Pygmalion: the Play and Higgins

Topics: Plays, The Action Pages: 3 (1178 words) Published: January 30, 2013
Pygmalion is a primarily Shavian reworking of Ovid's Metamorphoses with undertones of Cinderella. Romance and satire dominate both the play's plot as well as style. Shaw takes a strong central situation--the transformation of a common flower girl into a lady--and surrounds it with superficial trimmings. There is technical innovation in the plot structure since Shaw, under the influence of Ibsen, replaces the stock Victorian formula of exposition, situation and unraveling with exposition, situation and discussion. The plot thus has three distinct stages of development. In the first stage Professor Henry Higgins, who is an expert in phonetics, transforms a common flower girl into an artificial replica of a lady by teaching her how to speak correctly. Prior to this Eliza's life has been miserable. As a poor flower girl she coaxes money out of prospective customers and is thrilled when she suddenly receives a handful of coins that Higgins throws into her basket. She lacks the capacity to express her feelings articulately and an indiscriminate sound of vowels "Ah - ah - ow - ow - oo" serves to connote a multitude of emotions ranging from pain, wonder, and fear to delight. However she is not entirely depraved and is at least self-reliant enough to earn her own livelihood by selling flowers. In Act Two Eliza arrives at Higgins' laboratory at Wimpole Street and haughtily demands that Higgins teach her to speak correctly so that she can become a lady in a flower shop. This desire for financial security and social respectability constitutes a step forward in her larger quest for self- realization. For Higgins Eliza is simply a phonetic experiment, a view that dehumanizes her and results in the creation of an artificial automaton-like replica of a lady. In the second stage of the play the audience encounters an Eliza who has become an artificial duchess. She is no longer a flower girl but is not quite a lady. During Mrs. Higgins' at-home she...
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