Pygmalion George Bernard Shaw Menu Introduction Background Discussion Starters
Pygmalion: Introduction In this play, George Bernard Shaw uses humor and lively characterization to explore how language, class structure, education, and gender influence how people are seen by society.
Pygmalion: Introduction The two main characters are • Eliza Doolittle—a poor but proud flower girl with a cockney accent—a way of speaking associated with the working classes. • Henry Higgins—an arrogant and insensitive linguistics professor
Pygmalion: Introduction Eliza comes to Higgins’s house to ask him to give her speech lessons. She wants to learn to speak properly so that she can get a job in a flower shop instead of selling flowers on the street.
Pygmalion: Introduction Higgins decides to take the girl on as a professional challenge. He boasts to his associate Colonel Pickering that with six months of lessons, Eliza could be passed off as a duchess.
Pygmalion: Introduction Higgins has Eliza move into his home. With the help of Pickering and the housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce, he teaches Eliza the proper speech and manners of the upper class.
Pygmalion: Introduction Although Eliza wants to learn, there is tension between her and Higgins. She also wants to be treated with respect—as a person. Higgins, however, persists in treating her as a project and an object.
Pygmalion: Introduction Will Eliza and Henry Higgins become friends, or will their differences drive them apart? If Higgins’s experiment succeeds, where will Eliza go from there? Will learning to speak like a duchess allow her to live like one?
Pygmalion: Background Pygmalion is set in London, England, around the beginning of the twentieth century.
Pygmalion: Background During this time in London, working-class people like Eliza Doolittle • lived in slums • had no heat or hot water • had to put coins in a meter to get electric light
Pygmalion: Background The class structure in England at this time was very rigid. upper class middle class working class
Pygmalion: Background The government did provide some schooling. However, an education did not teach the proper speech that was considered a sign of the upper class.
Pygmalion: Background The way that many working-class people spoke was an obstacle to their becoming middle class.
Pygmalion: Background In Greek mythology, Pygmalion was a gifted, young sculptor who resolved never to marry.
Pygmalion: Background But after Pygmalion created a statue of a beautiful woman, he fell in love with the statue. Miserable because he loved a lifeless object, he appealed to Aphrodite, the goddess of love.
Pygmalion: Background Sympathetic to the young artist’s plight, Aphrodite turned the statue into a live woman. Pygmalion named the beautiful maiden Galatea, and the two were married.
Pygmalion: Discussion Starters Discuss (1) Henry Higgins sets out to transform Eliza simply to show what a great speech teacher he is. • In your opinion, does Higgins have a right to use Eliza in this way? Explain. • Would Higgins’s experiment be more acceptable if he actually cared about Eliza’s feelings? Why or why not?
Pygmalion: Discussion Starters Discuss (2) • Besides speech and language, which factors are identified with a person’s socioeconomic class? Make a list. • Of all factors that make up a person’s class, which do you think are the easiest to change? What are the hardest to change? Explain.