The Doctor's Dilemma (play)

The Doctor's Dilemma is a play by George Bernard Shaw first staged in 1906. It is a problem play about the moral dilemmas created by limited medical resources, and the conflicts between the demands of private medicine as a business and a vocation.

The Doctor's Dilemma
Written byGeorge Bernard Shaw
Date premiered20 November 20, 1906
Place premieredRoyal Court Theatre, London
Original languageEnglish
SubjectA doctor must decide who will receive scarce life-saving treatment
Genreproblem play
SettingA doctor's consulting room; an artist's studio


Roles and original cast:

THE DOCTOR'S DILEMMA ROYAL COURT THEATRE PROGRAMME "Commencing Monday December 31st, 1906 for Six Weeks Only" The Newspaper Man is played by Mr Jules Shaw, according to this programme.


The eponymous dilemma of the play is that of the newly honoured doctor Sir Colenso Ridgeon, who has developed a revolutionary new cure for tuberculosis. However, his private medical practice, with limited staff and resources, can only treat ten patients at a time. From a group of fifty patients he has selected ten he believes he can cure and who, he believes, are most worthy of being saved. However, when he is approached by a young woman, Jennifer Dubedat, with a deadly ill husband, Louis Dubedat, he admits he can, at a stretch, save one more patient, but that the individual in question must be shown to be most worthy of being saved. However, the situation is complicated when an old friend and colleague reveals, he too, needs treatment. Sir Colenso must choose which patient he will save: a kindly, altruistic poor medical colleague, or an extremely gifted but also very unpleasant, womaniser, bigamist and amoral young artist. Sir Colenso falls instantly in love with the young and vivacious Mrs Dubedat and this makes it even harder for the doctor to separate his motives for the decision of who shall live.


The extensive preface to the play points out that there is another dilemma: poor doctors are easily tempted to perform costly but useless (and in the best case harmless) operations or treatments on their patients for personal gain. "Could I not make a better use of a pocketful of guineas than this man is making of his leg?" This was reportedly inspired by the behaviour of a prominent Ear Nose and Throat specialist in London who had developed a simple and almost harmless operation to remove the uvula. This did not benefit any of his patients but made the surgeon a great deal of money.

Shaw credits Almroth Wright as the source of his information on medical science: "It will be evident to all experts that my play could not have been written but for the work done by Sir Alm[r]oth Wright on the theory and practice of securing immunization from bacterial diseases by the inoculation of vaccines made of their own bacteria."[1]


The play also mentions (then) new developments in the germ theory of disease, namely opsonins, and included socialist and anti-vivisectionist viewpoints.

The theme of the play remains current: in any time, there will be treatments that are so scarce or costly that some people can have them while others cannot. Who is to decide, and on which grounds is the decision to be taken?

It is sometimes claimed that an unexpected side-effect of the play's success was to greatly increase the popularity of the first name "Jennifer" (the name of the main female protagonist) in the English-speaking world. However, UK government statistics (covering England and Wales) only show the name 'Jennifer' first entering the top 100 most commonly used names for baby girls in 1934—a full 28 years after the play was first staged. Similarly, the name didn't enter the top 1,000 names for newborn US girls until 1938.

Production information

The Doctor's Dilemma was first produced on 20 November 1906 at the Royal Court Theatre.[2]

Actress Katharine Cornell produced the play in 1941, starring herself and Raymond Massey.[3]

A film adaptation of the play, with the same title, was made in 1958, directed by Anthony Asquith, starring Leslie Caron and Dirk Bogarde.[4]

The play’s most recent high-profile revival was on the Lyttelton stage at the National Theatre in London.[5] The production was directed by Nadia Fall, with Aden Gillett playing the eponymous doctor, Genevieve O'Reilly as Jennifer Dubedat, and Tom Burke as Louis Dubedat. The production received middling reviews.[6][7]


  1. Violet M. Broad & C. Lewis Broad, Dictionary to the Plays and Novels of Bernard Shaw, A. & C. Black, London, 1929, p.41.
  2. Irish Playography Archived 2007-05-02 at the Wayback Machine
  3. Tad Mosel, "Leading Lady: The World and Theatre of Katharine Cornell," Little, Brown & Co., Boston (1978)
  4. The Doctors's Dilemma - 1958 film - at
  5. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-11-03. Retrieved 2013-08-28.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.