Pygmalian Play as a Shavian Play

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The year of Pygmalion’s London premiere, marked tremendous changes in British society. Social roles in the Victorian era were viewed as natural and largely fixed: there was a fixed and accepted social order. In the aftermath of WW1 this fixed order was becoming more elastic. Shaw was first and foremost a playwright but he was also a committed socialist. He questioned the absurdity of inhered wealth and status and vice versa.

Liza’s ability to fool society about her “real” identity raises questions about appearances and the fundamental absurdities of “rules” in society. Like all great Shavian drama Pygmalion is a richly complex play. It combines a central story of the transformation of a young woman with elements of myth, fairy tale, and romance. It also combines an interesting plot with an exploration of social identity and relations between men and women among other issues.

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The ability to “morph” and change, to move from one layer of society to another is also explored. Thematically and stylistically Shavian, then and worth noting that it contains elements of socialist theory, if that is the reading we choose. Throughout his adult life Bernard Shaw plumped for exchanging the present social order for another, yet most of his lengthy career was dedicated to effecting gradual change in a strictly constitutional manner. This becomes even more evident in his later work but is clearly evident here also.

Rate answer: Flag as inappropriate Posted by mstokes on Sunday January 17, 2010 at 11:28 AM kplhardison Student Graduate School Editor Expert Scribe Best answer as selected by question asker. The aspects of George Bernard Shaw’s plays that are characteristic of Shavian plays (related to or pertaining to plays written by George Bernard Shaw) are wit, entertainment that intends to instruct, didactic themes, appeal to “life force”, women characters more attuned to “life force” than men, reality is contrasted to conventional wisdom.

Shavian plays share the characteristics of witty exchange and witty situations (perhaps less so in his early plays). In Pygmalion, not only the dialogue is witty but the entire premise is a witty one: the ill-tempered phonetics specialist Professor Higgins undertakes to change the speech and therefore the life of a flower girl, with the situational ironic twist of unexpected romantic love.

While being a highly entertaining play, Pygmalion attempts to instruct against the prejudice (still powerfully in place) that dialect and even accent restrict or elevate a person’s successful in society. By changing the Flower Girl’s speech, Shaw intends to prove that esteem in society should be given to esteemable individuals, like the Flower Girl, and not to unworthy individuals, like The Daughter (Clara). Though Shaw’s play isn’t didactic (some early ones were), it carries a didactic social lesson.

Although Pygmalion doesn’t call up instruction about to the “life force” that Shaw believed in in the same way as Saint Joan does, Pygmalion does suggest an undercurrent of the force that Shaw believed would lead to a better world if every individual would unite with the force. This is demonstrated by Eliza’s achievements and the way relationships between Freddy, Eliza and Professor Higgins work out in the end.

As to Eliza’s achievements, they are markedly pointed out when she makes her grand debut into society, which is also the moment at which Shaw exposes reality in the face of conventional belief and wisdom. Eliza is the same in her inner being, she was always “a good girl” and able to speak up for herself, but her speech changes and other external changes make her acceptable to high society whereas otherwise she would have been spurned (one suggests that excellent speech in the garb of the Flower Girl may still have provoked treatment reserved for Flower Girls… )

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