Literary analysis of "Pygmalion" by George Bernard Shaw

to a Greek myth, Pygmalion, an ancient sculptor living on Cyprus Island, worshipped the goddess of love, Venus. The local

Literary analysis of Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw



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is a comedy about a phonetics expert who, as a kind of social experiment, attempts to make a lady out of an uneducated Cockney flower-girl. Although not as intellectually complex as some of the other plays in Shaw's "theatre of ideas," Pygmalion nevertheless probes important questions about social class, human behavior, and relations between the circumvent what he felt was the tendency of the London press to criticize his plays unfairly, Shaw chose to produce a German translation of Pygmalion in Vienna and Berlin before bringing the play to London. The London critics appreciated the acclaim the play had received overseas, and, after it opened at His Majesty's Theatre on April 11, 1914, it enjoyed success, firmly establishing Shaw's reputation as a popular playwright.his subterfuge with the London press, Shaw also plotted to trick his audience out of any prejudicial views they held about the play's content. This he did by assuming their familiarity with the myth of Pygmalion, from the Greek playwright Ovid's Metamorphoses, encouraging them to think that Pygmalion was a classical play. He furthered the ruse by directing the play anonymously and casting a leading actress who had never before appeared in a working-class role. In Ovid's tale, Pygmalion is a man disgusted with real-life women who chooses celibacy and the pursuit of an ideal woman, whom he carves out of ivory. Wishing the statue were real, he makes a sacrifice to Venus, the goddess of love, who brings the statue to life. By the late Renaissance, poets and dramatists began to contemplate the thoughts and feelings of this woman, who woke full-grown in the arms of a lover. Shaw's central character-the flower girl Liza Doolittle-expresses articulately how her transformation has made her feel, and he adds the additional twist that Liza turns on her "creator'' in the end by leaving him.addition to the importance of the original Pygmalion myth to Shaw's play, critics have pointed out the possible influence of other works, such as Tobias Smollett's novel The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle and a number of plays, including W. S. Gilbert's Pygmalion and Galatea and Henrik Ibsen's A Doll House. Shaw denied borrowing the story directly from any of these sources, but there are traces of them in his play, as there are of the well-known story of Cinderella, and shades of the famous stories of other somewhat vain "creators" whose experiments have unforeseen implications: Faust, Dr. Frankenstein, was viewed as one of Shaw's less provocative comedies. Nevertheless, Pygmalion did provoke controversy upon its original production. Somewhat ironically, the cause was an issue of language, around which the plot itself turns: Liza's use of the word "bloody," never before uttered on the stage at His Majesty's Theatre. Even though they were well aware of the controversy from its coverage in the press, the first audiences gasped in surprise, then burst into laughter, at Liza's spirited rejoinder: "Not bloody likely!"


George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)

playwright bernard show pygmalion romance

George Bernard Shaw was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1856 to Lucinda and George Shaw. His father was a corn merchant who suffered from alcoholism, and his mother was a house wife and singer. Lucinda ran away to London with her voice teacher, George Lee. All her children followed her there. After a fall out with Lee, Shaw's mother pursued an unconventional teaching career in singing using the techniques Lee taught her.began working as a clerk in a land agency at the age of fifteen, but abandoned that career before age twenty and resolved to fashion himself as a modern Shakespeare. He came of age as a writer in the late Victorian era, and much of his work demonstrated a rebellion against the morays of the time. Shaw's first essays into the writing profession were as a music and art critic, and his success allowed him to expand the range and style of his criticism. He developed into an extremely prolific playwright, novelist, and lecturer. Shaw was an active Fabian socialist and a supporter of feminists and homosexuals. His aggressive and diverse social commentaries kept him in the public eye throughout his long life. Shaw died in 1950, at the age of the most famous and perhaps most beloved of Shaw's many plays. Shaw was often criticized for writing plays full of unsubstantial, if witty, banter. With Pygmalion, Shaw challenged his critics by making both the subject and the content of the play speech. He used phonetics and Ovid's story of Pygmalion as a means of defending his artistic creation and addressing feminist issues. Several film adaptations have been made of the play, one of which garnered Shaw an Academy Award for best screenplay in 1938.


