DRAMA IIModern Drama Lecture 28
SYNOPSIS Plot Type and Analysis: Development and Structure Suspense Denouement Conclusion Literary Devices in Pygmalion Settings Pygmalion Genre Tone Writing Style Title, Beginning and Ending
Drama, Realism • Shaw has a lot to say here: heavy stuff about language, society, and the soul. Lucky for us, in this case he likes to show, not tell. (Well, for the most part. • He usually liked writing long introductions to his plays.) We get long speeches from Higgins about how language is what makes us human, about the great significance of his work with Eliza, and sometimes it seems like Shaw is simply using him as a mouthpiece. • But we get enough perspectives on other issues – Alfred Doolittle on the undeserving poor, Mrs. Higgins on the place of women in society – and enough heated arguments to raise doubts about the truth of Higgins's statements.
Drama, Realism • Until we get to the fourth act, the play seems like it's headed toward the usual sort of Hollywood ending. • Eliza's going to be transformed into an intelligent, elegant, eloquent, and eligible young woman, grumpy old Higgins is going to learn a lesson or two about manners and compassion, somebody will get married, blah, blah, blah. "Not so fast," says Shaw. • Instead we get two more acts full of arguing and passive-aggressive behavior with no real end in sight. We do get a marriage, in the end, but it's not your neat little fairy tale kind. Doolittle's not really much for sticking with a single woman. He wouldn't even be thinking about it if it weren't for that whole "middle class morality" thing.
Drama, Realism • In the end, Higgins seems to be the only one who's sure how things will turn out. Eliza will come back, he tells his mother, but we have no real way of knowing if she will. • As it turns out, the play's central question isn't, "Can you pass off a flower girl as a duchess?" but, "What can you do with her once you do?" • As attractive and, perhaps, truthful as Higgins's talk about the soul and language is, Shaw forces us to put it to the test. "The great secret," Higgins tells Eliza, "is not having good manners or bad manners, but having the same manner for all human souls" (5.197). • We have to wonder, though: can this apply to the real world, or is this nothing more than a fantasy?
ToneDidactic, Witty • As we've said more than once, Shaw wants to get us thinking about a lot of important stuff. Luckily, he's not into lecturing. • Think of him as a zany, loveable teacher: he wants you to learn something and have fun doing it. (On second thought, that sounds a lot like your friends here at Shmoop.) The play's scenario seems so simple – poor girl becomes duchess thanks to brilliant, eccentric teacher – that, by the time Shaw starts asking the Big Issues, we're so invested in the characters that resistance is futile. • The whole thing is a bit like Higgins himself. Sometimes Pygmalion can be hard to deal with, but in the end it's so charming that you can't help but like it.
Pygmalion Writing StyleStraightforward, Witty • Though Henry Higgins claims to be a regular John Milton, Shaw doesn't let him get too poetic. • He has too many important topics to tackle, and he can't be bothered with heavy symbolism, complicated metaphors, and big words. • Above all, Shaw wants his characters to speak, whether with Eliza's almost incomprehensible accent, Doolittle's strange charm, or Higgins's cynical reason; he wants us to understand the variety of ways English can be spoken. And so we get Higgins imitating Eliza – "Cheer ap, Keptin; n' haw yaflahrorf a pore gel" – and what Higgins calls Doolittle's "native woodnotes wild." • Each is distinct on a grammatical level, and, when performed, is delivered with a different accent.
Pygmalion Writing StyleStraightforward, Witty • Remember how at the beginning Higgins is able to tell the people where they come from? Well, even if we, the audience can't pick out the different accents, it's the director's job to sort that out. • Tough, huh? It's a good thing Shaw also has no problem with telling us what characters are like right off the bat. • He lets us know from the very beginning that Higgins is a bit of a baby – it's in his character description – and we get plenty of confirmation later on.
What’s Up With the Title? • Shaw wrote Pygmalion in 1912, but he took its name from something way, way older: an Ancient Greek myth. The most famous of its many versions can be found in the Roman poet Ovid's Metamorphoses.
What’s Up With the Title? • In the myth, Pygmalion, a sculptor from Cyprus, hates women, and especially hates the idea of getting married. Still, he gets tired of lying in bed alone at night, and decides to carve a beautiful woman out of ivory, a woman so beautiful that he can't help but fall in love with her. Which is exactly what he does. • After making the sculpture, he can't help himself, and he kisses her and starts dressing her up and doing anything he can to make her seem more human. • None of that helps to turn her into a human being, but he can't let her go. So, when the feast of Venus rolls around, he prays and begs and pleads with the goddess Venus to please turn this statue into a real live woman. • Venus, sympathetic, or maybe just sick of Pygmalion's whining, grants his wish. When Pygmalion tries kissing the sculpture again, she starts turning warm and fleshy, and soon enough she is a real live woman. Pygmalion and his statue/woman get married, have a kid, and live happily ever after.
