Pygmalion (play)

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Pygmalion
Cover-play1913.jpg
Illustration depicting Mrs Campbell as Eliza
Author George Bernard Shaw
Country Ireland
Language English
Genre romantic comedy, social criticism
Publication date
1912
Media type Print

Pygmalion is a play by George Bernard Shaw, named after a Greek mythological character. It was first presented on stage to the public in 1912.

Professor of phonetics Henry Higgins makes a bet that he can train a bedraggled Cockney flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, to pass for a duchess at an ambassador's garden party by teaching her to assume a veneer of gentility, the most important element of which, he believes, is impeccable speech. The play is a sharp lampoon of the rigid British class system of the day and a commentary on women's independence.

In ancient Greek mythology, Pygmalion fell in love with one of his sculptures, which then came to life. The general idea of that myth was a popular subject for Victorian era English playwrights, including one of Shaw's influences, W. S. Gilbert, who wrote a successful play based on the story called Pygmalion and Galatea first presented in 1871. Shaw also would have been familiar with the burlesque version, Galatea, or Pygmalion Reversed. Shaw's play has been adapted numerous times, most notably as the musical My Fair Lady and the film of that name.

Shaw mentioned that the character of Professor Henry Higgins was inspired by several British professors of phonetics: Alexander Melville Bell, Alexander J. Ellis, Tito Pagliardini, but above all, the cantankerous Henry Sweet.[1]

First productions[edit]

Shaw wrote the play in the spring of 1912 and read it to famed actress Mrs. Patrick Campbell in June. She came on board almost immediately, but her mild nervous breakdown (and its doctor-enforced seisure, which led to a quasi-romantic intrigue with Shaw[2]) contributed to the delay of a London production. Pygmalion premiered at the Hofburg Theatre in Vienna on October 16, 1913, in a German translation by Shaw's Viennese literary agent and acolyte, Siegfried Trebitsch.[3][4] Its first New York production opened March 24, 1914 at the German-language Irving Place Theatre.[5] It opened in London April 11, 1914, at Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree's His Majesty's Theatre and starred Mrs. Campbell as Eliza and Tree as Higgins, running for 118 performances.[6] Shaw directed the actors through tempestuous rehearsals often punctuated by at least one of the two storming out of the theater in a rage.[7] by romeo .

Plot[edit]

First American (serialized) publication, Everybody's Magazine, November 1914

Shaw was conscious of the difficulties involved in staging a complete representation of the play. Acknowledging in a "note for technicians" that such a thing would only be possible "on the cinema screen or on stages furnished with exceptionally elaborate machinery", he marked some scenes as candidates for omission if necessary. Of these, a short scene at the end of Act One in which Eliza goes home, and a scene in Act Two in which Eliza is unwilling to undress for her bath, are not described here. The others are the scene at the Embassy Ball in Act Three and the scene with Eliza and Freddy in Act Four. Neither the Gutenberg edition referenced throughout this page nor the Wikisource text linked below contain these sequences.

Act One[edit]

'Portico of Saint Paul's Church (not Wren's Cathedral but Inigo Jones Church in Covent Garden vegetable market)' – 11.15p.m. A group of people are sheltering from the rain. Among them are the Eynsford-Hills, superficial social climbers eking out a living in "genteel poverty", consisting initially of Mrs. Eynsford-Hill and her daughter Clara. Clara's brother Freddy enters having earlier been dispatched to secure them a cab (which they can ill-afford), but being rather timid and faint-hearted he has failed to do so. As he goes off once again to find a cab, he bumps into a flower girl, Eliza. Her flowers drop into the mud of Covent Garden, the flowers she needs to survive in her poverty-stricken world. Shortly they are joined by a gentleman, Colonel Pickering. While Eliza tries to sell flowers to the Colonel, a bystander informs her that a man is writing down everything she says. The man is Henry Higgins, a professor of phonetics. Eliza worries that Higgins is a police officer and will not calm down until Higgins introduces himself. It soon becomes apparent that he and Colonel Pickering have a shared interest in phonetics; indeed, Pickering has come from India to meet Higgins, and Higgins was planning to go to India to meet Pickering. Higgins tells Pickering that he could pass off the flower girl as a duchess merely by teaching her to speak properly. These words of bravado spark an interest in Eliza, who would love to make changes in her life and become more mannerly, even though, to her, it only means working in a flower shop. At the end of the act, Freddy returns after finding a taxi, only to find that his mother and sister have gone and left him with the cab. The streetwise Eliza takes the cab from him, using the money that Higgins tossed to her, leaving him on his own.

