Authors: Harley Granville-Barker

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English playwright and historian

Author Works


The Weather-Hen: Or, Invertebrata, pr. 1899 (with Berte Thomas)

The Marrying of Ann Leete, pr. 1902

Prunella: Or, Love in a Dutch Garden, pr. 1904 (with Laurence Housman; music by Joseph Moorat)

The Voysey Inheritance, pr. 1905

A Miracle, pr. 1907

Waste, pr. 1907

The Madras House, pr. 1910

Rococo, pr. 1911 (one act)

The Morris Dance, pr. 1913 (adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osborne’s play The Wrong Box)

The Harlequinade, pr. 1913 (with Dion Calthrop)

The Dynasts, pr. 1914 (adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s verse drama)

Vote by Ballot, pr., pb. 1917 (one act)

Farewell to the Theatre, pr., pb. 1917

Three Short Plays, pb. 1917 (3 one-act plays: Rococo, Vote by Ballot, and Farewell to the Theatre)

Deburau, pr. 1920 (adaptation of Sacha Guitry’s play)

The Secret Life, pb. 1923

His Majesty, pb. 1928

The Collected Plays of Harley Granville-Barker, pb. 1967

Plays, pb. 1987 (Dennis Kennedy, editor)


A National Theatre: Scheme and Estimates, 1907 (with William Archer), 1930 (revised by Granville-Barker)

The Exemplary Theatre, 1922

The Player’s Shakespeare, 1923-1927 (prefaces and introductions)

Prefaces to Shakespeare, 1927-1947

On Dramatic Method, 1931

The Study of Drama, 1934

On Poetry in Drama, 1937

The Use of Drama, 1945

Granville-Barker and His Correspondents, 1986 (Eric Salmon, editor)


Anatol, pr., pb. 1911 (of Arthur Schnitzler’s six playlets)

The Romantic Young Lady, pr. 1920 (with Helen Granville-Barker; of Gregorio Martínez Sierra’s Sueño de una noche de agosto)

The Two Shepherds, pr. 1921 (with Helen Granville-Barker; of Martínez Sierra’s Los pastores)

The Kingdom of God, pr., pb. 1923 (with Helen Granville-Barker; of Martínez Sierra’s El reino de Dios)

Wife to a Famous Man, pb. 1923 (with Helen Granville-Barker; of Martínez Sierra’s La mujer del héroe)

Six Gentlemen in a Row, pr., pb. 1927 (one act; of Jules Romains’s Amédée et les messieurs en rang)

The Women Have Their Way, pb. 1927 (with Helen Granville-Barker; of Serafín and Joaquín Álvarez Quintero’s Pueblo de las mujeres)

A Hundred Years Old, pb. 1927 (with Helen Granville-Barker; of the Álvarez Quintero Brothers’

Papa Juan: Centenario)

Fortunato, pb. 1927 (with Helen Granville-Barker; of the Álvarez Quintero Brothers’ play)

The Lady from Alfaqueque, pb. 1927 (with Helen Granville-Barker; of the Álvarez Quintero Brothers’

La consulesa)

Take Two from One, pb. 1931 (with Helen Granville-Barker; of Martínez Sierra’s play)

Love Passes By, pb. 1932 (with Helen Granville-Barker; of the Álvarez Quintero Brothers’

El amor que pasa)

Peace and Quiet, pb. 1932 (with Helen Granville-Barker; of the Álvarez Quintero Brothers’

La escondida senda)

Doña Clariñes, pb. 1932 (with Helen Granville-Barker; of the Álvarez Quintero Brothers’ play)


