Реферат: Literary analysis of "Pygmalion" by George Bernard Shaw


Pygmalion is a comedy about a phonetics expert who, as a kind of social experiment, attempts to make a lady out of an uneducated Cockney flower-girl. Although not as intellectually complex as some of the other plays in Shaw's «theatre of ideas,» Pygmalion nevertheless probes important questions about social class, human behavior, and relations between the sexes.

Hoping to circumvent what he felt was the tendency of the London press to criticize his plays unfairly, Shaw chose to produce a German translation of Pygmalion in Vienna and Berlin before bringing the play to London. The London critics appreciated the acclaim the play had received overseas, and, after it opened at His Majesty's Theatre on April 11, 1914, it enjoyed success, firmly establishing Shaw's reputation as a popular playwright.

Accompanying his subterfuge with the London press, Shaw also plotted to trick his audience out of any prejudicial views they held about the play's content. This he did by assuming their familiarity with the myth of Pygmalion, from the Greek playwright Ovid's Metamorphoses, encouraging them to think that Pygmalion was a classical play. He furthered the ruse by directing the play anonymously and casting a leading actress who had never before appeared in a working-class role. In Ovid's tale, Pygmalion is a man disgusted with real-life women who chooses celibacy and the pursuit of an ideal woman, whom he carves out of ivory. Wishing the statue were real, he makes a sacrifice to Venus, the goddess of love, who brings the statue to life. By the late Renaissance, poets and dramatists began to contemplate the thoughts and feelings of this woman, who woke full-grown in the arms of a lover. Shaw's central character—the flower girl Liza Doolittle—expresses articulately how her transformation has made her feel, and he adds the additional twist that Liza turns on her «creator'' in the end by leaving him.

In addition to the importance of the original Pygmalion myth to Shaw's play, critics have pointed out the possible influence of other works, such as Tobias Smollett's novel The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle and a number of plays, including W. S. Gilbert's Pygmalion and Galatea and Henrik Ibsen's A Doll House. Shaw denied borrowing the story directly from any of these sources, but there are traces of them in his play, as there are of the well-known story of Cinderella, and shades of the famous stories of other somewhat vain „creators“ whose experiments have unforeseen implications: Faust, Dr. Frankenstein, Svengali.

The play was viewed as one of Shaw's less provocative comedies. Nevertheless, Pygmalion did provoke controversy upon its original production. Somewhat ironically, the cause was an issue of language, around which the plot itself turns: Liza's use of the word „bloody,“ never before uttered on the stage at His Majesty's Theatre. Even though they were well aware of the controversy from its coverage in the press, the first audiences gasped in surprise, then burst into laughter, at Liza's spirited rejoinder: „Not bloody likely!“

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)

playwright bernard show pygmalion romance

George Bernard Shaw was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1856 to Lucinda and George Shaw. His father was a corn merchant who suffered from alcoholism, and his mother was a house wife and singer. Lucinda ran away to London with her voice teacher, George Lee. All her children followed her there. After a fall out with Lee, Shaw's mother pursued an unconventional teaching career in singing using the techniques Lee taught her.

Shaw began working as a clerk in a land agency at the age of fifteen, but abandoned that career before age twenty and resolved to fashion himself as a modern Shakespeare. He came of age as a writer in the late Victorian era, and much of his work demonstrated a rebellion against the morays of the time. Shaw's first essays into the writing profession were as a music and art critic, and his success allowed him to expand the range and style of his criticism. He developed into an extremely prolific playwright, novelist, and lecturer. Shaw was an active Fabian socialist and a supporter of feminists and homosexuals. His aggressive and diverse social commentaries kept him in the public eye throughout his long life. Shaw died in 1950, at the age of 94.

Pygmalion is the most famous and perhaps most beloved of Shaw's many plays. Shaw was often criticized for writing plays full of unsubstantial, if witty, banter. With Pygmalion, Shaw challenged his critics by making both the subject and the content of the play speech. He used phonetics and Ovid's story of Pygmalion as a means of defending his artistic creation and addressing feminist issues. Several film adaptations have been made of the play, one of which garnered Shaw an Academy Award for best screenplay in 1938.