What’s Up With the Title? • Pygmalion (Shaw's play) isn't a simple retelling of the myth, but it's pretty clear who's who here: Henry Higgins is the sculptor, Eliza Doolittle his creation. Shaw adds a lot more to the mix – stuff about British society, and women – and it's science, not Venus, doing the transforming, but the basics are the same. Just remember: there's a reason it's called Pygmalion and not My Fair Lady. • It's about the relationship between Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle, but we have to pay attention to the old sculptor as much as we have to watch the beautiful statue coming to life.
What’s Up With the Ending? • OK, this one's tough: the play ends with big argument between Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle. We're not talking about a little quarrel here, but a heck of a fight. Eliza's already made Higgins plenty angry by leaving his house, and then proceeding to act all cheery and nice the next day. • She's already given Pickering most of the credit for her transformation from flower girl to lady, and now, to top it all off, she's refusing to come back and live with Higgins. • You see, Eliza doesn't know what to do with herself now that she's got an upper class accent, but no money, and no place to go.
What’s Up With the Ending? • Higgins doesn't seem too fazed by this. He tells her that, no, he doesn't mean to treat her poorly. He treats everyone poorly. It's just his way of being fair. • Now, it's easy to be cynical and write Higgins off as a jerk. He does call Eliza a liar, a fool, an idiot, and (worst of all) a "damned impudent slut" (5.263); oh, and he almost strangles her too. • But it's hard not to buy into what he's saying, at least a little bit, since he has such a beautiful way of putting things.
What’s Up With the Ending? • Eliza, herself, doesn't buy a lot of what he's saying. She doesn't seem convinced by the whole "I treat everyone like garbage" excuse. • She's insulted by Higgins's offer to arrange a marriage with somebody rich. She's so annoyed by the whole thing that she starts making threats of her own. She tells Higgins that she'll marry Freddy if she has to (Higgins doesn't want his "masterpiece" wasted on such a lout). • She even threatens to use her knowledge against him, to teach one of Higgins's competitors the methods she learned or – and this really ticks him off – to go into business for herself.
What’s Up With the Ending? • Strangulation nearly ensues before Higgins has a great realization. By finally learning to treat him poorly, Higgins believes that Eliza has finally become his equal. • Again, this all seems a bit off, and Eliza herself isn't convinced. And why should she be? Hasn't Higgins been having these little realizations the whole time? (Recall his reaction to her arrival at Wimpole Street: "Oh, not this one again. • Throw her out. No, wait, she'll be a wonderful little guinea pig. Let's have some fun, Pickering.") She has plenty of reasons not to trust him. Would you listen to someone talk like that if he or she had just tried to wring your neck? We know we wouldn't. She's got all these memories swirling around in her head now.
What’s Up With the Ending? • Eliza turns around to leave, telling Higgins "I shall not see you again. Good-bye" (5.270). Higgins isn't one to give up, however. He calls after her and tells her to pick up some groceries and fresh clothes. Higgins's mother, who's just come in to get Eliza, thinks he's crazy, but Higgins himself is sure. "She'll buy em all right enough," he tells his mother, "Good-bye."
What’s Up With the Ending? • Now, it seems like everything's up in the air at this point, right? Higgins is sure Eliza will come back but, well, he's been wrong before. • Eliza seems to doubt the sincerity of Higgins's arguments, but on the other hand, he can be pretty persuasive. She, herself, has threatened to do a lot of things, like marry Freddy. But, come on, Freddy's a pretty big doofus. • So, it's kind of a cliffhanger. Eliza is still left in a difficult position: she can't go back to selling flowers, but she doesn't want to sell herself, to marry into money. • And Higgins won't meet her halfway…at least not yet. Is there romance hiding somewhere? And if not, why not?
What’s Up With the Ending? • Not according to Shaw. He wrote a "Sequel" to Pygmalion and, like most sequels, it's not nearly as good as the original. It's just a really long explanation of what happens. • It "need not be shewn in action," he says. Shaw just wants us to know that everybody reading the play is silly and sentimental, and, no, Higgins and Eliza aren't reunited. • Instead, she marries Freddy and they open a flower shop and they pretty much live happily ever after. We here at say forget about the sequel and go with your gut. You can do better than that.
