In what way(s) is Pygmalion a Shavian play?

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Noelle Thompson eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Your question almost answers itself.  One must only look at the definition of "Shavian" which means a play written by or in the same style as George Bernard Shaw.  Considering that Pygmalion is actually written by George Bernard Shaw, there is no DOUBT that it is "Shavian" simply due to it's author.  However, in regards to style, there must be a reference to some sort of "Shavian eugenics."

You see, Shaw thought that women subconsciously must choose mates in order to have "better" children. Some refer to this idea as the "Life Force" (which I have always found interesting).  This certainly fits with Pygmalion. Eliza, being a flower girl, despite her treatment during the play, must choose someone like Higgins or Freddy in order to increase her societal breeding potential (regardless of her thought process).  In Pygmalion, in addition to all other Shavian plays, there is acerbic wit involved as well:  lots of sarcasm and lots of satire.  One of my favorites that fits with the life force is as follows:

HIGGINS: My manners are exactly the same as Colonel Pickering's.

LIZA: That's not true. He treats a flower girl as if she was a duchess.

HIGGINS: And I treat a duchess as if she was a flower girl.

If the reader/watcher of the play reads in between the lines here, we find that it doesn't matter if Eliza marries Higgins, Freddy, or Pickering.  They ALL increase her station and the station of her potential children.  She MUST choose one of them.  Therefore, the sarcasm and satire here show the play to be truly "Shavian."

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Gracie O'Hara eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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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.

Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Shaw's plays, referred to as "Shavian plays" are exceptional for their characteristic of contrasting reality with conventional wisdom. In the case of Pygmalion, this contrast is evident in a couple of regards. First, conventional wisdom in England during the Victorian era had it that individuals born into ill-advantaged lifestyles, as Liza the flower girls was, are incapable of attaining anything higher because of inadequate intelligence and under-bred social values. The reality is that intelligence and values are not the limiting factors whereas opportunity and income are. Liza proves in her first few speeches that she has abundant intelligence hidden beneath her...

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M.P. Ossa, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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