Marchbanks has been reciting his poems to her ever since Morell left with everyone else for his address at Guild of St. Matthews and has left them alone together. Suddenly, Candida asks him to stop reciting poems and speak to her. Afraid that he might do something wrong, Marchbanks wants to go to park to take a stroll. Candida forced him to share his heart’s feelings with her. Marchbanks lies on the rug and puts his head on Candida’s knees feeling heavenly blessed. He says that his only desire left is to keep repeating ‘Candida’ for the rest of his life. Suddenly, Morell enters finding them in this pose. Candida is surprised but not embarrassed. Morell tells that his address went well and Burgess, Lexy and Proserpine have gone to a restaurant to have supper. At this, Candida leaves to instruct the house-maid to go to sleep.

Marchbanks is shown telling Morell that ever since his departure, he has been reciting poems to Candida, except for the last ten minutes. However, in those ten minutes, he came close to Candida, almost to the ‘Gates of Heaven’. Upon Morell’s telling that he must have been repulsed by Candida, Marchbanks called him a fool. He says that she became an angel for him and made him realise the reality.

Marchbanks tells Morell that in reality, both of them do not deserve a lady like Candida. He advised Morell to go on a pilgrimage with him but in opposite directions to find a suitable husband for her, who can protect her, work for her and be an ideal father for her children. Morell’s illusion of being provider of needs and protector of Candida crashes to pieces. He challenges Morell to call Candida and choose between the two of them.

When Candida enters, she finds that Morell is quite upset and disturbed. Understanding that Marchbanks has mentally disturbed Morell, she orders the former out of the house. Marchbanks tries to appease her.

Soon, Proserpine, Burgess and Lexy return. Proserpine has over-drunk and Lexy accompanies her home. Burgess also leaves immediately.

Marchbanks forces Morell to tell everything to Candida. After initial hesitation, Morell asks Candida that Morell and Marchbanks want her to choose between the two of them. Candida is enraged and bursts that she is ready for auction and asks them what they have to offer as her bid. When Morell starts sobbing, Marchbanks accuses him of trying to gain sympathy.

Morell controls himself and says that he can only offer his strength to defend Candida, his honesty for her security, his ability to support her livelihood and his position for her dignity. On the other hand, Marchbanks offers his weakness, desolation and heart’s needs for Candida’s love. Candida is impressed by the bid but announces that she would choose the weaker one. Marchbanks immediately understands that Morell has won whereas, Morell, considering himself to be stronger one, assumes that he has lost her.

Candida seats between the two making both of them to understand the reason for her choice, that is, Morell. She says that Marchbanks has always been neglected by his parents and forced to live a life of loneliness and desolation for years. He was forced to starved to study at Oxford. His parents never cared about him and he is able to handle the life of loneliness. However, Morell has been spoilt by his sisters and mother. He is much too dependent on Candida and cannot lead a lonely life. She tells Morell that it is not him to protect her and works for her; it is she who has built a castle of comfort around him and made him the ‘Master of the Castle’. Morell is emotionally much weaker than Marchbanks. Marchbanks accepts his weakness and expresses gratitude for Candida. Marchbanks leaves feeling heart-broken and depressed.

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