Filed under Drama 2: Pygmalion
Pygmalion isn’t so much a title as it is a myth of its own. The Pygmalion myth is drawn from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Pygmalion is a sculptor who creates a sculpture so beautifully formed that he falls in love with it. Aphrodite, Goddess of Love, is sympathetic to Pygmalion’s dilemma, and gives his sculpture life, turning her into a woman named Galatea.
Pygmalion the play is similar to Pygmalion the myth in the sense that the gifted Henry Higgins sculpts the base Eliza Doolittle into the perfect Victorian lady. However, it isn’t love at first sight for Higgins and Doolittle. Higgins displays a quick temper when dealing with Doolittle. He cannot stand her accent, or her mannerisms. In Act 1 of the play, we immediately take notice of the striking socioeconomic class differences between Doolittle and Higgins. Shaw writes Doolittle’s lines as a jumble of letters – not words. Doolittle makes a fool of herself, not only with the way she speaks, but also with her timing. She seems incapable of keeping her mouth shut, and has a tendency to draw the situation out with her attention-seeking cawing.
Although Doolittle in the movie is charmingly annoying, Doolittle in the play is just unbearable. With the way Shaw describes her, it is almost as if Doolittle is less than human. Her lack of civilization removes the reader from her situation, and makes it difficult to sympathize with her. Any residual sympathy engendered by her poverty is removed by her irritating whining. Just like the myth, the reader sympathizes with Higgins. Although he may be haughty, he has a quality of character that speaks of his civilization. Victorian readers would sympathize with Higgins more than they would with Doolittle –mostly because the literate came from the same class as Higgins did, and because they would see Doolittle’s future rise to ladyship as an encroachment on their territory.
As Doolittle seeks out Higgins to teach her phonetics, the way she haughtily storms in and announces the amount that she will pay Higgins to teach her is presumptuous and unfounded. Where Galatea is sweet and grateful, Doolittle is rude and impudent. If anything, Doolittle should speak to Higgins in a respectful manner –one is more likely to find one’s request fulfilled if one asks nicely, rather than demanding roughly. Doolittle’s bluff is ludicrous and sad at the same time. She is like a train wreck –so bad, but you can’t help but stare at it.
Perhaps readers will sympathize more with Doolittle once she assumes some semblance of civilization. At this point in the play, however, Doolittle has done little to obtain the sympathies of the educated reader.
Pygmalion! What a witty play. I enjoyed Pygmalion a lot more than I enjoyed reading Earnest for a few reasons. The first one would be the humor that Higgins offers as a character. Higgins is the typical educated man – prideful, unconcerned about emotions and painfully honest. From the beginning of the play we see that Higgins is a total know it all. His profound understanding of phonetics has inflated his head to the size of a gigantic hot air balloon, waiting to be popped by the slightest pin drop. As irritated as I was because of his insensitive character, I could not stand Eliza’s character at all. Not only is she uneducated and illiterate, Eliza poses great challenge to both Pickering and Higgins as she desires respect when she really does not deserve it at all. It was difficult to sympathize with her even when Higgins continuously regarded her as a mere object.
From a feminist point of view I think Eliza acts as an ignominy to female dignity. Although uneducated, it seems as though she puts no effort into expressing gratitude to her mentor. Her lack of self control during her first test, although expected, was very disappointing to me.
However, in general, the play poses an interesting enigma on English society. It seems that to enter the world of the privileged, all it takes is a simple mask of innocent beauty and, in many ways, silence. It seems as though it is difficult for females to express their thoughts freely, probably a theme that was intentionally underlined by Shaw as he too was a strong supporter of the feminist movement.
Towards the end, it became easier to identify with Eliza. Her strong-willed nature caused her to eventually defy Higgins as he treated her as an ‘it’ instead of a real person with real opinions and emotions. In many ways, the ultimate development of Eliza’s character encourages women everywhere to have the audacity to speak out against injustice – small or large, and to have a voice. Shaw’s way of delivering this moral is genius!
After watching the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw in motion, I’ve found that I enjoyed this better than the previous play, The Importance of Being Earnest. I think the reason why I enjoy it quite a lot is the humor that is found within the play. What I’ve also found interesting is the difference in the translation of the humor in the motion picture and the humor in the book to the readers.
The portrayal of women found in Shaw’s work is fairly accurate to the times and conditions back when this work was written, which was in 1912. During that time, women were not given the right to vote, and it wasn’t until the year 1918 until women’s suffrage was granted. Within the play, women’s roles were shown in conventional roles – as housekeepers and mothers. They were also portrayed to be strong-willed and independent. Through the book, Shaw depicted the scenes and circumstances through women’s perspectives. Although Eliza Doolittle’s character does contribute significantly to the plot, it can’t be guaranteed that the perspectives that are found in the book are unbiased, as the author is still a male telling the plot from both the men and women’s perspective. Even though most of the time Shaw can be seen as a neutral observer, there are undoubtedly some small gender biases leaking through in the play, especially considering the time and era in which it was written. According to Mrs. HIggins, high-class, educated women have even fewer options as opposed to women belonging to the lower- and middle-class. I also find it interesting how, at the beginning of the book, the relationship between opposite genders are portrayed to be antagonistic. This can be seen through the relationship between Mrs. Higgins and Higgins himself, between the professor and Mrs. Pearce, and the most significant of all, between Higgins and Eliza Doolitle. The transition of the relationship between Higgins and Eliza Doolittle proved to be the most interesting, for me, considering that earlier in the book, Eliza was treated as property. This can be seen when Eliza’s father came and Higgins immediately assumed the father was there to claim a payment for his daughter.
