Introduction to Pygmalion

Pygmalion is a play by George Bernard Shaw that debuted in 1913 at the Hofburg Theatre in Vienna, Austria. It draws on the Greek myth of Pygmalion, a sculptor who falls in love with a statue of his that comes to life. In Shaw’s play, linguist Henry Higgins plays the role of Pygmalion, metaphorically bringing a lower-class woman named Eliza to life by teaching her manners and giving her the ability to transcend her poverty. The Pygmalion myth was a popular subject for Victorian-era playwrights, and numerous other adaptations of the myth were already in existence. However, Shaw’s version has had a lasting impact in literary and dramatic spheres, and it has since been adapted into multiple film versions and a popular musical titled My Fair Lady.

Pygmalion follows protagonist Eliza Doolittle, a poor flower seller with a heavy Cockney accent. Her accent attracts the attention of Henry Higgins,who makes a bet with his friend Colonel Pickering that he can pass Eliza off as a duchess simply by improving her elocution. Higgins wins the bet, but he upsets Eliza by refusing to acknowledge her role in the victory. Many critics have lauded Pygmalion as a subtly feminist text due to its reinterpretation of the original Pygmalion myth. Whereas in the original myth, the statue passively marries Pygmalion after being brought to life, Eliza rejects her metaphorical creator by leaving Higgins in favor of the kindhearted Freddy, asserting her independence.

A Brief Biography of George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950) was a prolific Irish playwright. His voluminous output over a lifespan of nearly one hundred years has few parallels. While most of his plays dealt with social and political issues, they are best remembered for their intellectual repartee, or “Shavian wit.” Early social dramas like Widower’s Houses and Mrs. Warren’s Profession drew parallels to Ibsen’s early realist works. But by the turn of the century, Shaw’s distinctively smart, funny voice had emerged—a unique intersection of styles typified by writers like Oscar Wilde and Anton Chekhov. As a testament to Shaw’s legacy, works like Major Barbara, Saint Joan, and Man and Superman have become canonical, and the Shaw Festival in Canada is one of the largest theater festivals in North America.

Frequently Asked Questions about Pygmalion

Pygmalion

The conflict in Pygmalion demonstrates that class differences are not as rigidly defined as people might believe. Furthermore, qualities associated with particular social classes are often a...

Latest answer posted September 12, 2021, 5:11 pm (UTC)

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Pygmalion

A problem play dramatizes a social or political problem. While there have always been problem plays, the term is most closely associated with a group of playwrights that emerged in the late...

Latest answer posted September 12, 2021, 12:07 pm (UTC)

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Pygmalion

In Pygmalion, middle-class morality is the expectation of proper behavior for those belonging to the middle class. This term is developed into opposition toward the looser moral standards of the...

Latest answer posted September 12, 2021, 11:40 am (UTC)

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Pygmalion

One of the social issues Pygmalion tackles involves the limitations placed on women in the early twentieth century. This situation is compounded by the strict social hierarchy in England at this...

Latest answer posted September 11, 2021, 5:17 pm (UTC)

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Pygmalion

Pygmalion is set in London at the beginning of the 1900s. Though there was a growing sense of upward social mobility in England during this period, those who did find themselves fortunate enough to...

Latest answer posted September 11, 2021, 1:09 pm (UTC)

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Pygmalion

The "new small talk" is a term Higgins invents in act 3 to explain Eliza's bizarre manner of speaking. In the act, Higgins arranges for Eliza to visit his mother during her time for receiving...

Latest answer posted September 11, 2021, 11:48 am (UTC)

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Pygmalion

Although Eliza has won Higgins's bet for him by passing effortlessly as a high-born lady, he still can't perceive her as fully human. Spoiled and entitled, he wonders where his slippers are and...

Latest answer posted September 11, 2021, 11:38 am (UTC)

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Pygmalion

After Eliza leaves him at the end of act 4, Higgins realizes how much he's come to enjoy her company. Even though the bet is over, Higgins has "grown accustomed" to Eliza's presence in his house...

Latest answer posted September 11, 2021, 11:20 am (UTC)

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Pygmalion

Pygmalion is a 1913 five-act play written by famed playwright and critic George Bernard Shaw. Set in Victorian London, it tells the story of a Cockney flower girl named Eliza Doolittle and her...

Latest answer posted September 10, 2021, 4:20 pm (UTC)

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Pygmalion

Pygmalion offers a critique of the Victorian English society, specifically the distinction between the upper and lower classes. Though English society of the time had a rigid social structure, Shaw...

Latest answer posted September 9, 2021, 12:24 pm (UTC)

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Pygmalion

By the end of Pygmalion, Eliza Doolittle has come into her own. After helping Higgins win his bet, she becomes frustrated and hurt by his refusal to properly appreciate her efforts. After a heated...

Latest answer posted September 12, 2021, 11:16 am (UTC)

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Pygmalion

In Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw, Professor Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle do not end up together. They both seem to want to be together, as Eliza is certainly attracted to Higgins, and...

Latest answer posted September 12, 2021, 5:26 pm (UTC)

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Pygmalion

Shaw, who was a Fabian socialist, wanted to illustrate the point that social class is based on opportunity, not genetics. Many people at the time—1913—believed that working-class people were poor...

Latest answer posted September 9, 2021, 11:29 am (UTC)

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Pygmalion

Pygmalion begins on a rainy night in Covent Garden in the West End of London, near St. Paul's Church. This neighborhood verges on the edge of the East End of London, where many members of the...

Latest answer posted September 10, 2021, 11:29 am (UTC)

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Pygmalion

The tense relationship between Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins is the basis of Pygmalion's central conflict. Initially, this does not appear to be so: Higgins makes a bet that he can pass Eliza...

Latest answer posted September 10, 2021, 11:13 am (UTC)

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Pygmalion

The action of George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion falls after the argument between Eliza Doolittle and Professor Henry Higgins in act 5. This argument centers around Eliza's future. She is...

Latest answer posted September 10, 2021, 3:18 pm (UTC)

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Pygmalion

George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion begins one summer night in Covenant Garden, and we are quickly introduced to the main characters: Eliza Doolittle (a flower seller), Professor Henry Higgins (a...

Latest answer posted September 9, 2021, 3:31 pm (UTC)

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Pygmalion

From the text alone, it is unlikely that Henry Higgins is in love with Eliza Doolitte. An actor could choose to incorporate romantic interest into the role if so desired, but judging by Higgins's...

Latest answer posted September 10, 2021, 11:39 am (UTC)

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Pygmalion

Pygmalion's resolution has been a source of controversy since its first performances. Eliza becomes resentful of Higgins's treatment of her, particularly the way he overlooks her contribution to...

Latest answer posted September 9, 2021, 11:19 am (UTC)

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Pygmalion

In George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion, Eliza Doolittle actually does not marry anyone within the action of the play itself. Eliza has been transformed from a lowly flower seller with a vulgar...

Latest answer posted September 9, 2021, 5:24 pm (UTC)

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Summary