According to a Greek myth, Pygmalion, an ancient sculptor living on Cyprus Island, worshipped the goddess of love, Venus. The local women disgusted him, so sculpted himself the perfect one-Galatea. Higgins undertakes a similar project, to sculpt a duchess by changing the appearance and the manners of a flower girl. In his „Pygmalion,“ Shaw teases his audience, foreshadowing a Cinderella-like romantic play. He further mocks the audience by allowing Higgins to be the fairy godmother of this romance, creating his „Cinderella“ out of a simple flower girl. After the ball, however, it becomes clear that Eliza is as a better person than Higgins. Shaw makes his audience realize that just like Cinderella, Eliza was a duchess even when her appearance and spoken word were that of a flower girl. Shaw further manifests that her father will always remain a bum regardless of his finances or appearance, and Higgins will live the rest of his life as an impolite bachelor who cares for nothing but his work. By changing the appearance and the social class of his characters while keeping their personalities constant, Shaw makes a critical point-- people can only change their image, popularity and wealth, but will always remain the same on the inside. The character of Alfred Doolittle, Eliza's father remains unchanged throughout the play. Shaw depicts him as a bum, in Doolittle's first appearance in act II, who literally sells his daughter for some inconsiderable amount of money. He is presented as a lowlife nobody, who likes to drink and does not like to have any responsibilities. When he appears in act five, however, Shaw dresses him as a gentleman and gives him the wealth of a millionaire. Doolittle's views of life, however, remain unchanged. Having money, forces him to accept responsibility, which he clearly regards as a burden. He longs for the days when he drank without a single care in the world. Shaw emphasizes that his character does not change regardless of his new social status. Shaw is very specific filling Higgins' character as an impolite workaholic whom cares about nothing, other than his phonetics. From the begging of the play, he only talks about his work, bragging that he can tell anyone's birthplace within six miles by his or her dialect. This continues through to the end of the play, when he is more enraged that his „creation“ will work for his rival and teach phonetics than the fact that Eliza is leaving him for a dumber but kinder Freddy. Higgins lives in a lab with „a student of Indian dialects,“ Colonel Pickering. Higgins' manners force even his mother to be ashamed of him in front of her guests and in church where this student of Milton enjoys mocking the dialect of clergymen. It is clear that Higgins does not care about his mother's opinion of him. He does not care about Eliza; he turns her world upside down, creating a duchess but continues to treat her like a guinea pig rather than a person. Higgins does not even care about himself. He always has and always will care only about his work. The theme of Shaw's „Pygmalion“ lies in such consistency. Higgins is professor of phonetics, a student of Milton and Shakespeare, an imprudent and inconsiderate bachelor, forever. Shaw builds the character of Eliza from a simpleminded flower girl living on the street. In the opening act, Higgins shames her: „A woman who utters depressing and disgusting sounds has no right to be anywhere, no right to live.“ She cries upon the simplest provocation. Just as it is difficult to picture this street bum with a flower basket, as a duchess, it is difficult to conceive how someone like Higgins with his grotesque manners can create a genteel duchess, especially from a girl off the street. But Higgins' „Cinderella“ nevertheless triumphs at the ambassador's ball. Act four, however brings up an intense conflict between Eliza and Higgins. In this confrontation, Shaw portrays Eliza as an intelligent duchess whose manners and dress brought out her individuality. Her creator remains rude and continues to treat her as a guinea pig. Shaw forces his audience to sympathize with Eliza, whose character is intrinsically better than Higgins'. But how could this artificial creation, which has been intensely programmed to substitute morals for manners surpass her creator, the rude professor of phonetics? Eliza was a duchess before she ever met Higgins or Pickering. She was simply a slave to her poverty and only appeared to be simpleminded. Living with two „elite“ men, she learned the best from each of them, bringing out her individuality. From Higgins, she learned how to speak correctly, and from the respect granted to her by Pickering, she learned to respect herself. Even her „creator“ admits at the very end, she was „like a millstone around [his] neck, [n]ow [she] is a tower of strength, a consort battleship.“ Self respect makes the image of a flower girl off the street to evolve into an image of a duchess, nevertheless, the fact that she surpasses her „creator“ proves that Eliza always remains the same person on the inside. Pygmalion (the sculptor) resembles Higgins only on the surface, he builds the perfect woman, while Higgins simply gives a poor duchess an opportunity to change her image. Similarly, all Shaw's characters in „Pygmalion,“ change only on the surface (if at all); they remain the same people on the inside regardless of circumstances. As an unknown ancient writer wrote: „Popularity is an accident, money takes wings, those who cheer you today may defame you tomorrow, the only thing that endures is character.“

Major CharactersProfessor Henry Higgins

Henry Higgins, forty years old, is a bundle of paradoxes. In spite of his brilliant intellectual achievements, his manners are usually those of the worst sort of petulant, whining child. He is a combination of loveable eccentricities, brilliant achievements, and devoted dedication to improving the human race. Yet he is completely socially inept; his manners are so bad that his own mother does not want him in her house when she has company, and his manners are so offensive that she will not attend the same church at the same time. Since manners have always been the subject matter of comedies from the time of Aristophanes, Higgins' view of manners differs greatly from his own actions. His use of phonetics to make a flower girl into a duchess does not mean that the play is about phonetics; the play concerns different definitions of manners, and thus Higgins' actions must be taken fully into account.

