Pygmalion Questions and Answers
by George Bernard Shaw

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What is the significance of the title of Shaw's Pygmalion

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Thomas Mccord eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Shaw took the title of his play from an ancient Greek legend. According to this legend, Pygmalion was a sculptor who disliked women and did not see any reason to ever get married. Nevertheless, Pygmalion grew lonely and decided to create an ivory sculpture of a beautiful woman. This sculpture was so beautiful, in fact, that Pygmalion fell in love with it.

Shaw's Pygmalion therefore reflects this legend and the title pays homage to its message. At the beginning of the play, Profession Henry Higgins has negative views of women, just like Pygmalion. He believes that women are a "damned nuisance," for instance, who "upset everything" when they enter a man's life.

Similarly, by receiving elocution lessons from Professor Higgins, Eliza becomes a symbol of Pygmalion's sculpture. At the start of the play Eliza is a flower girl but, by the end, speaks as well as any duchess. She is indeed a creation of Professor Higgins, just like Pygmalion's beautiful sculpture.

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Lynnette Wofford eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The title of Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw is drawn from classical mythology. Shaw's actual source was a story found in Ovid's Metamorphoses about the sculptor Pygmalion who had forsworn love of women. He worked on a statue of a woman that was so beautiful that he fell in love with it. He named the statue Galatea. One day he made a sacrifice to Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and she took pity on him and made the statue come alive as a real woman. Pygmalion married Galatea and they had a son, Paphos. They remained devoted worshipers of Aphrodite and the family was favored by her.

Professor Higgins treats Eliza Doolittle as though he were Pygmalion and she were Galatea, attempting to mold her into the image of the perfect aristocratic woman. Eliza, however, is not a lump of ivory or marble, but a smart, strong-willed woman with a mind of her own, who resents being treated as if she were simply the inanimate object of Higgins' craft. 

Higgins expresses this concept when discussing Eliza with his mother:

You will jolly soon see whether she has an idea that I haven't put into her head or a word that I haven't put into her mouth. I tell you I have created this thing out of the squashed cabbage leaves of Covent Garden;...

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