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Pygmalion


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A play by Bernard Shaw, first performed 1913 in Vienna, published and performed in London, 1916.

It describes the transformation of a Cockney flower‐seller, Eliza Doolittle, into a passable imitation of a duchess by the phonetician Professor Henry Higgins (modelled in part on H. Sweet), who undertakes this task in order to win a bet and to prove his own points about English speech and the class system: he teaches her to speak standard English and introduces her successfully to social life, thus winning his bet, but she rebels against his dictatorial and thoughtless behaviour, and ‘bolts’ from his tyranny. The play ends with a truce between the two of them, as Higgins acknowledges that she has achieved freedom and independence, and emerged from his treatment as a ‘tower of strength: a consort battleship’: in his postscript Shaw tells us that she marries the docile and devoted Freddy Eynsford Hill. My Fair Lady, the 1957 musical version, makes the relationship between Eliza and Higgins significantly more romantic.

Pygmalion, in classical legend, was the king of Cyprus, who fell in love with his own sculpture; Aphrodite endowed the statue with life and transformed it into the flesh‐and‐blood of Galatea.

Subjects: Literature


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George Bernard Shaw (1856—1950) playwright and polemicist