Henry Higgins is a confirmed bachelor, and this fact alone should rule out all popularizes who would create a romantic entanglement between Higgins and Eliza. In addition, he is so set in his ways that he announces to Eliza that if someone doesn't want to get run over, they had better get out of his way. To accomplish his aims, he will trample on anyone's feelings — whether that person be a flower girl in Covent Garden or a real duchess or a lady in his mother's elaborate drawing room. Thus, one of Higgins' claims to equality is not that he doesn't have manners (it is a foregone conclusion that he has none), but that he treats all people alike. However, he only thinks that he does; he is not as egalitarian and democratic as he likes to think that he is. When Higgins first meets Eliza in Covent Garden and is taking down her vocal sounds, he is extremely clever — so clever, in fact, that his horribly bad manners are accepted by the audience as being clever. In his tirade against Eliza, when he vents his wrath against her, we tend, on first hearing his tirade, to forgive him because he has such an admirable command of the English language as he simply rips to pieces a „guttersnipe“ and „a squashed cabbage leaf.“ Note his superb language: „A woman who utters such depressing and disgusting sounds has no right to be anywhere — no right to live. Remember that you are a human being with a soul and the divine gift of articulate speech... don't sit there crooning like a bilious pigeon.“ Anyone who can deliver such splendid invective is admired for his or her brilliant, spontaneous use of the English language, and especially when it is directed against so lowly a person as this flower girl from the slums. But in a play dealing with manners, no proper gentleman would utter such condemnations. Later, we find out that Colonel Pickering treated Eliza properly from the very first. Thus, in spite of Higgins' claiming to treat all people with the same manners, he certainly does not treat Mrs. Eynsford-Hill and Clara with such a display of invective, and both of these characters represent everything that Higgins abhors; they represent the worst sort of upper-middle-class hypocrisy that both he and Doolittle despise. But in spite of his bad manners, Higgins is clever, and we do admire his cleverness, even at the expense of a flower girl.

Why else do we like Higgins? Because he is Shaw's creative rebel who floats through many of Shaw's dramas. Higgins rejects middle-class moralities. He admires do-nothing Doolittles for their honesty in asserting that they are the undeserving poor, he will devote his scientific skill to changing a flower girl into a duchess, he is ultimately interested in the soul of his creation (Eliza-Galatea) and not in her pronunciation, and he is devoted to improving the human race by his own scientific methods. And, last, we cannot deny his charm: Mrs. Pearce, his housekeeper, has often threatened to leave because of Henry's atrocious manners (improper language, improper dress, bad table behavior, etc.), but she is always charmed by him into remaining with him. Ultimately, Eliza is also so charmed by her association with Higgins (and Pickering) that she does not want to live with someone else. But if Higgins is charming, he is also a tyrannical bully; if he is devastatingly intelligent, he is also ignorantly insensitive to the feelings of others; if he is god-like in his achievements, he is childishly petulant in his wanting his own way; if he believes in his scientific methodology, he is also something of the intuitive poet; and if he is a man so confident of his aim in life, he is also a man so ignorant of his own personality that he really thinks himself timid, modest, and diffident. Thus, his appeal remains partly in the many contradictions that he is heir to.

Eliza Doolittle

Shaw's story of the flower girl from the slums who was taught to speak so properly that she was able to pass as a duchess at an ambassador's garden party is perhaps one of the best known works by Shaw, partly because of the popularity of the play which, in turn, inspired a more sentimentalized version in a popular movie and, later, became one of the world's most popular musical comedies, My Fair Lady, using Shaw's broad outlines, but turning the play from a study in manners to a sentimental love story between pupil and master.

The character of Eliza is best seen by the progression which she makes from „a thing of stone,“ „a nothingness,“ a „guttersnipe,“ and a „squashed cabbage leaf' to the final act where she is an exquisite lady — totally self-possessed, a person who has in many ways surpassed her creator. In the opening act, the audience cannot know that beneath the mud and behind the horrible speech sounds stands the potential of a great “work of art.» This carries through the Pygmalion-Galatea theme in which a crude piece of marble is transformed into a beautiful statue. It is not until the third act, when Eliza makes her appearance at Mrs. Higgins' house, that we know that Eliza possesses a great deal of native intelligence, that she has a perfect ear for all sorts of sounds, an excellent ability at reproducing sounds, a superb memory, and a passionate desire to improve herself.

