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Author: George Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright born in 1856, and who died in 1950. Although he write music as well, he most enjoying writng plays, with the prupose of putting across a social message, and making it more memorable with the use of comedy, whilst doing so. Some of his plays addressed the issue of education, religion and government, however one topic he often considered was the exploitation of the working class. As a socialist, he played a role in the Fabian Society, which was a British socialist movement, writing brochures and leaflets for them. He even married a fellow member of the Society, called Charlotte Payne-Townshend. He was an eloquent orator, and gave speeches on equal rights in politics for men and women, how to live healthy lifestyles, and condemning the attitudes of the rich towards the poor. This socialist attitude of Bernard Shaw influenced many of his writings, including Pygmalion, which has become a classic.
Pygmalion: The play premiered in 1913 in Vienna, with SHaw himself as the director. Shaw chose Mirs Patricia Campbell to play the role of Eliza, although many thought that she was too old for the role at the age of 49, however Shaw claimed that he had written the role with her in mind, and only she would play Eliza. Campbell dhocked the Victorian audience with Eliza's swearing with the words "Not bloody likely", and many thought she had risked her career by doing so. Higgins was played by Sir Herbert Tree. It has now become more popular, due to the 1964 musical, My Fair Lady, which is based on Pygmalion.
The myth: The title of the play comes from a Greek myth, of a sculptor who carves a statue from ivory, and then falls in love with it. He pleads with the greek god of love to bring her to life. Many pieces of literature, music and art are based on this myth.
Quotes from Pygmalion:
""But you have no idea how frightfully interesting it is to take a human being and change her into a quite different human being by creating a new speech for her. It's filling up the deepest gulf that separates class from classand soul from soul."
""Would the world ever have been made if its maker had been afraid of making trouble? Making life means making trouble.""
Themes: The major theme of this play is social class. There are different representatives of class throughout the play, from the lowest class representation of Eliza in sharp contrast to the upper class Higgins. The attitudes towards different classes are shown effectively through the play. Language is also closely linked to the social hierarchy, ans Shaw uses language techniques to create a difference between Eliza and Higgins, emphasizing how different the lives of the two are.
Plot: Professor Higgins is a professor of phonetics, who amazes the crowd with his ability to use people's language to determine exactly where they came from. He is from a wealthy family, and therefore the value of money is not important to him. However, one night he meets Colonel Pickering, an expert on dialects, who is a considerate gentleman compared to Higgins, who although means well, can be quite demeaning and bullying in his nature. The two meet Eliza, a working class flower-seller, whoose coarse language and dialect mark out her social class. Pickering bets that Higgins cannot transform Eliza into a woman who could pass as a Duchess. Higgins is seduced by the challenge, and attempts to pass off Eliza as a duchess at a social party. However, the relationship between Higgins and Eliza is difficult, and the challenge begins.
Language: Shaw's great use of language to make the difference between the social class of characters brings the characters to life, especially if the play is read out aloud, as the dialect of the two is emphasized, showing the class difference between them.
Thoughts: Although I read the play due to work rather than enjoyment, I realised how successfully Shaw puts across a strong and important message, disguised perfectly with comedy. It is an enjoyable read, as the reader sees the transformation of Eliza, and the change in attitudes from others. Although the attitude towards the working class may be outdated, it is an interesting read to understand how these attitudes affected everyday life.
For those who enjoy a fast moving, action-packed storyline, this is not the book for you. The story may be at a slow pace, and the plot may not be considered exciting and gripping as such, however the message behind it makes it an interesting read.
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