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George Bernard Shaw - Pygmalion

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G.B. Shaw

Bernard Shaw, born in Dublin in 1856, was essentially shy, yet created the persona of G.B.S., the showman, controversialist, satirist, critic, pundit, wit, intellectual buffoon and dramatist. Commentators brought 545b16f a new adjective into the English language: Shavian, a term used to embody all his brilliant qualities.

After his arrival in London in 1876 he became an active Socialist and a brilliant platform speaker. He wrote on many social aspects of the day: on Commonsense about the War (1914), How to Settle the Irish Question (1917), and The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism and Capitalism (1928). He undertook his own education at the British Museum and consequently became keenly interested in cultural subjects. Thus his prolific output included music, art and theatre reviews which were collected into several volumes: Music In London 1890-1894 (3 vols., 1931); Pen Portraits and Reviews (1931); and Our Theatres in the Nineties (3 vols., 1931). He wrote five novels and some shorter fiction including The Black Girl in Search of God and some Lesser Tales and Cashel Byron's Profession.

He conducted a strong attack on the London theatre and was closely associated with the intellectual revival of British theatre. His many plays fall into several categories: 'Plays Pleasant'; 'Plays Unpleasant'; comedies, chronicle-plays, 'metabiological Pentateuch' (Back to Methuselah, a series of plays) and 'political extravaganzas'. G.B.S. died in 1950.


by George Bernard Shaw

Possibly Shaw's comedic masterpiece, and certainly his funniest and most popular play, is "Pygmalion." It was claimed by Shaw to be a didactic drama about phonetics, and its antiheroic hero, Henry Higgins, is a phonetician. The play tells how Professor Henry Higgins, in order to win a bet, trains the Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle to behave like a duchess, largely by teaching her "to speak beautifully" in Received Standard pronunciation.

Beneath the comedy lies a satire on the superficiality of class distinctions. This is made explicit in the character of Eliza's father, Doolittle, who calls himself one of "the undeserving poor" and is one of Shaw's best comedy creations. Further, the scene in which Eliza Doolittle appears in high society when she has acquired a correct accent but no notion of polite conversation is one of the funniest in English drama.

It was first performed in German in Vienna in 1913, then in London in the original English in 1914, when it created a sensation because the phrase 'not bloody likely' occurs in Act 3. A result of this was the minced oath "not Pygmalion likely" and the use of the name to talk about swearing: "The trouble really began when alderman Mrs. K. Sheridan was speaking about the council fleecing tenants and used a pygmalion word" (The Times, 28 Apr. 1960).

Pygmalion has been both filmed ( ), winning an Academy Award for Shaw for his screenplay, and adapted into an immensely popular musical, My Fair Lady ( ; motion-picture version,

Mrs. Patrick Campbell, whose maiden name was Beatrice Stella Tanner, is remembered today for her association with G. B. Shaw. She was an actress of great beauty and wit. In 1912 she met Shaw at whose request she originated the role of Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion.

  • The title

Pygmalion: In Ovid's Metamophosis, Pygmalion is a sculptor who is not interested in women.  Pygmalion, however, finds himself in love with his sculpture, Galatea, and he caresses her and offers her with all the gifts women like.  At the end, Venus realizes his wish and turn Galatea into a real woman. 

A Romance: Putting the Pymalion myth together with the idea of a romance, we can also think of the Cinderella fairy-tale (whose modern versions are Working Girl and Pretty Woman).  This, however, is exactly what Shaw wants to critique.  What you should find out in the play, then, is what kind of transformation happens in the play, and whether there is a romance as we expect it. 

  • Shavian (Shaw's) Style: It will help if you have a general undersanding of Shaw's style.

stage direction --economical exposition and suggestive of social background;

prefatory essay--used to express his doctrines;

discussion in the play.  Sometimes Shaw calls his own plays Problem Play, Discussion Drama, Play of Ideas.  He also claims that "[p]rimarily, [his plays] are not plays: they are tracts in dramatic forms."  He regards social criticism as the most important function of all art.