In the first act, Shaw takes great pains to hide all of Eliza's basic qualities. He shows her not only as a person who completely violates the English language, but, more important, he shows her as a low, vulgar creature — totally without manners. We see her initially as a low-class flower girl who vulgarly tries to solicit money from a well-dressed gentleman, Colonel Pickering, and then as a young girl who is vulgarly familiar to another gentleman (Freddy Eynsford-Hill, who ironically wants her to be familiar with him when she becomes a lady); last, we see her as a person who is obnoxious in her protestations when she thinks that she is about to be accused of prostitution. Thus, what Shaw has done is to let us listen to a flower girl who totally violates the English language and who is a total vulgarian in terms of language. The change in Eliza's pronunciation will come about because of Higgins' lessons in phonetics, but the important change, and the real subject of the play, is the change that will come about in Eliza's manners — something which even Higgins cannot teach her because he has no manners himself.

Eliza arrives at Higgins' laboratory-living room for rather ironic reasons. She wants to adopt middle-class manners that both Higgins and her father despise. Eliza's ideal is to become a member of the respectable middle class, and in order to do so, she must learn proper pronunciation and manners. But then we notice that in spite of the original motive, Eliza's monumental efforts to master her lessons have their bases in the fact that she has developed a «doglike» devotion to her two masters — a devotion which Higgins will ultimately reject and which Eliza will ultimately declare herself independent of in the next stage of her development.

In both Acts IV and V, Eliza is seen as a completely transformed person, outwardly. She is poised, dignified, in control of her once spitfire temper, and she has rejected all of the old common vulgarity of her past life. She is no longer willing to be Higgins' creation; she now asserts her own independence. But it is an independence which demands values from life which Higgins cannot give her. Unlike Higgins, who wants to change the world, Eliza wants only to change herself. Unlike Higgins, who can and does stand apart from the common aspects of life, Eliza can be content with Freddy, who simply needs and wants her as a compassionate human being. And whereas Higgins can get along without anyone, Eliza and Freddy need each other. In contrast, Higgins will continue to try to improve the world, while Eliza will make a comfortable home for herself and Freddy.

Pygmalion (mythology) In Ovid

In Ovid's narrative, Pygmalion was a Cypriot sculptor who carved a woman out of ivory. According to Ovid, after seeing the Propoetides prostituting themselves (more accurately, they denied the divinity of Venus and she thus ‘reduced’ them to prostitution), he was 'not interested in women', his statue was so fair and realistic that he fell in love with it. In the vertex, Venus (Aphrodite)'s festival day came. For the festival, Pygmalion made offerings to Venus and made a wish. «I sincerely wish the ivory sculpture will be changed to a real woman.» However, he couldn’t bring himself to express it. When he returned home, Cupid, sent by Venus, kissed the ivory sculpture on the hand. At that time, it was changed to a beautiful woman. A ring was put on her finger. It was Cupid’s ring which made love achieved. Venus had granted Pygmalion's wish.

Pygmalion married the ivory sculpture changed to a woman under Venus’ blessing. They had a son, Paphos, which he took from his home.In some versions they also had a daughter, Metharme.

Ovid's mention of Paphos suggests that he was drawing on a more circumstantial account than the source for a passing mention of Pygmalion in Pseudo-Apollodorus' Bibliotheke, a Hellenic mythography of the 2nd-century AD. Perhaps he drew on the lost narrative by Philostephanus that was paraphrased by Clement of Alexandria. Pygmalion is the Greek version of the Phoenician royal name Pumayyaton and figures in the founding legend of Paphos in Cyprus.

Parallels in Greek myth

The story of the breath of life in a statue has parallels in the examples of Daedalus, who used quicksilver to install a voice in his statues; of Hephaestus, who created automata for his workshop; of Talos, an artificial man of bronze; and, according to Hesiod, Pandora, who was made from clay at the behest of Zeus.

The moral anecdote of the «Apega of Nabis», recounted by the historian Polybius, described a supposed mechanical simulacrum of the tyrant's wife, that crushed victims in her embrace.

The discovery of the Antikythera mechanism suggests that such rumoured animated statues had some grounding in contemporary mechanical technology. The island of Rhodes was particularly known for its displays of mechanical engineering and automata — Pindar, one of the nine lyric poets of ancient Greece, said this of Rhodes in his seventh Olympic Ode:

«The animated figures stand Adorning every public street And seem to breathe in stone, or move their marble feet.»