to a Greek myth, Pygmalion, an ancient sculptor living on Cyprus Island, worshipped the goddess of love, Venus. The local women disgusted him, so sculpted himself the perfect one-Galatea. Higgins undertakes a similar project, to sculpt a duchess by changing the appearance and the manners of a flower girl. In his "Pygmalion," Shaw teases his audience, foreshadowing a Cinderella-like romantic play. He further mocks the audience by allowing Higgins to be the fairy godmother of this romance, creating his "Cinderella" out of a simple flower girl. After the ball, however, it becomes clear that Eliza is as a better person than Higgins. Shaw makes his audience realize that just like Cinderella, Eliza was a duchess even when her appearance and spoken word were that of a flower girl. Shaw further manifests that her father will always remain a bum regardless of his finances or appearance, and Higgins will live the rest of his life as an impolite bachelor who cares for nothing but his work. By changing the appearance and the social class of his characters while keeping their personalities constant, Shaw makes a critical point-- people can only change their image, popularity and wealth, but will always remain the same on the inside. The character of Alfred Doolittle, Eliza's father remains unchanged throughout the play. Shaw depicts him as a bum, in Doolittle's first appearance in act II, who literally sells his daughter for some inconsiderable amount of money. He is presented as a lowlife nobody, who likes to drink and does not like to have any responsibilities. When he appears in act five, however, Shaw dresses him as a gentleman and gives him the wealth of a millionaire. Doolittle's views of life, however, remain unchanged. Having money, forces him to accept responsibility, which he clearly regards as a burden. He longs for the days when he drank without a single care in the world. Shaw emphasizes that his character does not change regardless of his new social status. Shaw is very specific filling Higgins' character as an impolite workaholic whom cares about nothing, other than his phonetics. From the begging of the play, he only talks about his work, bragging that he can tell anyone's birthplace within six miles by his or her dialect. This continues through to the end of the play, when he is more enraged that his "creation" will work for his rival and teach phonetics than the fact that Eliza is leaving him for a dumber but kinder Freddy. Higgins lives in a lab with "a student of Indian dialects," Colonel Pickering. Higgins' manners force even his mother to be ashamed of him in front of her guests and in church where this student of Milton enjoys mocking the dialect of clergymen. It is clear that Higgins does not care about his mother's opinion of him. He does not care about Eliza; he turns her world upside down, creating a duchess but continues to treat her like a guinea pig rather than a person. Higgins does not even care about himself. He always has and always will care only about his work. The theme of Shaw's "Pygmalion" lies in such consistency. Higgins is professor of phonetics, a student of Milton and Shakespeare, an imprudent and inconsiderate bachelor, forever. Shaw builds the character of Eliza from a simpleminded flower girl living on the street. In the opening act, Higgins shames her: "A woman who utters depressing and disgusting sounds has no right to be anywhere, no right to live." She cries upon the simplest provocation. Just as it is difficult to picture this street bum with a flower basket, as a duchess, it is difficult to conceive how someone like Higgins with his grotesque manners can create a genteel duchess, especially from a girl off the street. But Higgins' "Cinderella" nevertheless triumphs at the ambassador's ball. Act four, however brings up an intense conflict between Eliza and Higgins. In this confrontation, Shaw portrays Eliza as an intelligent duchess whose manners and dress brought out her individuality. Her creator remains rude and continues to treat her as a guinea pig. Shaw forces his audience to sympathize with Eliza, whose character is intrinsically better than Higgins'. But how could this artificial creation, which has been intensely programmed to substitute morals for manners surpass her creator, the rude professor of phonetics? Eliza was a duchess before she ever met Higgins or Pickering. She was simply a slave to her poverty and only appeared to be simpleminded. Living with two "elite" men, she learned the best from each of them, bringing out her individuality. From Higgins, she learned how to speak correctly, and from the respect granted to her by Pickering, she learned to respect herself. Even her "creator" admits at the very end, she was "like a millstone around [his] neck, [n]ow [she] is a tower of strength, a consort battleship." Self respect makes the image of a flower girl off the street to evolve into an image of a duchess, nevertheless, the fact that she

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