Harley Granville-Barker was, in a manner of speaking, born into the theater in 1877. Granville-Barker’s mother, Mary Elizabeth Barker, formerly Bozzi-Granville, was a professional entertainer. The family traveled around together to her engagements, and young Harley was brought up to appear and to recite poetry with her professionally. Little is known of the extent and the nature of his formal education, but, at the age of fourteen he was enrolled in Sarah Thorne’s theatrical school at the Margate Theatre. During his six-month attendance at the school Granville-Barker met Berte Thomas, with whom he collaborated in the writing of his first four plays. Granville-Barker’s first major acting job was touring with Ben Greet’s Shakespeare company, which included Lillah McCarthy, whom he later married. In 1899, at the age of twenty-two, Granville-Barker took the main role in William Poel’s Elizabethan Stage Society production of William Shakespeare’s Richard II. Poel’s production led Granville-Barker to become involved in the newly founded Stage Society, for which he functioned as both an actor and a director. One of the results of his involvement with the Stage Society was his long and close friendship with George Bernard Shaw and, through his involvement with Shaw, his membership in the Fabian Society.{$I[AN]9810000582}{$I[A]Granville-Barker, Harley[Granville Barker, Harley]}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Granville-Barker, Harley[Granville Barker, Harley]}{$I[tim]1877;Granville-Barker, Harley[Granville Barker, Harley]}

Harley Granville-Barker in 1915.

(Library of Congress)

Another, more significant result of Granville-Barker’s work with the Stage Society was the revolutionary Vedrenne-Barker management at the Court Theatre from 1904 to 1907; J. E. Vedrenne acted as business manager and Granville-Barker directed all the plays and acted in many. The Vedrenne-Barker seasons at the Court Theatre were revolutionary not only in the plays they presented (by John Galsworthy, Henrik Ibsen, Maurice Maeterlinck, Gerhart Hauptmann, and Shaw, to name a few) but also in their format of repertory. In 1906 Granville-Barker married McCarthy, who had also been involved in the Vedrenne-Barker productions. Following the Vedrenne-Barker management, Granville-Barker’s involvement with the theater took the form of efforts to establish a repertory theater in London. Such efforts defined the nature of his management of the Duke of York Theatre in 1910 (a venture backed by the American impresario Charles Frohman), the McCarthy-Granville-Barker management of the Little Theatre in 1911, and the Granville-Barker management of the St. James Theatre in 1913. In 1912 Granville-Barker gave his last performance as an actor, preferring to devote his time and energy to directing, to the establishment of a repertory theater, and to the writing of plays.

On a trip to America in 1914 Granville-Barker met Helen Huntington, later to become his second wife. Upon his return to England and after the outbreak of World War I, Granville-Barker served with the Red Cross; he later enlisted in the Royal Horse Artillery and was soon after transferred to Army Intelligence. McCarthy and Granville-Barker were divorced in 1917, and the following year he married Huntington; it was also at this time that he hyphenated his name. Granville-Barker’s second marriage marked the beginning of the end of his friendship with George Bernard Shaw. Moreover, Helen Granville-Barker’s dislike of Shaw in particular and theater people in general, coupled with Granville-Barker’s own disillusionment with the theater, led to his retirement from active theater work in 1921.

Granville-Barker’s reputation as an homme de théâtre began to suffer a decline after he left active theater work and became a “mere professor.” His plays, already looked upon with suspicion by his contemporaries, suffered an even greater decline. Although Granville-Barker’s plays were lauded by such fellow dramatists as Shaw, John Masefield, and Gilbert Murray, external factors, such as Shaw’s growing dominance and changes in dramatic and theatrical styles, hastened the decline of his plays into obscurity. Toward the end of the twentieth century, there was a revival of interest in the plays of Granville-Barker (The Madras House, for example, was produced for television by the British Broadcasting Corporation).

Beginning in 1922 Granville-Barker devoted himself entirely to the program of writing that he began with his first attempts at playwriting. In 1930 the Granville-Barkers moved to Paris, where they lived until the German invasion of France. They spent the remainder of the war years in New York, where Granville-Barker worked for the British Information Services until 1942. After the war the Granville-Barkers returned to England and then to Paris, where Granville-Barker died in 1946, a few months before his sixty-ninth birthday, of arteriosclerosis.