Characters PYGMALION 20
Henry Higgins • Higgins is what you might call a bundle of contradictions. He's a woman-hating mama's boy; an incredibly talented, educated whiny little baby of a man; a personable misanthrope; a loveable jerk. Shaw says it best in his initial description of Higgins:His manner varies from genial bullying when he is in good humor to stormy petulance when anything goes wrong; but he is so entirely frank and void of malice that he remains likeable even in his least reasonable moments. (2.05) 21
Henry Higgins • The first time we meet Higgins he's acting as a combination street magician/peacemaker. He calms down Eliza, then proceeds to show off his skills by telling people where they're from just by listening to the sound of their voice. • Oh, and he can mimic them too. Right from the beginning we can tell he's a bit of a braggart and a bit of a preacher – he can't help but tell Pickering all about his trade, his life philosophy, and his ability to turn flower girls into duchesses – but as far as first impressions go, he makes a pretty good one. • He comes off as one heck of a cool cat. 22
Henry Higgins • By the end of the second act, things have become more complicated. Turns out he treats women like trash sometimes, and his motives for taking on Pickering's bet seem less than sincere. • He begins bossing Eliza around rather quickly, telling her what to do, manipulating her with big promises and chocolate – he is quite suave, you have to give him that. • He even pays Eliza's father so that he can take her into custody. All of this happens before he calls her an idiot and a slut and almost assaults her…twice. 23
Henry Higgins • Higgins's actions spring from some unexplained distaste for young women, who he tells his mother are "all idiots" (3.23). • Oh, and he has this weird thing for women that remind him of his mom. At various points in the play he compares women to blocks of wood, calls Eliza garbage, asks to have her wrapped in brown paper like a package, and refers to her as "his masterpiece." • Both his mother and his maid, Mrs. Pearce, point out how unfair this all is, how, in Mrs. Pearce's words, "you can't take a girl up like that as if you were picking up a pebble on the beach" (2.101). 24
Henry Higgins • Though he can be a pigheaded jerk, Higgins is definitely not a fool. He knows he's a jerk, and he's even come up with a justification for his behavior. After Eliza accuses him of treating her unfairly, he tells her,The great secret, Eliza, is not having bad manners or good manners or any other particular sort of manners, but having the same manner for all human souls: in short, behaving as if you were in Heaven, where there are no third-class carriages, and one soul is as good as another. (5.197) 25
Henry Higgins • This is the best example of Higgins's high-minded, philosophical side. Sounds pretty convincing, right? • Thing is, sometimes it's hard to tell if he's really being sincere or if he's just trying to get out of a tough spot. He does, however, have a penchant for talking about the soul of man, about the importance of language, and social equality. • Given Shaw's socialist leanings (he was a member of the British socialist group, The Fabian Society, and wrote on and debated various social issues – learn more here) it's hard to dismiss everything Higgins says as meaningless claptrap. 26
Henry Higgins • Higgins's fervor can get him into trouble, however. He spends so much time "inventing new Elizas" with Pickering that he seems to sometimes forget that she's a human being (3.230). • He forgets to congratulate her for her bet-winning performance. He gets so angry he nearly hurts her, and he ultimately puts her into a very tricky positio 27
Henry Higgins • Talking all this into consideration, it's hard to pass judgment on Higgins. He's always likeable, sure. He's the play's voice of reason, the preacher and poet, but he's also a slovenly, absent-minded troublemaker. He is the engine that drives the play. He's not Mr. Perfect, but he has heart. • He's the closest thing we get to Shaw, but don't make the mistake of substituting one for the other. Higgins is like Shaw in some ways, but he is not Shaw. He is Pygmalion, the character, and it's safe to say that he's also Pygmalion, the play. Without him, it simply couldn't be. 28
Eliza Doolittle • Eliza comes very close to being a walking cliché. She's the poor girl from the streets who turns out to be a brilliant and beautiful young woman. She's smart, independent, and feisty. • This sounds like a recipe for a cookie-cutter inspirational heroine, but, man, does Eliza have charm. For one thing, you can't hate a girl who howls every time she gets angry. And boy does she howl. 29
Eliza Doolittle • We're talking "Ah-ah-ah-ow-ow-ow-oo!" (1.127). It should be said that a lot of the time Eliza functions as comic relief. Her howls, her indignation, her frequent exclamations of "Garn!" and "I'm a good girl, I am," and most notably her performance at Mrs. Higgins's party are all designed to make us laugh. 30
