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Why is Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw a Shavian play?

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rangmanu | High School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted July 11, 2010 at 2:26 AM via web

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Why is Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw a Shavian play?

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Michelle Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted July 19, 2010 at 1:07 AM (Answer #1)

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A Shavian play (i.e. a play by GB Shaw or with the characteristics of writing of GB Shaw) reunites many elements which make them unique: The dialogue is smart, quick, witty, funny, and sharp. The characters are laughable, provincial, bucolic, ridiculous, and do not behave with politeness nor mannerisms expected of the fashionable society. The situation of the story is accentuated by references to the classics, (like Ovid's Metamorphoses as the central plot to the story related in a Shavian way), and using literary techniques that include irony, sarcasm, and puns.

In the main characters, as well as in he character of the phonetic professors, we see all this taking place:

A provincial girl who is paying for lessons to get rid of her cockney accent so that she can sound elegant.

The need to transform her to pretend to be a duchess.

The implication that society would accept anyone who just appears to be rich (ignorant society).

The exaggerated language and the fights between the characters.

All these are the main Shavian characteristics of Pygmalion.

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted October 22, 2010 at 6:39 AM (Answer #3)

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The question of why Pygmalion is a Shavian play is answered on two levels. The first and simplest is that Shavian is a Latinization of English playwright George Bernard Shaw's surname, with the Latin suffix -ian meaning relating to or typical of. Therefore Shavian means relating to or typical of Shaw. Since Pygmalion is a play related to Shaw by being written by him, it is a Shavian play (Shavian being the Latin version of his name).

The second level of the answer is that Pygmalion is typical of Shaw's plays, as indicated by the -ian suffix also meaning typical of. How is it typical of Shaw? For one thing, it is a play of ideas or concepts. Shaw rejected the traditional, or conventional, theory that plays must have clean, clear-cut resolutions that provide satisfactory endings for audiences. Having been heavily influenced by Ibsen's plays, with their controversial and thought provoking endings (e.g., A Doll's House), Shaw believed plays should end with some indeterminacy to give the audience something to think about after the final curtain. Since Pygmalion ends with some indeterminacy (i.e., the guy does not get the girl or even admit to loving the girl), it can be said to be typical of Shaw's theatrical works and therefore a Shavian play.

Also, Shaw held a theory of the purpose of drama that defied intellectuals' "art for art's sake" theory and popular theory of drama for entertainment's sake. Shaw's own theory was that drama should challenge audiences about prevalent social issues. Since Pygmalion does address prevalent social issues of the day (e.g., class divides; education, wealth and poverty, gender roles), it can certainly be said to be typical of Shaw's theory of the purpose of drama. Therefore it is on this count also a Shavian play. These two examples of what comprises a typical play by Shaw and the above explanation of the Latinization of Shaw's name show why Pygmalion is a Shavian play.

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Michelle Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted November 24, 2010 at 8:33 PM (Answer #2)

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The main and most basic characteristic of any Shavian plays refer to the simple fact that it was written by George Bernard Shaw. (Shaw=Shavian). If you were a student or a follower of the works of George Bernad Shaw you would be dubbed a "Shavian", just as if you were a student of Oscar Wilde you would be dubbed a "Wildean".

Moreover, the Shavian play is often under the genre of Comedy of Manners, which was a very popular genre in Victorian England, and which George Bernard Shaw helped make it even more famous with his plays.  It is a characteristic genre which was also used by Wilde, Austen, and many other luminaries of the time.

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted August 4, 2011 at 8:24 PM (Answer #4)

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The adjective "Shavian" means "written by or characteristic of the style of George Bernard Shaw," an Irish playwright who lived from 1856 to 1950, primarily in London. It is typical of his work in using humour to make serious arguments about social issues. Much of the comedy revolves around Shaw's debunking of the English class system, and its linguistic snobbery. The concern with language reform and the education of women is also typically Shavian.

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