Act Two[edit]

Higgins' – Next Day. As Higgins demonstrates his phonetics to Pickering, the housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce, tells him that a young girl wants to see him. Eliza has shown up, because she wishes to talk like a lady in a flower shop. She then tells Higgins that she will pay for lessons. He shows no interest in her, but she reminds him of his boast the previous day. Higgins claimed that he could pass her for a duchess. Pickering makes a bet with him on his claim, and says that he will pay for her lessons if Higgins succeeds. She is sent off to have a bath. Mrs. Pearce tells Higgins that he must behave himself in the young girl's presence. He must stop swearing, and improve his table manners. He is at a loss to understand why she should find fault with him. Then Alfred Doolittle, Eliza's father, appears with the sole purpose of getting money out of Higgins. He has no interest in his daughter in a paternal way. He sees himself as a member of the undeserving poor, and means to go on being undeserving. He has an eccentric view of life, brought about by a lack of education and an intelligent brain. He is also aggressive, and when Eliza, on her return, sticks her tongue out at him, he goes to hit her, but is prevented by Pickering. The scene ends with Higgins telling Pickering that they really have got a difficult job on their hands.

Act Three[edit]

Mrs. Higgins' drawing room. Higgins bursts in and tells his mother he has picked up a "common flower girl" whom he has been teaching. Mrs. Higgins is not very impressed with her son's attempts to win her approval because it is her 'at home' day and she is entertaining visitors. The visitors are the Eynsford-Hills. Higgins is rude to them on their arrival. Eliza enters and soon falls into talking about the weather and her family. Whilst she is now able to speak in beautifully modulated tones, the substance of what she says remains unchanged from the gutter. She confides her suspicions that her aunt was killed by relatives, and mentions that gin had been "mother's milk" to this aunt, and that Eliza's own father was always more cheerful after a goodly amount of gin. Higgins passes off her remarks as "the new small talk", and Freddy is enraptured. When she is leaving, he asks her if she is going to walk across the park, to which she replies, "Walk? Not bloody likely!" (This is the most famous line from the play, and, for many years after the play's debut, use of the word 'bloody' was known as a pygmalion; Mrs. Campbell was considered to have risked her career by speaking the line on stage[8]) After she and the Eynsford-Hills leave, Henry asks for his mother's opinion. She says the girl is not presentable and is very concerned about what will happen to her, but neither Higgins nor Pickering understand her thoughts of Eliza's future, and leave feeling confident and excited about how Eliza will get on. This leaves Mrs. Higgins feeling exasperated, and exclaiming, "Men! Men!! Men!!!"

Act Four[edit]

Higgins' home – The time is midnight, and Higgins, Pickering, and Eliza have returned from the ball. A tired Eliza sits unnoticed, brooding and silent, while Pickering congratulates Higgins on winning the bet. Higgins scoffs and declares the evening a "silly tomfoolery", thanking God it's over and saying that he had been sick of the whole thing for the last two months. Still barely acknowledging Eliza beyond asking her to leave a note for Mrs. Pearce regarding coffee, the two retire to bed. Higgins returns to the room, looking for his slippers, and Eliza throws them at him. Higgins is taken aback, and is at first completely unable to understand Eliza's preoccupation, which aside from being ignored after her triumph is the question of what she is to do now. When Higgins does understand he makes light of it, saying she could get married, but Eliza interprets this as selling herself like a prostitute. "We were above that at the corner of Tottenham Court Road." Finally she returns her jewellery to Higgins, including the ring he had given her, which he throws into the fireplace with a violence that scares Eliza. Furious with himself for losing his temper, he damns Mrs. Pearce, the coffee and then Eliza, and finally himself, for "lavishing" his knowledge and his "regard and intimacy" on a "heartless guttersnipe", and retires in great dudgeon. Eliza roots around in the fireplace and retrieves the ring.

