1. Education
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Pygmalion

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating

By

George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion" first appeared in 1912; and it has provided entertainment ever since. It was first performed in 1913; and was published in 1916. It's a comedy that's all about class and human relationships.
The play is based on the classical legend from Ovid's "Metamorphoses" about Pygmalion, who falls in love with his own sculpture, Galatea. In the myth, Venus/Aphrodite gives life to the statue.

Of course, Eliza Doolittle isn't a statue. She's a poor, illiterate flower girl, with an accent that wouldn't allow her to achieve a better position. So, really, she might as well be a statue. She's non-existent in social circles, nothing more than a "draggle-tailed guttersnipe." Her transformation takes place with the help of Professor Henry Higgins, who takes her on as his linguistic pet project and then doesn't want to let her go.

Very early in the play, Higgins responds to Eliza's tears by telling her: "A woman who utters such disgusting and depressing noise has no right to be anywhere, no right to live. Remember that you are a human being with a soul and the divine gift of articulate speech, that your native language is the language of Shakespeare and Milton and The Bible. Don't sit there crooning like a bilious pigeon."
Higgins eventually teaches her to speak properly, and he also trains her to act with more refinement. His aim is to pass her off as a duchess, believing that no one will recognize her true social standing if he dresses her up and trains her to speak without the Cockney accent.

The Audio Connection

The audio play of Shaw's "Pygmalion" was produced by L.A. Theatre Works for "Chicago on the Air." It features the voice of Shannon Cochran as Eliza Doolittle, Nicholas Pennell as Henry Higgins, and Laura Whyte as Mrs. Pearce. This production provides an amazing feel for this play.

If you've never heard the Cockney accent spoken, it's difficult to get a sense of the true scope of Eliza's transformation... Shannon Cochran's voice imparts volumes, as her rough accent gradually gives way to more refined speech. Along the way, Eliza learns to expect more from life and from the people around her. She tells Higgins: "Oh, you are a devil. You can twist the heart in a girl as easy as some could twist her arms to hurt her."
She also learns that there's a price to be be paid for her new-found language and refinement. She says, "Oh! if I only could go back to my flower basket! I should be independent of both you and father and all the world! Why did you take my independence from me? Why did I give it up? I'm a slave now, for all my fine clothes."

In the end, all she says that she wants is kindness, and perhaps some bit of human compassion. She tells Higgins, "I'm not dirt under your feet." Then, "I did it because we were pleasant together and I come—came—to care for you; not to want you to make love to me, and not forgetting the difference between us, but more friendly like."

In the end, Eliza appears to have learned quite more than she would have like about society and human relationships. Higgins tells her, "If you can't stand the coldness of my sort of life, and the strain of it, go back to the gutter. Work 'til you are more a brute than a human being; and then cuddle and squabble and drink 'til you fall asleep. Oh, it's a fine life, the life of the gutter."
Eliza says, "You know I can't go back to the gutter, as you call it, and that I have no real friends in the world but you and the Colonel..." Then, she says, "If I can't have kindness, I'll have independence." Higgins taught Eliza more than he even realized.

This play is one of Shaw's most popular plays. It has been adapted into the award-winning film and stage productions of Lerner and Loewe's musical, "My Fair Lady."

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.