Monday, May 7, 2012

Critical Response to Pygmalion

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“Pygmalion” is a popular play set in the early 0th century and written by George Bernard Shaw. The first London performance was in 114 and to this day is still a huge success. The title reveals that the play is based on the old story of Pygmalion and Galatea. Pygmalion was an ordinary man who one day decided to sculpt the perfect woman. When he was finished he went to the gods and begged for Galatea to be brought to life, and she was. After a little while Pygmalion got bored of his dream because she was too perfect.

The play is very similar to that story in the way that Eliza Doolittle gives a man total control of her, but in the play there is a twist in the ending because Eliza does not end up with that man but ends up with someone else. This makes the play less predictable. The main themes that Shaw tries to put across are class distinctions, men versus women, the power of education and morality. Shaw is a very strong believer of all classes being equal and he frequently hints towards this in the play. I think the character Higgins is an example of this, because he doesn’t act in the usual upper class way. He is not polite or kind as most upper class people are taught and expected to be. He doesn’t care what people think of him. An example of his rudeness was when he said, “We want two or three people. You’ll do as well as anyone else.” Later in the same scene he carries on being impolite, when Freddy, a young man, walks in, because instead of greeting him he says, “God of heaven, not another of them.”

The character I am going to present is Professor Henry Higgins. I think he is a great character. He is funny in the things that he says and the way he says them. I think he is the most interesting character in the play.

Shaw uses various techniques to let us get to know Higgins well. At first he tells us about his profession (a professor of phonetics) and then he takes us into his home to find out more. Once in the home Mrs Pierce, his housekeeper, speaks to him like a maternal figure and points out his bad habits. For example she once said “you’re not at all particular when you’ve mislaid anything or when you get impatient, you really must not swear” This is another way of letting the reader know more about him. Another time when we find out more about him is upon Eliza’s arrival at his house and how he treats her. He frequently shouts at her and gives her abuse. He even said to Mrs Pierce to, “Put her in the dustbin”. He also said, “Shall we ask this baggage to sit down, or shall we throw her out the window?”

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We get to know Higgins better all the way through the play and even in the last few pages of the epilogue we learn more about his personality. At the beginning of the play we see Henry only as a nasty man taking notes on the language and voice of a poor flower girl and telling her to shut up and stop moaning. He told her, “don’t sit there crooning like a bilious pigeon.” I think this is a wonderful quotation because it surprised the flower girl, added humour to the book and let us know how he feels at the same time.

Higgins all the way through the play makes out that he is more important than everyone else. He always seems to talk down to a lot of people and is often rude when doing so. He is also incredibly skilled when it comes to phonetics and is very vain about to. In the play he often brags about his talent. An example of this is when he says, “I can place any man within two miles in London.”

He progresses thoroughly through the play, because not only was he teaching Eliza but Eliza was teaching him. At the start of the play he was completely against most women and thought they were totally useless and just brought trouble. Eliza however taught him they weren’t useless and in the end he started to find Eliza attractive. He also learned to treat people with more respect and to remember that other people have feelings too. “Now you are a tower of strength, a consort battle ship”, “I like you like this”. These quotes show he does care and is not really how he appears to be.

In the end Higgins ends up changed slightly but the cocky, rude and arrogant aspects of his personality remain. At the end of the book my idea of Higgins is, a funny character with spice and a great personality to read about. Once reading the epilogue we find out that Higgins has not the makings of a married man and is dominating and always wants to be the superior. I believe he was meant to be the clown of the play, which made it more enjoyable. I think Shaw did a remarkable job to create a character like Higgins who is still believable.

All in all I think the story is really enjoyable, amusing and intriguing. It kept me wanting to read on all the way through to find out what happens in the end. There were a few boring bits but they were short and didn’t differ my opinion of the book in the slightest. I think the epilogue was Shaw’s way to secretly criticise the readers. He says that the readers thrive and depend on happy endings. Also he uses the whole book to get across the message that middle class people believe they are different and somehow better than the lower class. He made a good job of doing this because it is very discrete and fits in very well with the story. He suggests the inadequacy of class distinctions because at several times he suggests “middle class morality” doesn’t really count for much. Eliza could well have more dignity than Higgins. Shaw’s views are still very important today because society is in much the same place now as it was when the play was written.

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