Act Five[edit]

Mrs. Higgins' drawing room, the next morning. Higgins and Pickering, perturbed by the discovery that Eliza has walked out on them, call on Mrs. Higgins to phone the police. Higgins is particularly distracted, since Eliza had assumed the responsibility of maintaining his diary and keeping track of his possessions, which causes Mrs. Higgins to decry their calling the police as though Eliza were "a lost umbrella". Doolittle is announced; he emerges dressed in splendid wedding attire and is furious with Higgins, who after their previous encounter had been so taken with Doolittle's unorthodox ethics that he had recommended him as the "most original moralist in England" to a rich American founding Moral Reform Societies; the American had subsequently left Doolittle a pension worth three thousand pounds a year, as a consequence of which Doolittle feels intimidated into joining the middle class and marrying his missus. Mrs. Higgins observes that this at least settles the problem of who shall provide for Eliza, to which Higgins objects — after all, he paid Doolittle five pounds for her. Mrs. Higgins informs her son that Eliza is upstairs, and explains the circumstances of her arrival, alluding to how marginalised and overlooked Eliza felt the previous night. Higgins is unable to appreciate this, and sulks when told that he must behave if Eliza is to join them. Doolittle is asked to wait outside.

Eliza enters, at ease and self-possessed. Higgins blusters but Eliza isn't shaken and speaks exclusively to Pickering. Throwing Higgins' previous insults back at him ("Oh, I'm only a squashed cabbage leaf"), Eliza remarks that it was only by Pickering's example that she learned to be a lady, which renders Higgins speechless. Eliza goes on to say that she has completely left behind the flower girl she was, and that she couldn't utter any of her old sounds if she tried — at which point Doolittle emerges from the balcony, causing Eliza to relapse totally into her gutter speech. Higgins is jubilant, jumping up and crowing over her. Doolittle explains his situation and asks if Eliza will come to his wedding. Pickering and Mrs. Higgins also agree to go, and leave with Doolittle and Eliza to follow.

The scene ends with another confrontation between Higgins and Eliza. Higgins asks if Eliza is satisfied with the revenge she has brought thus far and if she will now come back, but she refuses. Higgins defends himself from Eliza earlier accusation by arguing that he treats everyone the same, so she shouldn't feel singled out. Eliza replies that she just wants a little kindness, and that since he will never stop to show her this, she will not come back, but will marry Freddy. Higgins scolds her for such low ambitions: he has made her "a consort for a king." When she threatens to teach phonetics and offer herself as an assistant to Nepomuck, Higgins again loses his temper and promises to wring her neck if she does so. Eliza realises that this last threat strikes Higgins at the very core and that it gives her power over him; Higgins, for his part, is delighted to see a spark of fight in Eliza rather than her erstwhile fretting and worrying. He remarks "I like you like this", and calls her a "pillar of strength". Mrs. Higgins returns and she and Eliza depart for the wedding. As they leave Higgins incorrigibly gives Eliza a number of errands to run, as though their recent conversation had not taken place. Eliza disdainfully explains why they are unnecessary, and wonders what Higgins is going to do without her. Higgins laughs to himself at the idea of Eliza marrying Freddy as the play ends.

Ending[edit]

Pygmalion was the most broadly appealing of all Shaw's plays. But popular audiences, looking for pleasant entertainment with big stars in a West End venue, wanted a "happy ending" for the characters they liked so well, as did some critics.[9] During the 1914 run, to Shaw's exasperation but not to his surprise, Tree sought to sweeten Shaw's ending to please himself and his record houses.[10] Shaw returned for the 100th performance and watched Higgins, standing at the window, toss a bouquet down to Eliza. "My ending makes money; you ought to be grateful," protested Tree. "Your ending is damnable; you ought to be shot."[11][12] Shaw remained sufficiently irritated to add a postscript essay, "'What Happened Afterwards,"[13] to the 1916 print edition for inclusion with subsequent editions, in which he explained precisely why it was impossible for the story to end with Higgins and Eliza getting married.

He continued to protect the play's and Eliza's integrity by protecting the last scene. For at least some performances during the 1920 revival, Shaw adjusted the ending in a way that underscored the Shavian message. In an undated note to Mrs. Campbell he wrote,

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.[14]

(This ending is not included in any print version of the play.)

Shaw fought uphill against such a reversal of fortune for Eliza all the way to 1938. He sent the film's harried producer, Gabriel Pascal, a concluding sequence which he felt offered a fair compromise: a romantically-set farewell scene between Higgins and Eliza, then Freddy and Eliza happy in their greengrocery/flower shop. Only at the sneak preview did he learn that Pascal had shot the "I washed my face and hands" conclusion, to reassure audiences that Shaw's Galatea wouldn't really come to life, after all.

