Pygmalion is perhaps Shaw's most famous play and, ironically, it is among his most abused and misinterpreted ones. Almost everyone knows the basic outlines of this story of the Cockney flower girl who is almost magically transformed into a duchess by taking speech (phonetic) lessons from her famous professor. The abuse comes partly from the fact that Shaw subtitled his play, "A Romance." In the popular adaptations (the film of 1938 and the musical My Fair Lady), "romance" was written into the script and inserted into the relationship between Higgins and Eliza — in fact, the title of the play, Pygmalion, being based on the legend of a person who fell in love with his creation, could easily give rise to this wrong interpretation. In fact, one advertisement claims that the play is one of the most "beautiful love stories" that the world has ever read. Yet, as noted elsewhere, Shaw used the term "romance" in its more restricted form, meaning the implausibility of actually transforming a flower girl into a grand duchess by the simple means of using phonetic instruction. Yet, in spite of Shaw's own pronouncements and in spite of all the evidence in the play, readers and audiences still continue to sentimentalize over the outcome of the play and refuse to recognize the anti-romantic aspect of the drama.
The opening scene of the drama captures many of the diverse elements running throughout the play. Brought together by the common necessity of protection from a sudden downpour, such diverse types as the impoverished middle-class Eynsford-Hills, with their genteel pretensions and disdain, a wealthy Anglo-Indian gentleman (Colonel Pickering), who seems quite tolerant, a haughty egotistical professor (Higgins), who seems exceptionally intolerant, an indistinct group of nondescript bystanders, and a pushy, rude flower girl who embodies the essence of vulgarity gather. These diverse characters would never be found together except by the necessity of something like a sudden...
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