If lately I have mostly written about modern books, this time I will turn to clasics and tell you a few words about Pygmalion, a play by George Bernard Shaw. For those of you that don’t know him, he is the winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1925.
Pygmalion is a play that is focused on the idea of creation, but also of independence. It is the story of a flower seller, a woman called Eliza Doolittle. She is a poor woman who has absolutely no manners concerning the way she acts and especially the way she talks.
The story begins when Mr. Henry Higgins met her on the street on a rainy day. He has a passion for sounds, being a phonetics teacher, and can recognise any accent in any part of England. He made a bet with his friend, Colonel Pickering, that he could make her pass as a duchess in less than six months. And here starts the adventure. She seems to be a very voracious learner, animated by her wish of being a lady and having her own flower shop. But what Higgins doesn’t take into account is the fact that she is a woman, a person with her own feelings and character and that she won’t be exactly what he wants.
This play is inspired by the greek character with the same name, who fell in love with the women he has carved and asked the gods to bring her to life. Higgings was Pygmalion for Eliza, he created her, but in the end she was the one to define who she is.
There are not many characters that make the play. Beside the three ones mentioned above, there is also Mrs. Higgins, Mr. Doolitle and the Eynsford Hills, which play a secondary role in the development of the play.
Although they are few, they reflect somehow all the social classes and the relationship between them. On one side, there is Pickering and Higgins, who have a very good social status, lots of money and are the perfect represantatives of the welthy.
On the opposite side, there is Eliza, a woman poor, uneducated and with no opportunities for the future, who represents the low classes, the chaff of society, how some might say.
And then there are the Eysford Hills, who are the perfect example of snobs, people who were wealthy but lost their status, but still hope to be treated as rich people and hope in a marriage with someone having a high social status.
I couldn’t help but notice how the characters have each a very well placed purpose. Eliza is young, fragile, but strong at the same time. She feels like her status of poor flower girl is dragging her down and that she wants more. But when she has the opportunity to overcome her situation, she is undecided. She wants to do it, but she doesn’t want to lose her dignity, she doesn’t want to let herself humiliated for getting what she wants.
Higgings himself is like a big brother. He feels affection for Eliza but he likes teasing her just to have a bit of amusement without even realising that the words can hurt her more than he can imagine.
Colonel Pickering, on the other side, is like a father. Besides the fact that he has almost the double of her age, he is caring and gentle. Eliza once described the two of them saying that Higgings treats a duches like a flowergirl and Pickering treats a flowergirl like a duches.
Regarding her father, he is an opportunist, who would sell his own daughter for some money, but at the same time who wants to be free, who doesn’t want to be part of a high social class and to asume all the reponsabilities that come with it. He enjoys being a garbage man and is very happy with what he has.
I admit that I had my doubts in reading this book. You know that feeling when you are thaught theatre plays in school in that way that makes you hate them? Well I was one of the ‘victims’ (I know it sounds a bit too dramatical, but I will stick to the word for making my point) of this unfortunate situation. But when reading this play I realised that theater is much more than some character description and play comments you learn in school. It is about understanding, about feeling the characters, know what they think, how they react, empathize with them. Thanks to Shaw, I redescovered my love for theater.
Some interesting facts that I have found about the book* are, for example, the fact that the play became the most famous writing of George Bernard Shaw. In 1939, won an Oscar for the best scenario adapted for movie, making the author the first person to win both a Nobel Prize and an Oscar. Also, a german-american computer scientist, named his computer program Eliza, after the character of Shaw. Today, the play is better known by the name ‘My fair lady’.
© picnicontheshelf, January 25, 2019