Differing versions[edit]

Different printed versions of the play omit or add certain lines, much like Shakespeare's First Folio and First Quarto editions. The Project Gutenberg version published online, for instance, omits Higgins' famous declaration to Eliza, "Yes, you squashed cabbage-leaf, you disgrace to the noble architecture of these columns, you incarnate insult to the English language! I could pass you off as the Queen of Sheba!" – a line so famous that it is now retained in nearly all productions of the play, including the 1938 film version of Pygmalion as well as in the stage and film versions of My Fair Lady.[15]

The director of the 1938 film, Anthony Asquith, had seen Mrs. Campbell in the 1920 revival of Pygmalion and noticed that she spoke the line, "It's my belief as how they done the old woman in." He knew "as how" was not in Shaw's text, but he felt it added color and rhythm to Eliza's speech, and liked to think that Mrs. Campbell had ad libbed it herself. Eighteen years later he added it to Wendy Hiller's line in the film.[7]

In the original play Eliza's test is met at an ambassador's garden party, offstage. For the 1938 film Shaw and co-writers replaced that exposition with a scene at an embassy ball; Nepommuck, the dangerous translator spoken about in the play, is finally seen, but his name is updated to Arstid Karpathy — named so by Gabriel Pascal, the film's Hungarian producer, who also made sure that Karpathy mistakes Eliza for a Hungarian princess. In My Fair Lady he became Zoltan Karpathy.

Shaw's screen version of the play as well as a new print version incorporating the new sequences he had added for the film script were published in 1941. The scenes he had noted in "Note for Technicians" are added.

Influence[edit]

Pygmalion remains Shaw's most popular play. The play's widest audiences know it as the inspiration for the highly romanticized 1956 musical and 1964 film My Fair Lady.

Ironically, Pygmalion has transcended cultural and language barriers since its first production. The British Museum contains "images of the Polish production...; a series of shots of a wonderfully Gallicised Higgins and Eliza in the first French production in Paris in 1923; a fascinating set for a Russian production of the 1930s. There was no country which didn't have its own 'take' on the subjects of class division and social mobility, and it's as enjoyable to view these subtle differences in settings and costumes as it is to imagine translators wracking their brains for their own equivalent of 'Not bloody likely'."[16]

Joseph Weizenbaum named his artificial intelligence computer program ELIZA after the character Eliza Doolittle.[17]

Notable productions[edit]

Adaptations[edit]

Stage
Film
Television
Non–English language

In popular culture[edit]

Films
Television
  • Moonlighting's second season episode "My Fair David" (1985) is inspired by the movie My Fair Lady, in a plot where Maddie Hayes makes a bet with David Addison consisting in making him softer and more serious with work. She is her Henry Higgins, while he is put in the Eliza Doolittle position, as the funny, clumsy, bad-mannered part of the relationship.
  • The Man from U.N.C.L.E.'s third season episode "The Galatea Affair" (1966) is a spoof of My Fair Lady. A crude barroom entertainer (Joan Collins) is taught to behave like a lady. Noel Harrison, son of Rex Harrison, star of the My Fair Lady film, is the guest star.
  • In The Beverly Hillbillies episode "Pygmalion and Elly" Sonny resumes his high-class courtship of Elly May by playing Julius Caesar and Pygmalion.
  • In The Andy Griffith Show season 4 episode "My Fair Ernest T. Bass", Andy and Barney attempt to turn the mannerless Ernest T. Bass into a presentable gentleman. References to "Pygmalion" abound: Bass' manners are tested at a social gathering, where he is assumed by the hostess to be a man from up north. Several characters comment "if you wrote this into a play nobody'd believe it."
  • In "Doctor Who," the character of Leela is loosely based on Eliza Doolittle, she was a regular in the programme from 1977 to 1978 and later reprised in audio dramas from 2003 to present. In Ghost Light the character of Control is heavily based upon Eliza Doolittle with Redvers Fenn-Cooper in a similar role as Henry Higgins, the story also features reference to the "Rain in Spain" rhyme and the Doctor referring to companion Ace as "Eliza."
  • In the Remington Steele season 2 episode "My Fair Steele", Laura and Steele transform a truck stop waitress into a socialite to flush out a kidnapper. Steele references the 1938 movie Pygmalion and My Fair Lady, and references the way in which Laura has "molded" him into her fictional creation.
  • In the Magnum, P.I. episode "Professor Jonathan Higgins" of Season 5, Jonathan Higgins tries to turn his punk rocker cousin into a high society socialite. Higgins even references Pygmalion in the episode.
  • The Family Guy episode One If By Clam, Two If By Sea involves a subplot with Stewie trying to refine Eliza Pinchley, his new Cockney-accented neighbor, into a proper young lady. He makes a bet with Brian that he can improve Eliza's vocabulary and get her to speak without her accent before her birthday party. Includes "The Life of the Wife", a parody of the song "The Rain in Spain" (from My Fair Lady). The voice of Stewie was in fact originally based on that of Rex Harrison.
  • The plot of the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Someone to Watch Over Me" is loosely based on Pygmalion.
  • Pygmalion is the inspiration for The Simpsons episode entitled "Pygmoelian," in which infamously ugly character Moe, of Moe's Tavern, has a facelift. It was also parodied to a heavier extent in the episode "My Fair Laddy", where the character being changed is uncouth Scotsman Groundskeeper Willie.
  • The iCarly episode "iMake Sam Girlier" is loosely based on Pygmalion.
  • The Season 7 King of the Hill episode "Pigmalian" describes an unhinged local pig magnate who attempts to transform Luanne into the idealized woman of his company's old advertisements.
  • In the The King of Queens episode "Gambling N'Diction" Carrie tries to lose her accent for a job promotion by being taught by Spence. The episode was renamed to "Carrie Doolittle" in Germany.

