How can Pygmalion and Macbeth be compared?

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One commonality Macbeth and Pygmalion share is that they both feature central characters—Macbeth and Henry Higgins—who want to bend the world to their will. Both succeed, at least to some extent, but both face unintended consequences.

Macbeth takes matters into his own hands, bends the world of Scotland to his...

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One commonality Macbeth and Pygmalion share is that they both feature central characters—Macbeth and Henry Higgins—who want to bend the world to their will. Both succeed, at least to some extent, but both face unintended consequences.

Macbeth takes matters into his own hands, bends the world of Scotland to his will, and achieves his ambition of becoming king by murdering Duncan, the previous king. Likewise, Higgins bends the upper-class social world to his will when he is able to successfully pass the Cockney flower seller Eliza Doolittle off as an aristocrat to the top echelons of society and win a bet.

Neither man, however, fully can foresee the results of his actions. Macbeth expects more bloodshed to follow Duncan's death, but he doesn't anticipate his wife's guilt and suicide. He also does not foresee the extent of his own moral hardening. Likewise, Higgins is shocked when Eliza, due to his training, develops self-esteem and turns on him, refusing to put up any longer with his abuse. To him, she is an object; he can scarcely understand it when she asserts herself as a person.

Macbeth is a tragedy, however, and Pygmalion a comedy, so the the magnitude of the results of these two men's actions are quite different. Nevertheless, both have willful personalities and a desire to impose their will on the world they live in.

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The way in which these two texts can be compared is through the theme of transformation. Both of the central characters undergo a profound transformation that causes them to change considerably from how they are presented at the beginning of the play. Macbeth, for example, is shown to be a character who is naturally cautious about committing an evil deed, and somebody that will not commit a crime as grevious as regicide without persuasion from his wife, who is shown to be bloodthirsty and without any moral compunctions at the beginning of the play. However, as the play develops, they, curiously, swap roles, as Macbeth becomes more and more assertive in planning murder by himself without his wife's persuasion and encouragement, and Lady Macbeth becomes more and more haunted by her involvement in Duncan's death. Note how in Act II scene 2 Macbeth talks about the murder of Banquo and Fleance to his wife:

Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck,

Till thou applaud the deed.

Macbeth deliberately keeps his plan for their deaths from his wife, only wanting her to hear about the fact of their deaths, whereas with Duncan, she had to plan the murder and be involved herself.

In the same way, Eliza Doolittle starts off at the beginning of Pygmalion as a cockney flower girl but ends up convincing everybody around her that she is a well-to-do lady who had always lived that way. She transforms utterly, but her transformation is used to comment on the subjective nature of transformation, as Eliza reflects:

You see, really and truly, apart from the things anyone can pick up (the dressing and the proper way of speaking, and so on), the difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she's treated.

Transformation therefore is only important and successful depending on how somebody is treated. In the eyes of Higgins, Eliza will always be a flower girl, because he treats her like one. Pickering, on the other hand, treats her like a lady, and thus she is a lady to him. Both texts therefore explore the theme of transformation of character, though in slightly different ways.

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