Study Guide

Pygmalion

by George Bernard Shaw

Pygmalion eText - eText

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What is a literary classic and why are these classic works important to the world?

A literary classic is a work of the highest excellence that has something important to say about life and/or the human condition and says it with great artistry. A classic, through its enduring presence, has withstood the test of time and is not bound by time, place, or customs. It speaks to us today as forcefully as it spoke to people one hundred or more years ago, and as forcefully as it will speak to people of future generations. For this reason, a classic is said to have universality.

George Bernard Shaw was born in Dublin in 1856 to a lower middleclass family. In his early twenties, he moved to London, England, where he began his career as a writer, speaker, and critic. Before his death following a fall in 1950, he had also become a famous socialist and vegetarian, a feminist and anti-war activist, and an international celebrity.

Shaw's fierce opposition to World War I turned many of his fellow citizens against him, but the outcry was muted by their love for his plays; and before long, the public embraced Shaw as a national treasure. With his reputation ensured, Shaw traveled the world, always speaking out against what he believed was wrong. He stayed for a while in the Soviet Union at Stalin's invitation, but he visited the United States only briefly.

During his life, Shaw wrote more than a dozen plays, including Arms and the Man (1894), Man and Superman (1903), Pygmalion (1912), and Saint Joan (1923). In addition to his many other accomplishments, George Bernard Shaw earned the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923.

The fact that a Shaw play is in production somewhere in the world on any given day reflects the popularity of this playwright, whom some critics consider second only to Shakespeare.