The trope of a sculpture so lifelike it seemed about to move was a commonplace with writers on works of art in Antiquity that was inherited by writers on art after the Renaissance.

Re-interpretations of Pygmalion

The basic Pygmalion story has been widely transmitted and re-presented in the arts through the centuries. At an unknown date, later authors give as the name of the statue that of the sea-nymph Galatea or Galathea. Goethe calls her Elise, based upon the variants in the story of Dido/Elissa.

In the Middle Ages Pygmalion was held up as an example of the excesses of idolatry, probably spurred by Clement of Alexandria's suggestion that Pygmalion had carved an image of Aphrodite herself. However, by the 18th century it was a highly influential love-story, seen as such in Rousseau's musical play of the story. By the 19th century, the story often becomes one in which the awakened beloved rejects Pygmalion; although she comes alive, she is initially cold and unattainable.

A twist on this theme can also be seen in the story of Pinocchio where a wooden puppet is transformed into a real boy, though in this case the puppet possesses sentience prior to its transformation; it is the puppet and not the woodcarver (sculptor) who beseeches the miracle.

William Shakespeare, in the final scene of The Winter's Tale (c 1611), presents what appears to be a tomb effigy of Hermione that is revealed as Hermione herself, bringing the play to a conclusion of reconciliations.

George Bernard Shaw wrote a play titled «Pygmalion». In Shaw's play, the girl is brought to life by two men in speech — the goal for their masterpiece is for her to marry and become a duchess. It has an interesting spin on the original story and has a subtle hint of feminism.


This play by George Bernard Shaw is great for many reasons. It is a social critique that explores the issues of class and love amidst a backdrop of early 20th century England. Shaw's brilliant characterisation of the arrogant and rude but highly intelligent Higgins, and the straight-forward, strong and intelligent Eliza lead the audience to love the characters and be absorbed by the story. Higgins' many insults «squashed cabbage leaf», «draggle-tailed guttersnipe» to Eliza are cruel, but the audience should not overlook his better points, such as his goal of creating a better society through knowledge and elimination of class and all the unfairness associated with the latter. Higgins, reflecting Shaw's own beliefs, believes that, by using phonetics, accents could be eliminated and therefore, with everyone speaking the same, society would become classless. Note this quote «The great secret, Eliza, is not having bad manners or good manners or any other particular sort of manners, but having the same manner for all human souls: in short, behaving as if you were in Heaven, where there are no third-class carriages, and one soul is as good as another.» Higgins is sexist, because he lives for his subject, and cannot imagine putting anyone or anything second to his passion. He values companionship, and independence. Eliza, though, wants love — someone who cares for her and respects her. She finds this in Freddy — who is not worthy for her due to his foolish nature and blind adoration, but she accepts him anyway. Eliza has shown that education (and money) can elevate one to another class, but is this a complete transformation? It can be seen that she does not truly belong to either class — she cannot go back to being a flower girl, however she does not feel completely at ease in the middle-class, either. Alfred Doolittle is a good example of the new upwardly mobile middle class, where criterion of gentility was changing from family and background to money. Doolittle provides much comic relief throughout the play. His comments on «middle-class morality» ring true. Pickering is a good foil to Higgins, as a caring and articulate man who treats Eliza well. Shaw's ending is brilliant as it does not adhere to the usual romantic ending, where the reader would expect Eliza and Higgins (the other option to Freddy) to have a romantic relationship. The reason why is explained in the epilogue. The fact is, Higgins was Eliza's teacher and that, as he says himself at the beginning, is a sacred relationship — «You see, she'll be a pupil; and teaching would be impossible unless pupils were sacred.» That cements their relationship as unequal. In addition, Higgins' passion would always be phonetics, and learning — all other people and things are second — and this is something that is converse to Eliza's values — the one she marries must love her foremost. Though they become friends, albeit ones that argue constantly, deep down, they respect each other. This line seems to sum up Higgins' thoughts of his finished Galatea -«By George, Eliza, I said I’d make a woman of you; and I have. I like you like this.» The creation has become independent of its creator and he is glad. In conclusion, Shaw's play «Pygmalion» is a well-written play which is both a drama and social critique.


1.Pygmalion (play) at the Internet Broadway Database

2. Pygmalion stories & art: «successive retellings of the Pygmalion story after Ovid's Metamorphoses»

3. Shaw, Bernard, edited by Dan H. Laurence. Collected Letters vol. III: 1911-1925

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