Shaw broke both with the predominant intellectual principle of his day, that of “art for arts sake,” as well as with the popular notion that the purpose of the theatre was strictly to entertain. Refusing to write a single sentence for the sake of either art or entertainment alone, Shaw openly declared that he was for a theater which preached to its audience on social issues. Edward Wagenknecht wrote in A Guide to Bernard Shaw that Shaws plays “are not plays: they are tracts in dramatic form.” He further reflected a popular perception of Shaws plays as intellectual exercises by stating that Shaw “has created one great character G.B.S. [George Bernard Shaw] and in play after play he performs infinite variations upon it.” Thus, in his day Shaw was viewed as succeeding despite his dramatic technique rather than because of it. Wagenknecht again: “it is amazing that a man whose theory of art is so patently wrong should have achieved such a place as Shaw has won.”
Though his plays do tend towards ideological discussion rather than dramatic tension, Shaw succeeded because he nevertheless understood what made a play theatrical, wrote scintillating dialogue, and always created rich, complex characters in the center of a philosophically complex drama. Among his character creations are some of the greatest in the modern theatre, especially the women: Major Barbara, Saint Joan, Liza Doolittle. Also, Shaws deep belief in the need for social improvement did not prevent him from having a wry sense of humor, an additional component of his dramatic technique which helped his plays, Pygmalion most predominantly, bridge a gap between popular and intellectual art.
In view of careful underlining of influence of environment the spectator easily could have a false representation as if characters in the world of heroes of Shaw entirely give in to restriction by influence of environment. For the prevention of this undesirable mislead Shaw with similar carefulness has brought in the play the thesis about existence of natural abilities and their value for this or that individual. This position is concretized at once in all four personages of the play: Liza, Higgins, Doolittle and Pickering.
In «Pygmalion» as well as in many products of B.Shaw the idea about boundless possibilities of the person lays. The spectator understands, that Eliza has become the lady not only due to the fact that she has been taught to dress and speak as the lady, but also due to her persistence and mental abilities. But “Pygmalion” would not be Shavian if there were no didactics, contrasts and many-sidedness. The instructiveness of the play consists in synthesis determinative for a human being is its public relation to other people. But the public relation is something more, than unilateral behaviour of the person and the unilateral reference with it. The public relation includes two parties: behaviour and the reference. Eliza from the flower-girl becomes the lady due to that fact that simultaneously with her behaviour changed the treatment with her which she felt in her society.
Shaw masterful conducts creation and comparison of characters and on an example of his heroes brightly opens defects and advantages of various class groups. At the same time he allocates people of one class with habits peculiar to people of absolutely different class. Thus, characters of plays of Shaw become closer and more transparent to readers and spectators. In Shaws plays a person is a sensitive, impressionable not an amebic passive subject.
From the very beginning this dramatics is untypical. Introduction is devoted to phonetics, and at the end imposed the idea that Higgins and Liza should be together. «Pygmalion» is a work of Shaw and such an ending would have been misery for his characters.
The Critical Heritage, criticized many aspects of the production but had qualified praise for the play, “a puzzling work.” Aware that Shaw usually “does not use the drama merely as a vehicle for telling stories,” the critic expressed a curiosity about what “the foundation idea” of Pygmalion might be. “Curiosity, in the present instance,” however, “remains unsatisfied. There are plenty of ideas, but none is predominant.”