G.B. Shaw Extract from The Pygmalion:

"I've come to have a lesson"

Shaw radically reworks Ovid's tale with a feminist twist: while Henry Higgins successfully teaches Eliza Doolittle to speak and act like a duchess, she adamantly refuses to be his creation. This brilliantly witty exposure of the British class system will always entertain-first produced in 1914, it remains one of Shaw's most popular plays.

 The flower girl enters in state. She has a hat with three ostrich feathers, orange, sky-blue, and red. She has a nearly clean apron, and the shoddy coat has been tidied a little. The pathos of this deplorable figure, with its innocent vanity and consequential air, touches Pickering, who has already straightened himself in the presence of Mrs. Pearce. But as to Higgins, the only distinction he makes between men and women is that when he is neither bullying nor exclaiming to the heavens against some featherweight cross, he coaxes women as a child coaxes its nurse when it wants to get anything out of her.

  HIGGINS [brusquely, recognizing her with unconcealed disappointment, and at once, babylike, making an intolerable grievance of it] Why, this is the girl I jotted down last night. Shes no use: Ive got all the records I want of the Lisson Grove lingo; and I'm not going to waste another cylinder on it. [To the girl] Be off with you: I dont want you.

  THE FLOWER GIRL. Dont you be so saucy. You aint heard what I come for yet. [To Mrs. Pearce, who is waiting at the door for further instruction] Did you tell him I come in a taxi?

  MRS. PEARCE. Nonsense, girl! what do you think a gentleman like Mr. Higgins cares what you came in?

  THE FLOWER GIRL. Oh, we are proud! He aint above giving lessons, not him: I heard him say so. Well, I aint come here to ask for any compliment; and if my money's not good enough I can go elsewhere.

  HIGGINS. Good enough for what?

  THE FLOWER GIRL. Good enough for ye-oo. Now you know, dont you? I'm come to have lessons, I am. And to pay for em too: make no mistake.

  HIGGINS [stupent] W e l l ! ! ! [Recovering his breath with a gasp] What do you expect me to say to you?

  THE FLOWER GIRL. Well, if you was a gentleman, you might ask me to sit down, I think. Dont I tell you I'm bringing you business?

  HIGGINS. Pickering: shall we ask this baggage to sit down or shall we throw her out of the window?

  THE FLOWER GIRL [running away in terror to the piano, where she turns at bay] Ah-ah-ah-ow-ow-ow-oo! [Wounded and whimpering] I wont be called a baggage when Ive offered to pay like any lady.

  Motionless, the two men stare at her from the other side of the room, amazed.

  PICKERING [gently] What is it you want, my girl?

  THE FLOWER GIRL. I want to be a lady in a flower shop stead of selling at the corner of Tottenham Court Road. But they wont take me unless I can talk more genteel. He said he could teach me. Well, here I am ready to pay him-not asking any favor-and he treats me as if I was dirt.

  MRS. PEARCE. How can you be such a foolish ignorant girl as to think you could afford to pay Mr. Higgins?

  THE FLOWER GIRL. Why shouldnt I? I know what lessons cost as well as you do; and I'm ready to pay.

  HIGGINS. How much?

  THE FLOWER GIRL [coming back to him, triumphant] Now youre talking! I thought youd come off it when you saw a chance of getting back a bit of what you chucked at me last night. [Confidentially] Youd had a drop in, hadnt you?

  HIGGINS [peremptorily] Sit down.

  THE FLOWER GIRL. Oh, if youre going to make a compliment of it-

  HIGGINS [thundering at her] Sit down.

  MRS. PEARCE [severely] Sit down, girl. Do as youre told. [She places the stray chair near the hearthrug between Higgins and Pickering, and stands behind it waiting for the girl to sit down].

  THE FLOWER GIRL. Ah-ah-ah-ow-ow-oo! [She stands, half rebellious, half bewildered].

  PICKERING [very courteous] Wont you sit down?

  LIZA [coyly] Dont mind if I do. [She sits down. Pickering returns to the hearthrug].

  HIGGINS. Whats your name?

  THE FLOWER GIRL. Liza Doolittle.

  HIGGINS [declaiming gravely]
          Eliza, Elizabeth, Betsy and Bess,
          They went to the woods to get a bird nes':
ICKERING. They found a nest with four egg in it:
IGGINS. They took one apiece, and left three in it.

  They laugh heartily at their own wit.


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