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

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The title of Shaw's Pygmalion reflects the Greek myth of a sculptor, Pygmalion, who fell in love with his own creation. In the play, Professor Higgins mirrors Pygmalion's disdain for women and attempts to mold Eliza Doolittle into an ideal woman, paralleling Pygmalion's creation of a beautiful sculpture. Eliza's transformation from a flower girl to a duchess signifies her becoming Higgins' creation, akin to Pygmalion's sculpture.

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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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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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What is the significance of Pygmalion's title?

The origin of the Pygmalion story lies in ancient Greek myth. Ovid's Metamorphosis continued its fame (Ovid being one of the more important Classical writers in the English Renaissance). The Pygmalion myth has elements of male fantasy, as the sculptor creates a "perfect" woman after becoming disenchanted with real women (most notably prostitutes). The perfect woman, in this sense, is a beautiful creature with no artifices to challenge male security. Pygmalion remains frustrated that he cannot possess his Galatea statue as a woman utterly under his control, subject to his desire.

Elements of this art-becoming-life story can be found in Pinocchio as well as in Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale. In Othello, at the end of the play, Othello makes a reverse wish, wanting Desdemona to be an alabaster statue that he can love without fear of her disloyalty. In these stories, we find fodder for psychological interpretations of wish fulfillment and control.

When Shaw picks up the myth and its traditions, he offers a distinctly social satire. Higgins reforms Eliza through speech and demeanor, polishing her as a sculptor would his creation. The point is to show the excellence of his art. Eliza's own living self chafes at the uselessness of her training in a world that insists on class structure rather than personal ability. After some resistance regarding a less expected happy ending (Higgins and Eliza marrying), Shaw persists in the value of his own ending, where Eliza marries Freddie:

When Eliza emancipates herself—when Galatea comes to life—she must not relapse. She must retain her pride and triumph to the end. When Higgins takes your arm on 'consort battleship' you must instantly throw him off with implacable pride; and this is the note until the final 'Buy them yourself.' He will go out on the balcony to watch your departure; come back triumphantly into the room; exclaim 'Galatea!' (meaning that the statue has come to life at last); and—curtain. Thus he gets the last word; and you get it too (Letter from Shaw to actress playing Eliza, cited below, page 43).

Underscoring Eliza as a living Galatea who can take full independence from her creator, Shaw offers an inversion of Victorian sentimentality, which he stubbornly satirized.

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What is the significance of Pygmalion's title?

There are several different versions of the Pygmalion story in Greek and Roman mythology, but the essential tale is that of a sculptor who creates a statue of a woman so beautiful and perfectly rendered that it comes to life as a real woman. In Shaw's Pygmalion, Eliza Doolittle is the poor, working class woman who is "sculpted" (educated) by Henry Higgins into passing as a "real" lady after he dresses her properly, teaches her how to speak with an upper class accent, and coaches her in upper class manners. He makes a bet with a friend that he will be able to pass her off as a lady in the highest echelons of society, and he wins. By the end of the play, the "fake" lady Eliza has transformed into a real lady with self-confidence and a mind of her own, similar to how the statue transformed into a real human being.

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What is the significance of Pygmalion's title?

In ancient Greek mythology, Pygmalion was a Cyprian sculptor who created a statue of a woman and subsequently fell in love with it. In Ovid's Metamorphoses, Pygmalion is shown as an uptight artist who is judgmental about the way women in his town conduct themselves (he blames Aphrodite, the goddess of love). However, he ends up falling in love with his own creation because it seems so realistic and beautiful. In the end, the statue woman (named Galatea) comes to life after an offering to Aphrodite. The parallels are clear: uptight scholar Henry Higgins transforms a woman into someone she isn't originally. The themes of transformation and desire are evident.

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