References[edit]

  1. ^ George Bernard Shaw, Androcles and the Lion: Overruled : Pygmalion (New York, New York: Brentano's, 1918), page 109. (Note: Alexander M. Bell's first wife was named Eliza.)
  2. ^ Characterized by Mrs. Campbell later as "lustless lions at play." Shaw, G.B. and Mrs. Patrick Campbell, edited by Alan Dent (1952). Bernard Shaw and Mrs. Patrick Campbell: Their Correspondence. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd.
  3. ^ "A Dramatist For All Seasons: George Bernard Shaw In Vienna." The Oscholars
  4. ^ Shaw, Bernard, edited by Samuel A. Weiss (1986). Bernard Shaw's Letters to Siegfried Trebitsch. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-1257-3, p.164.
  5. ^ "Herr G.B. Shaw at the Irving Place." The New York Times March 25, 1914. In late 1914 Mrs Campbell took the London company to tour the United States, opening in New York at the Belasco Theatre.
  6. ^ Laurence, editor, Dan (1985). Bernard Shaw: Collected Letters, 1911–1925. New York: Viking. p. 228. ISBN 0-670-80545-9. 
  7. ^ a b Dent, Alan (1961). Mrs. Patrick Campbell. London: Museum Press Limited.
  8. ^ The Truth About Pygmalion by Richard Huggett, 1969 Random House, pp. 127–128
  9. ^ Evans, T.F. (ed.) (1997). George Bernard Shaw (The Critical Heritage Series). ISBN 0-415-15953-9, pp. 223–30.
  10. ^ "From the Point of View of A Playwright," by Bernard Shaw, collected in Herbert Beerbohm Tree, Some Memories of Him and His Art, Collected by Max Beerbohm (1919). London: Hutchinson. Versions at Text Archive Internet Archive
  11. ^ Shaw, Bernard, edited by Dan H. Laurence. Collected Letters vol. III: 1911–1925.
  12. ^ Shaw–Campbell Correspondence, p.160. Shaw's "FINAL ORDERS" letter to Mrs. Campbell on the first night. He wrote to his wife the next day that the audience's wild appreciation of the third act — which he had warned the actors would happen — impelled Tree instinctively to begin playing to please the house, much to Shaw's disgust but to the play's guaranteed popular success. Collected Letters, vol. III. The same day he withdrew his recommendation to Lee Shubert that Tree be included in an American tour.
  13. ^ Shaw, G.B. (1916). Pygmalion. New York: Brentano. Sequel: What Happened Afterwards. Bartleby: Great Books Online.
  14. ^ "The Instinct of An Artist: Shaw and the Theatre." Catalog for "An Exhibition from The Bernard F. Burgunder Collection," 1997. Cornell University Library
  15. ^ http://www.gutenberg.org/files/3825/3825-h/3825-h.htm
  16. ^ "The lesson of a Polish production of 'Pygmalion.'" The Independent on Sunday, July 3, 2001. The Independent
  17. ^ Markoff, John (2008-03-13), "Joseph Weizenbaum, Famed Programmer, Is Dead at 85", The New York Times (The New York Times), retrieved 2009-01-07 
  18. ^ British Theatre Guide (1997)
  19. ^ Tointon's indisposition on 25 August 2011 enabled understudy Rebecca Birch to make her West End début in a leading role (insert to Garrick Theatre programme for Pygmalion).
  20. ^ "Julia Stiles Stars in The Makeover". 
  21. ^ "IMDb: The Makeover". 
  22. ^ Willy Russell – Introduction

External links[edit]