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G. B. Shaw's Pygmalion

Updated on December 28, 2015

G. B. Shaw

G. B. Shaw as a playwright

Shaw does not believe in art for art's sake, he wants to get us thinking and he does it with great aplomb! He doesn't lecture us, he is like a witty, lovable teacher who while teaching us makes us have fun too! He makes us think that it's all so simple...we are engrossed in the witty language, colorful characters and the artistry and mechanics of his words and then along come the serious questions!! The seemingly simple story touches upon some very important aspects of our society like social hierarchy, class divide, marriage, sexuality, ego, gender discrimination .... all heavy stuff handled with such wit and sarcasm! There are some very pertinent questions which Eliza asks us. She says, " I sold flowers, I didn't sell myself. Now you've made a lady of me , I'm not fit to sell anything else."

The play's main premise is not the transformation but what happens after it! The question isn't , "Can you pass off a flower girl as a Duchess? " but " after you do, what do you do with her?" This is a very powerful comment on the situation of women, not only during Shaw's times but it is very pertinent even today! Another important fact which Higgins tells Eliza is , "The great secret is not having good or bad manners, but having the same manner for all human souls." The question before us is that can we apply this to our world today?

Shaw wrote all this over a hundred years ago and we are still talking about it! He wrote it in about seventy pages and two hours but it has withstood the passage of time, translated in a multitude of languages, made into movies and musicals, made people think about it over generations in so many countries, been studied by children to adults and Shaw's thoughts are still fresh!!!

He wrote the Academy Award winning screen play for the 1938 version of the film and he is the only person to have won both, the Nobel Prize for Literature and the Oscar!

Hat's off to the great G.B.S.!!

Straightforward Rag to Riches story with Shaw's twist

Shaw is a very straightforward playwright. We all know right from the beginning that the story is based on the myth of Pygmalion, the sculptor, who falls in love with his creation. It's clear that Prof. Higgins is Pygmalion and Eliza is Galatea, his muse. He doesn't make you guess, there is no heavy symbolism, complicated metaphors or big words. The characters use simple language in their own accents and show how English is spoken in different parts of England and across different classes.

It's a Cinderella story, all women love it, but here comes Shaw's take.... Eliza is all dressed up and transformed but she has nowhere to go! The magic is that Shaw makes Eliza powerful enough to make choices! He puts in an element of surprise. Till the fourth act, the play seems like it is headed towards the usual ending of Eliza is going to be transformed, Higgins is going to learn a lesson and they will eventually marry, but Shaw's Eliza is not ready to pick up Prof. Higgins's slippers or shop or keep house for him. She dislikes being bullied by him, she says " I won't be passed over." Eliza thus discovers freedom and acquires the courage to find her own way in the world on her terms. Shaw ends his play on this note. He has not written a straightforward romance. He insisted that dramatized versions of his play should not carry any suggestion that " the middle aged bully and the girl of eighteen are lovers." In fact this is very true because then the traditional roles would have been reiterated. Later Shaw revised the ending due to popular demands but he showed Eliza and Freddy in a relationship. Eliza announces, " I will marry Freddy , I will, as soon as i'm able to support him."

This freedom given to Eliza was a very bold and revolutionary thought during Shaw's time and is very relevant even today!

My Fair Lady: The movie based on Pygmalion

The play and the movie

The Indian Context

Today at least half a billion people speak English as a second language and in India, knowledge of English can define the difference between poverty and employment. Just like Eliza many people are held back because they don't speak English or speak it with an accent. 'Funny accents' are laughed at and people are ridiculed and embarrassed. In the age of technology, knowing English is a mandatory requirement and accents are very important in global job scenarios. Sometimes, English with the right accent may get you to places even if you may not have the requisite qualifications or the intelligence!

Thus in India, where the class and caste barriers are slowly breaking down and education and technology is changing the social fabric, newer opportunities are being created almost daily; the English language is of great importance. Wonder if G.B.S. could see the future!!

The emphasis on language and its various dialects, in Shaw's play makes it remarkable and closer to any Indian because there are twenty two languages, thirteen scripts and over seven hundred and twenty dialects spoken in India! This play has been translated in almost every Indian language and is a hit in the theaters, as it is still running! This amazing adaptability is rarely seen in a work of art.


P.L. Deshpande noted Marathi playwright who wrote Ti Phulrani based on Pygmalion

Play Ti Phulrani :Pygmalion's Marathi version

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    • deepaliawasare profile image
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      Deepali Awasare 19 months ago from Vadodara

      Thanks Mrs. Sood ...... some more in the pipeline ....

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      Trisha sood 19 months ago

      Beautifully wrtten Depali ..very informative n would love to read more of such articles written by you...

    • deepaliawasare profile image
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      Deepali Awasare 19 months ago from Vadodara

      Hey its great to hear from you Madhuritai ...... thanks for the comment .....

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      Madhuri 19 months ago

      Manu , very nice & perfect information also, very good, all the best .

    • deepaliawasare profile image
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      Deepali Awasare 20 months ago from Vadodara

      Thanks Suman ..... if it would have been a happily ever after ending then the play wouldn't have crossed time and generation barriers .... that 'what next' question is still relevant

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      suman 20 months ago

      Very original and informative at the same time.. good to see that you tried to answer the question..wat next? ... than simply bringing it up in the foreground... best wishes..

    • deepaliawasare profile image
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      Deepali Awasare 20 months ago from Vadodara

      Thanks dear Aditya ... you must see the play by PuLa ... you will enjoy it immensely ....

      Thanks Amit for such a detailed and thoughtful comment .... fan of PuLa .... and yes it is not a translation but a complete work of art in itself ... inspired by Shaw but Shaw would have appreciated it entirely as PuLa has stayed true to Shaw's ideas ...or samhita ...a much better word than idea in Marathi

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      Amit2070 20 months ago

      Very easy read, informative and in-depth. The real question in the play is aptly brought up “What Next”. This question is a very human question and transcends gender, social and class boundaries and it seems it has survived over time as well.

      I think Eliza was already independent and with education the significance of it dawned on her. She understood the importance of cherishing it. This is what education can do. Thanks for bringing this thought forward.

      Pygmalion is a hit in India and some credit must go the PL for his wonderful play. Thanks for bringing this up. PL himself was a great writer but he clearly mentioned about the source of his inspiration when writing his play. His play is not a translation … it is original in its own right though based on Pygmalion. Hope some of our Bollywood guys learn from it.

      Over all enjoyed reading the essay.

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      Aditya 20 months ago

      Wonderful article........especially the part where u related it to life in India

    • deepaliawasare profile image
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      Deepali Awasare 20 months ago from Vadodara

      Thanks Sandeepa ..... it feels great to see positive comments from English literature teachers ..... made my day!

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      Sandeepakhatri16@gmail 20 months ago

      Very elaborately nd nicely written article. Even minutest details r taken care of

    • deepaliawasare profile image
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      Deepali Awasare 20 months ago from Vadodara

      Thanks dear Bhushan ..... my pillar of support and sounding board ..... also like you I too am a great fan of PuLa ...

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      Bhushan 20 months ago

      Nicely Written Deepali..liked the Marathi angle & analysis with PuLa.