Drawing on Roberto Esposito’s critical trilogy, Bios, Communitas, and Immunitas, this paper discusses dynamic boundaries between self and the other in biological and political communities as contextualized by discourses on health and the medical system in George Bernard Shaw’s The Doctor’s Dilemma: A Tragedy. In rethinking the notion of community, Roberto Esposito discusses specific emotions and affects associated with different philosophers who each recognize various frames and dispositions as they grapple with questions about the origin of community in Western history. In associating fear and Hobbes, for instance, Esposito claims that from such emotions us emerges.
The Doctor’s Dilemma: A Tragedy is a response to William Archer who challenged Shaw to write a tragedy involving “the King of Terrors” (death). Despite its subtitle, the play is presented as a burlesque featuring some farcical medicine men. Shaw’s salient opposition to Pasteur’s germ theory, which makes vaccination an ultimate citadel for the body, is demonstrated through the caricature of doctors and their deficient scientific knowledge. He laments the decline of humanity as seen through the fiscally-driven doctors who unscrupulously applied potions and panaceas for any problem so as to turn a profit. Shaw points out that “one of our most pressing social needs is a national staff of doctors whom we believe in, and whose prosperity shall depend not on the nation's sickness but on its health.”
This paper approaches Shaw’s vision of a (healthier) community through his interplay of comedy and tragedy. To make what he considers a tragedy into a farce not only registers his mocking and critical stance over social issues of life and death then, but offers his vision and aspiration of an alternative community where medical practitioners would not be immune from the humane duty suggested by their career titles.