21 February 2011

Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw

After many years, I recently re-read a copy of George Bernard Shaw's delightful play, Pygmalion.  It is as pertinent today as I'm sure it was when it first appeared in 1912.  As Francis Bacon said, "Old wood is best to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust, and old authors to read." 

"George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion" first appeared in 1912; and it has provided entertainment ever since. It was first performed in 1913; and was published in 1916. It's a comedy that's all about class and human relationships. The play is based on the classical legend from Ovid's "Metamorphoses" about Pygmalion, who falls in love with his own sculpture, Galatea. In the myth, Venus/Aphrodite gives life to the statue.

Of course, Eliza Doolittle isn't a statue. She's a poor, illiterate flower girl, with an accent that wouldn't allow her to achieve a better position. So, really, she might as well be a statue. She's non-existent in social circles, nothing more than a "draggle-tailed guttersnipe." Her transformation takes place with the help of Professor Henry Higgins, who takes her on as his linguistic pet project and then doesn't want to let her go.

Very early in the play, Higgins responds to Eliza's tears by telling her: "A woman who utters such disgusting and depressing noise 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, that your native language is the language of Shakespeare and Milton. Don't sit there crooning like a bilious pigeon." Higgins eventually teaches her to speak properly, and he also trains her to act with more refinement. His aim is to pass her off as a duchess, believing that no one will recognize her true social standing if he dresses her up and trains her to speak without the Cockney accent.

This play is one of Shaw's most popular plays. It has been adapted into the award-winning film and stage productions of Lerner and Loewe's musical, "My Fair Lady."
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