Shaw's stage directions underscore how poverty-stricken Eliza Doolittle is as the play begins. For example, when Henry Higgins gives her a good deal of money for her flowers (while not taking any flowers), she decides to hire a cab to get home. But to show that this is no easy...
Shaw's stage directions underscore how poverty-stricken Eliza Doolittle is as the play begins. For example, when Henry Higgins gives her a good deal of money for her flowers (while not taking any flowers), she decides to hire a cab to get home. But to show that this is no easy task for a poor flower seller, Shaw writes the following stage directions, which depict how unusual it is for a young woman like Eliza to be able to take a taxi:
She sails off to the cab. The driver puts his hand behind him and holds the door firmly shut against her. Quite understanding his mistrust, she shows him her handful of money.
In act 2, the stage directions make it clear that the setting of Henry Higgins's home must show, in multiple ways, how much wealthier he is than Eliza Doolittle. The instructions are minute and include not only a telephone, a luxury item in 1913, but also candy. The set includes
a telephone and the telephone directory. The corner beyond, and most of the side wall, is occupied by a grand piano, with the keyboard at the end furthest from the door, and a bench for the player extending the full length of the keyboard. On the piano is a dessert dish heaped with fruit and sweets, mostly chocolates.
All of these stage directions reinforce the huge class gulf between the main characters.
Shaw uses stage directions, too, to underline how superficial class differences are, revealing they are based almost entirely on outward appearance and not on innate differences between people. For example, the stage directions play up the comedy when Eliza emerges from her bath. When she is clean, her own father doesn't recognize her:
He [Mr. Doolittle] hurries to the door, anxious to get away with his booty. When he opens it he is confronted with a dainty and exquisitely clean young Japanese lady in a simple blue cotton kimono printed cunningly with small white jasmine blossoms. Mrs. Pearce is with her. He gets out of her way deferentially and apologizes.
Shaw's stage directions emphasize that vast class differences exist but also that they are only skin-deep: a point his play means to make.