The Granville-Barker play is singular among plays of the Edwardian period in its use of heterosexual relationships to define the worth of human actions and to signify the larger moral concerns that are the prime focus of his plays: the necessity of what he termed “the secret life,” the inner reality that puts into perspective the trivialities of everyday life. Granville-Barker was lauded by his fellow dramatists not only for the superb “actability” and polish of his plays but also for his dramatic portrayal of the real, vital dilemmas of human sensibility and of absolute morality beneath the superficialities of daily existence. Granville-Barker’s greatest achievement as a dramatist, and his significance as a dramatist, lies in his successful deployment of relationships as signs of human beings’ fragile hold on their essential selves and their humanity.

BibliographyHenderson, Archibald. European Dramatists. Cincinnati, Ohio: Stewart and Kidd, 1913. Henderson considers Granville-Barker along with August Strindberg, Henrik Ibsen, Maurice Maeterlinck, Oscar Wilde, and George Bernard Shaw. He describes Granville-Barker’s prominence with theatrical production and then praises his plays for their originality and for enlarging the boundaries of drama by breaking new ground, thereby creating new laws of drama.Kauffmann, Stanley. “Rediscovering a Self-made Giant of the British Stage.” The New York Times, March 12, 2000, p. 5. A tribute to Granville-Barker that provides biographical information and a discussion of his plays, in particular The Voysey Inheritance.Kennedy, Dennis. Granville Barker and the Dream of Theatre. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1985. A detailed examination of Granville-Barker’s work as a producer and director of theater. Richly illustrated, a comprehensive listing of his productions, and an index.McDonald, Jan. The New Drama, 1900-1914. Basingstoke, England: Macmillan, 1986. Examines the “new drama” movement in the British theater, its theaters and major playwrights, Granville-Barker, John Galsworthy, and John Masefield. Provides a brief biography and extensive discussion of each of Granville-Barker’s major plays. Bibliography and index.Mehra, Monmohan. Harley Granville-Barker: A Critical Study of the Major Plays. Calcutta: Naya Prokash, 1981. Considers Granville-Barker’s experience in theatrical production as the background to his work as a playwright. Emphasizes Granville-Barker’s characters who revolt against the social conventions of sex and politics. Index.Morgan, Margery M. A Drama of Political Man: A Study in the Plays of Harley Granville Barker. London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1961. A dramaturgical examination of the plays, referring to theoretical essays, other writings, and biographical and performance information only as they shed light on the scripts.Purdom, C. B. Harley Granville Barker: Man of the Theatre, Dramatist, and Scholar. London: Rockliff, 1955. The standard chronological biography of Granville-Barker. It was written with the cooperation of his first wife, Lillah McCarthy, and reflects a bias toward her point of view. Purdom discusses the scripts, but more as artifacts along the path of the playwright’s life, rather than as viable stage plays. Includes complete listings of characters he portrayed, plays he produced and directed, and his extensive writings. Index.Salenius, Elmer W. Harley Granville Barker. Boston: Twayne, 1982. With the Purdom work, the most extensive biographical and critical study.Salmon, Eric. Granville Barker: A Secret Life. London: Heinemann Educational Books, 1983. Salmon examines the various aspects of Granville-Barker’s life as independent entities. He attempts to find the proper balance between these various aspects. Illustrations, chronology, bibliography of works by Granville-Barker, and index.Shaw, George Bernard. Bernard Shaw’s Letters to Granville Barker, edited by C. B. Purdom. London: Phoenix House, 1956. An inside view of the Granville-Barkers’ friendship with Shaw.Weiss, Rudolf. “Harvey Granville-Barker: The First English Chekhovian.” New Theatre Quarterly 14, no. 53 (February, 1998): 53-63. A discussion of the work and writing technique of Harley Granville-Barker.
Categories: Authors