Pygmalion, by Bernard Shaw

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Bernard Shaw

Pygmalion

A Romance in Five Acts

1. Summary of the Play, page 2

2. Introduction and Short Analysis of the Main Character, page 4

3. Interpretation, page 5

4. Additional Information, page 7

5. Literature and Links, page 8

1. Summary

London at 11.15 a.m., on a rainy summer day.
Everybody’s running for shelter because of the torrential storm. A bunch of people ist gathering in St. Pauls church, looking outside and waiting for the rain to stop. Among the crowd, there is a young flower girl which grew up in the slums of London and therefore has a terribly bad language, although she is a good-natured, simple and pure being. She is carrying a basket with flowers. As there is nothing else to do while waiting for the rain to end, she asks a gentleman next to her to buy a flower.

The way she speaks attracts the attention of a bystander, who is constantly scribbling down something in his notebook. The flower girl first thinks that he is a police officer and begins to defend herself that she didn’t do anything wrong, but it soon becomes clear that the bystander isn’t a policeman at all, but a professor of didactics, an analyst of dialects, specialised in London’s suburbal accents. He is so fascinated of the absolutely disgusting slang of the flower girl, that he has taken down all the expressions she used. He explains to the crowd, that he has no bad intention at all. He is just a collector of dialects.

Home again, Eliza (the flower girl) thinks about what this strange man just said, and she takes a decision. She looks around in her miserable room, and it’s clear to her that something has to change.

At the same time in the house of Henry Higgins, the phonetician. He is visited by Pickering, whom he met at St. Paul’s church. While they are talking, the maid is coming in, saying that a girl named Eliza Doolittle is waiting at the door. Not knowing the name of the flower girl, Higgins invites her in. When he recognizes the flower girl, he is very surprised. She confronts him with an offer: she wants to pay him (with nearly all she’s got, and that’s not much), and he in return should teach her how to speak like a lady. Her dream is to work in a flower shop, but at present she surely won’t be accepted and employed because of her bad language. At first, Higgins rejects the offer. He can see no use in it for him. But then, he and Pickering, who are both huge fans of didactical experiments, make up a bet: can he manage to turn Eliza into a real lady within 6 months, including her language, but also her manners and conversation skills, so she can be introduced to the public as a lady? So he lets Eliza live with him (he’s quite rich, an he has a big house), and he buys her clothes. And the most important thing: he teaches her how to speech proper English. As for the manners, it is Pickering who shows Eliza how to behave like a lady (as Higgins cannot). For Eliza, this is very hard in the beginning, but after a while she’s getting along pretty well, and she is improving fast.

After some time, they are visited by Eliza’s father, who is an unreliable, greedy alcoholic (and has never cared for her anyway). He is theoretically the only familiy Eliza would have, but she always had to look for herself. He insists on taking her with him, but it soon turns out, that he only wants money, having heard that the gentleman whome Eliza is living with at the time is quite rich. Higgins freezes him out.

A few months later Eliza faces her first test: Higgins introduces her to his mother. Unfortunately, his mother is already expecting visitors, and Eliza is getting more and more nervous because there are so many people. At the end, she rushes out, and Higgins must agree that she is not quite ready.

At the end of the six months, he finally lets her accompany him to the ambassador’s ball. Everyone who passes her way looks at her in amazement, for she is now due to be a queen. She is not a flower girl...
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