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Back to Methuselah
(George Bernard Shaw)

Act I: In the Beginning. In Eden, Adam discovered a dead fawn; he and Eve now understood that death must come to them, but Adam was also bored by the idea of eternal life. Adam disposed of the fawn, and the Serpent awoke and told Eve that birth could overcome Death. She also told Eve of Lilith, who had given birth to Adam and Eve by tearing herself apart and that it took two to give birth. Adam left and the Serpent told Eve of the great secret of love and birth. Several centuries later, in Mesopotamia, Adam was digging and Eve spinning. Cain entered and taunted Adam; Adam replied that Cain had murdered his brother. Cain wanted Eve to create more men so he could fight them. When Cain claimed that he was a higher thing than man, Eve said he was simply Anti-Man. Cain wanted martial glory and activity. Eve regarded Lua, Cain’s wife, and her daughter as good-for-nothing. Eve worried that already her grandchildren were dying before they had learned to live, and she thought there must be something better than digging, spinning, and killing. Act II: The Gospel of the Brothers Barnabas. After World War I, the brothers Barnabas discussed their theory of Creative Evolution and their belief that for humans to develop completely they needed to live at least three hundred years; they believed that nature would work on the imagination and will and accomplish this result. The brothers were joined by Franklyn’s daughter and a young clergyman, and the parlormaid said that if she were to live several hundred years, she would hesitate to marry her fiancé, the cook. The brothers were visited by two politicians who thought that the brothers had a scheme for winning the next election. They demonstrated their political stupidity and lost interest but still wished to exploit the theory. Haslam and Savvy were told that anyone might be the one to make this "evolutionary leap" yet have no idea that it was to happen. Haslam laughed at this. Act III: The Thing Happens. Burge-Lubin, the president of the British Islands in 2170, wanted Barnabas to attend a film on a system for breathing under water. The state is really run by a wise Chinaman named Confucius. Barnabas saw the film of high officials who had drowned over the last several centuries and reported that four people from the past were the present Archbishop of York. He turned out to be Haslam, who looked to be forty-five years old but admitted to being 283 years old; he had been forced to stage "deaths" because of bureaucratic rules and pension problems. Mrs. Lutestring entered and turned out to be the Barnabas’ parlor maid, now 275. She and Haslam realized that they could produce more long-livers and left to discuss marriage. The others now believed the theory. Act IV: Tragedy of an Elderly Gentleman. In 3000, an Elderly Gentleman was on a visit to the lands of his ancestors on the Galway coast, accompanied by his son-in-law, the British prime minister, and General Aufsteig, who is much like both Cain and Napoleon. The Gentleman was warned by a long-liver that this was a dangerous place for short-livers because of the disease of discouragement. He was given a companion, Zoo, a young girl of 56; he was shocked when Zoo claimed that long-livers were superior; she believed short-livers should be killed, like bad children. Leading the Gentleman to the temple of the Oracle, she said that the prime minister only pretended to consult the Oracle. The general confronted the veiled Oracle and said that he was the Man of Destiny, a military genius who had no talent except for war. Since he would be dethroned if he went on making war, he asked the Oracle for a way out of this problem. Telling him he should die, she shot him—but missed. The Gentleman arrived with the British Envoy. After talk with Zoo and others, the Gentleman became more discouraged. The Envoy wanted to know whether he should call an election in August or in the spring. The Oracle told him what she had told his predecessor fifteen years before: "Go home, poor fool." He left and decided to tell the people that he had gotten the exact same answer as his predecessor. The Gentleman was left alone and begged the Oracle for help; he wanted to stay. She killed him, saying that she could do nothing else for him. Act V: As Far as Thought Can Reach. The children of A.D. 31,920, who were born at the age of eighteen and became adolescents four years later, were playing and making love. Chloe had just realized that art and pleasure no longer interested her and that she wished only to think of mathematics. Today was a Festival of the Arts and a birth. A He-Ancient of 800 years came by; the children were appalled at his way of life. A She-Ancient came and broke the giant egg shell and Amaryllis was born; she told Amaryllis that she would live long but eventually die accidentally. Arjillax made statues of the Ancients, showing their maturity; the children disliked them. Martellus made two life-size statues, Man and Woman, for a scientist named Pygmalion, who managed to infuse them with life. Everyone was disgusted with them because they were like Man of thousands of years before. They died of discouragement, and the Ancients warned the children against making "dolls"; the only things they could really make were themselves. Eventually there would only be thought, not people. Night came and the ghosts of Adam, Eve, Cain, and the Serpent appeared. The ghost of Lilith, the mother of creation, appeared and ended the play with a long speech about the constant attempts of the Life Force to create new and better forms of life.

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