Eliza Doolittle • Throughout it all, however, we know that she's trying her hardest to achieve her goals. We feel for her when we realize that Higgins and Pickering are getting a little carried away with their experiments. • By the time we get to Act 4, we're behind Eliza and, when Higgins ignores her, man, are we angry. By then she's gotten over all the things that made us laugh. She doesn't speak with a thick accent; her grammar is correct; she moves with poise and confidence. • We here don't usually throwing slippers or shoes of any kind, but we understand when Eliza throws a pair at Higgins. Over the course of the play Eliza is transformed from a poor flower girl into a sophisticated young woman, but, perhaps more importantly, she stops being the butt of jokes and becomes a real three-dimensional character, someone for whom we can really feel. 31
Eliza Doolittle • Toward the end of the play we find out that she's not 100% confident – she starts again with the darn howling – and that she's not all sweetness and light. • She shows Higgins that she's proud and she's shrewd, and tells him that she'd rather go into competition with him than be married off to some rich guy. • Like Higgins says, she is his equal, but she doesn't want to go his way or live his life. 32
Eliza Doolittle • On a thematic level, Eliza serves to show us how messed up society is. • Her transformation is a testament to the power of education and language. • Her difficulties demonstrate how little "the system" appreciates her kind of intelligence. She's an inspiration and a warning, and she's anything but a cliché. 33
Cockney the Trick: a nasal tone quality • Standard American • [t] as in “little” • Stressed [i] as in “bee” • Unstressed [i] as in “silly” and “country” • [aU] as in “out” • Cockney • Becomes a glottal stop [?], “li’l” • Becomes [eI] as in “paid” • Becomes [I] as in “bit” and “little” • Becomes [æ + ƏU] 34
MY FAIR LADY Transcribe in groups of 4 or 5 • “I ain’t done nothing wrong by speaking to the gentleman. I’ve a right to sell flowers if I keep off the curb. I’m a respectable girl: so help me, I never spoke to him except to ask him to buy a flower off me.” • “What did you take down my words for? How do I know you took me down right? You just show me what you’ve wrote about me. What’s that? That ain’t proper writing. I can’t read it.” 35
Mr. Alfred Doolittle • Alfred Doolittle is a smooth-talking garbage man, a serial monogamist (although he's not always really married), a drunk, and a deadbeat dad. • He's got a lot to say about "middle class morality" and complicated theories about the deserving and undeserving poor. • He has principles, too, but they're not exactly conventional: he has no trouble milking five pounds from Higgins, but he doesn't want anymore than that. He wants just enough money to have a few drinks and some fun.
Mr. Alfred Doolittle • In order to understand Doolittle, you have to understand how he speaks. This exchange is notable:DOOLITTLE ["most musical, most melancholy"] I'll tell you, Governor, if you'll only let me get a word in. I'm willing to tell you. I'm wanting to tell you. I'm waiting to tell you.HIGGINS. Pickering: this chap has a certain natural gift of rhetoric. Observe the rhythm of his native woodnotes wild. "I'm willing to tell you: I'm wanting to tell you: I'm waiting to tell you." Sentimental rhetoric! That's the Welsh strain in him. It also accounts for his mendacity and dishonesty. (2.232-3)
Mr. Alfred Doolittle • He is the sum of his mysterious speaking ability. You can describe what Doolittle's saying with all sorts of fancy Greek words, but it's enough to note how he repeats those three phrases that Higgins singles out, and how his speech is sort of singsong-y. • Whether or not we believe what Doolittle's talking about doesn't matter, it sounds nice. • These skills get Doolittle into trouble when Higgins nominates him for some such speaking position…and he gets it, along with a generous income. • He can't handle all the money; he doesn't want to be "touched" – asked to spare some change – in the same way he touched Higgins.
Mr. Alfred Doolittle • Doolittle demonstrates how powerful and potentially dangerous words can be. Lucky for us, his intentions are (mostly) honorable. • He's the character most prone to lecturing – yes, even more so than Higgins – and though his theories may not be entirely logical, his little sermons do raise some issues regarding class relations. • Think of him this way: he's a stereotype of a drunken poor guy…with an oratorical twist.
Colonel Pickering • Colonel Pickering is the closest thing Pygmalion has to a father figure. He's a genial old chap, an expert in Sanskrit, and an all-around nice guy. • He and Higgins hit it off right away, and without his suggestion, the whole bet would have never happened. Eliza credits Pickering's gentlemanly ways for starting her transformation from flower girl to duchess, for truly making her feel like a lady.