The main characters in Pygmalion – Eliza and Higgins – would either make you love them and root for them or loathe them. Either way, it proves that Bernard was able to instill strong emotions within the reader or watcher regarding the characters he created in his play.
People are good in recognizing changes within themselves and those around them. To them, whatever the change might be – the way someone dresses, a haircut, or the way they speak – rarely goes unnoticed. Yet sometimes, even these attentive individuals may still fail to recognize the most basic and bold transformation in a person. Henry Higgins fails to recognize a dramatic and emotion change in one of his ‘creation’ – Doolittle – that caused me to strongly dislike him. An English gentleman during the Victorian period was supposed to be polite and above all, compassionate, like Colonel Pickering. Obviously Higgins does not fit within any of those descriptions. Instead, he is a short-tempered and arrogant professor who looks down on others due to their incapability. For example, when Higgins terrifies Eliza in Covent Garden by writing down her every word and she desperately pleads with the onlookers not to allow him to arrest her, he brusquely denies any association with the police. His abrupt entrance and boorish response to Eliza’s expressed fears portray his callous lack of regard for other people’s feelings. Incidentally, he does not demonstrate even a hint of courtesy towards Eliza and openly calls her “dirty” and “deliciously low”. He simply treats her like a muddy dog that has been let loose in the living room as he shouts orders such as “sit down” and “hold your tongue.” His insensitivity and disrespectfulness made me slightly angry when it appears that Doolittle had developed a feeling towards him as I feel that he is the stereotype of an arrogant and egotistical educated class.
Conversely, I root for Eliza throughout the play. While she is certainly a member of the uneducated class, she possesses none of the characteristics associated with them. Having been turned out of her home by her father, Eliza manages to stay alive by selling flowers on various London street corners. Eliza’s efforts to remain a “good girl” prove that she is a young woman who possesses exceptional qualities of mind and heart and a definite standard of proper behavior. Thus, although Eliza needs much refinement concerning the social etiquette and proper conduct of the aristocratic upper class, she already possesses a solid foundation of integrity and principle, the internal qualities of a true lady. My respect for her deepens after it is apparent that she has goals in life and saw Henry as an opportunity to better herself. She might be annoying and simply unbearable at times due to her stubbornness and tenacity, yet at the end of the day I can see determination, perseverance and hard work from her. Furthermore, her potential to evolve externally into a genteel lady is astounding and after much hard work with Higgins, Eliza’s quick ear for sounds enables her to speak “the language of Shakespeare and Milton” better than most scholars. To be honest, I think that Eliza had already possesses the necessary character traits of a genuine lady, what she needs now is a change in her external appearance to corresponds to the beauty of her soul, which she possessed at the end.
But what I found most interesting about Pygmalion was the parallel it ahs with today’s society. We are living in a day of age where appearance and status is the most important thing one must remember. People everywhere try to better themselves – though may not be through the way they speak – in order to be able to move to a different “class”. Though class distinction might be more subtle nowadays, such distinction still exist and people are trying their utmost best to move up the social ladder.
My Fair Lady, or as I should properly say, Pygmalion, has been one of my all time favorite movies. Mostly because Audrey Hepburn, my ultimate idol of all time stars as the lead actress in it, but because of the fascinating story line that comes with it. I had always found the transformation that Eliza goes through in the book to be amazing. To see how even a loud-mouthed, badly dressed girl can be transformed into an impeccably beautiful and elegant lady at the end of the story had always been an aspect that left me at an awe the first time I saw the movie. I mean, I’ve seen so many make overs and transformations of people’s physical looks, but I’ve never actually seen it to be a complete transformation that included even the attitude and the way the person speaks. It made Eliza a completely new person.
In the very beginning, I wouldn’t say that Mr. Higgins purposes of transforming Eliza to be one of noble intentions, but I was able to personally see that throughout the story, it became more than just a project for him. Eliza slowly grew to become a person dear to him, and the changes and progress that Eliza was making had made him nothing else but proud. Mr.Higgins originally cold and ignorant demeanor was slowly unmasked, showing his true intelligent and witty self. The things that Higgins say was not always the most flattering, but what I admired the most about his character was his simple bluntness. The aspect of brutal honesty that both Higgins and Eliza’s character shared I thought was refreshing. There aren’t a lot of stories nowadays that we’re able to see the character spaz out all of their utmost thoughts, without further contemplating first. Mostly, characters that I am more familiar with are always stuck in situation where their thoughts seem to be trapped within their minds, desperately looking for a way to escape. Furthermore, Eliza’s witty and loud character is one that most women are not accustomed with, but it certainly gave the play a different and unique twist to it. I would say that Eliza’s outburst in the middle of the play was only a matter of time. As Higgins had already felt that his conquest was completed with Eliza having become a proper lady, he quickly became disinterested. This had obviously hurt Eliza’s feelings, leading her to become furious and arrange for the supposed “run away”. I was able to conclude that from Higgins masked worry of Eliza, he had grown to care about her. Very much, actually.
I would say that Eliza’s transformation didn’t just change the way that she looked and talked, but I would say that it also changed her perspectives. Her view of the world altogether, her view of the aristocrats/wealthy population, and the importance of being a lady. She became aware of things that she were completely oblivious to beforehand. The sort of cliff-hanger yet happy ending that Pygmalion unfolds I think is just the sort of ending that the story deserves. Eliza’s abrupt departure after the conversation she had with Higgins, with the uncertainty of whether or not she was to come back I thought gave the play just the right amount of mystery yet still with a happy ending of Eliza and Higgins “reconciliation”. I have thoroughly enjoyed Pygmalion/My Fair Lady, and I look forward to the other plays that our class has yet to devour! 🙂
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