I have just finished reading G.B. Shaw’s play Pygmalion and thoroughly enjoyed the old world charm of this drama set in London, England.
The play revolves around three main characters- Professor Henry Higgins, Colonel Pickering and Ms Eliza Doolittle, with supporting characters in Mrs. Higgins and Mrs Pearce and Mr. Alfred Doolittle. The plot of the play is quite simple. Phonetics Professor Higgins accepts a friendly bet from Colonel Pickering to work on the pronunciation of uneducated flower girl Eliza and transform her into a Lady, fit to be passed off as Duchess.
The three protagonists come in close contact during this experiment and a transformation starts taking place in not only Eliza’s language but also her attitude towards the Professor. She is at first attracted to him and is subservient to him, but his cold, rough thankless attitude changes her love and she walks out of his home, throwing slippers at him.
As the play progresses, it is found that Higgins is not a bully, but rather he believes that man and woman are equal and women need not act only for the pleasure for men. on the contrary, women should be independent ready to take her own decisions. The Shavian bold ideals against romance and chivalry does take away the romantic element away from the Pygmalion, but nevertheless it gives the play a modernistic approach.
Giving full credit to Shaw’s creative liberty, I liked his unique approach which was quite progressive for his own times. Initially, Higgins does come across as a bad mannered nutty professor, who is inanimate and inconsiderate to women’s emotions. But, towards the end, he redeems himself when he explains to Eliza that he prefers her new found independent modern woman avatar much more fascinating than the demure girl she was earlier.
The title Pygmalion is also quite unique. The title takes its name from the greek legend, where the King-Sculptor Pygmalion makes an ivory statue of Galatea and falls in love with his self-created perfect beauty. The Goddess of beauty ‘Aphrodite’ converts Galatea into a woman of blood and flesh, and Pygmalion marries his love Galatea and they live happily ever after.
Shaw did base his play on Pygmalion-Galatea legend, but then being a true anti romantic, he soon deviates from the love theme. Galatea-Eliza does have a crush on Pygmalion-Higgins, but she changes her mind on seeing his cold, calculated attitude and marries Freddy, a commoner instead.
Shaw called this play ‘A Romance’ but I would prefer it be called a comedy, A comedy of Human Follies, based on mistakes we all make as human and which adds variety to our otherwise boring life. Alfred Doolittle, father of Eliza can be interpreted as Shaw’s true voice and his lectures on Middle Class morality are entertaining and thought provoking.
Pygmalion holds itself good even after almost 100 years of its being written and Shaw’s dialogue “What is life but a series of inspired follies” is still relevant despite all our modernism and fast paced lifestyle. A timeless classic indeed!