Colonel Pickering • Pickering really is the epitome of the sidekick. He serves a counterpoint for Higgins, someone Higgins can bounce remarks off. • His presence also allows for the humorous, effusive bit of Eliza worship at the end of Act 3 (3.226-244). Ultimately, Pickering adds a little more spirit and little more kindness into the mix.
Mrs. Higgins • Mrs. Higgins, Henry Higgins's mother, was once a young, intelligent independent woman with progressive ideas. When we meet her, she's older, but she's no less intelligent, independent, or progressive – well, maybe a little less progressive. • In many ways, she's a traditional mother figure: she doesn't take any of her son's nonsense, and she does ask him why he hasn't married. • At the same time, she knows a thing or two about being a woman in turn-of-the-century London, and she fears for Eliza's fate. • After watching Eliza's performance at her little party, Mrs. Higgins tells it like it is to her son: Eliza's certainly a fine example of your art, she says, but you're just going to leave her in an awkward position. Eliza won't be able to support herself with the kind of skills you're giving her.
Mrs. Higgins • Mrs. Higgins's primary function is to raise these big issues, and to warn Higgins of the eventual, unavoidable consequences of his actions. • By giving her a sharp wit and a bit of a motherly streak, Shaw makes Mrs. Higgins more than simply a talking head. • There's a reason why Eliza runs off to Mrs. Higgins's place when she's had enough of Higgins: she's just the kind of cool older lady you want to run to when you need some good advice.
Mrs. Pearce • Mrs. Pearce is a housekeeper. She's also, like Pickering and Mrs. Higgins, a voice of reason. Heck, if Pickering is the play's father figure, then Mrs. • Pearce is its mother figure (which makes Mrs. Higgins the, uh, alternative mother figure, we guess). • Mrs. Pearce watches out for Eliza from the very beginning; like Mrs. Higgins, she's used to dealing with Henry Higgins, and she knows he can get carried away with his little projects. • After she shows Eliza to the bathroom, she tells Higgins in no uncertain terms: this scheme is ridiculous. She wants to make sure Eliza doesn't get hurt.
Mrs. Pearce • Now, you may be wondering why Shaw has all these so-called voices of reasons. Isn't one enough? Well, no. Think of it this way: Pickering represents the fatherly, gentlemanly voice. • Mrs. Higgins represents the once hip young woman voice. Mrs. Pearce represents the traditional, motherly, lower-class (we're talking socioeconomic class, here) voice. • She has another perspective on the problems of being a woman, one more closely related to Eliza's original situation in life, and it comes as no surprise that she wants to protect the girl.
Mrs. and Miss Eynsford Hill • We can cover these two women at the same time. They're always together, after all. (You can read more about Clara in the "Character Roles" section.) And they really just represent two stages of what Shaw calls "genteel poverty." • They're a mother/daughter team of reasonably wealthy ladies. They start the plot going when they ask Eliza if and how she knows Freddy. • They represent everything that Eliza is not: they're clean, well-dressed, and well-spoken. In the third act, we find out via Mrs. Eynsford Hill that the family isn't doing so well, and that Clara really doesn't get it. • They're on the decline while Eliza's on her way up, and they're all headed for the same, uncomfortable middle ground.
Freddy • Freddy is the Romantic Interest. In another play, he might have a big part. In this play, he barely has a part at all. There's not much romance to be found. Freddy's not exactly a heartthrob, though. • When we first meet him he's running around looking for a cab…which he never finds. • In Act 3, he mistakes Eliza's normal Cockney speech – the stuff about influenza and "doing in" – for "small talk." • He thinks she's the bee's knees, and quickly falls in love with her. He wants to walk through the park with Eliza…but she'll have no such thing. Still, he leaves the party – and the play – in high spirits.
Freddy • If anything, Freddy shows us how unconventional Pygmalion really is. • There's not much room for your standard love affair in there, not with all the heavy stuff. • He's another bit of comic relief, and, as we see in the last act, blackmail material for Eliza.
Questions to discuss PYGMALION 49
Pygmalion Questions • Could Pygmalion be set in the modern day, at a time when there are, generally, more options and opportunities for women? • We never see any complete families in Pygmalion. We see Eliza's father, but her stepmother is only mentioned in passing. Mrs. Higgins plays a large role, but her husband is never mentioned. The same goes for the Eynsford Hill family. What's Shaw trying to tell us here? • Does Alfred Doolittle's theory about the "undeserving poor" have any merit? Is he just a good speaker, or is he simply addressing a problem that most people ignore?