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Pygmalion

by: George Bernard Shaw

Suggested Essay Topics

"I care for life, for humanity; and you are a part of it that has come my way and been built into my house. What more can you or anyone ask?" Henry Higgins has this to say to Eliza when she complains that he does not care for anybody and threatens to leave him. How does the professor of phonetics treat the people in his life? Can one ask for more?

Describe the primary ways in which Eliza Doolittle changes in the course of the play. Which is the most important transformation, and what clues does Shaw give us to indicate this?

While Eliza Doolittle is being remade, Victorian society itself can be said to be unmade. How does Shaw reveal the pruderies, hypocrisies, and inconsistencies of this higher society to which the kerbstone flower girl aspires? Do his sympathies lie with the lower or upper classes?

"The great secret, Eliza, is not having bad manners or good manners or any other 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." It is no small coincidence that the author of Higgins' Universal Alphabet is the same man to blur social distinctions, thereby suggesting that social standing is a matter of nurture, not nature. Examine carefully Higgins' attitude towards his fellow men. Can this be taken as an admirable brand of socialism? Or does he fail as a compassionate being in his absolutism?

Is "A Romance in Five Acts" an accurate description of the play Pygmalion? How does the play conform (or not) to the traditional form of a romance (for example: boy meets girl, boy likes girl, boy meets girl's father/evil twin/ex-fiance, boy learns to love girl despite everything, boy and girl live happily ever after...)? What do you think Shaw is trying to achieve in highlighting the concept of the romance in the title? (Hint: You might want to look closely at the written sequel to the play, in which Shaw gives some very strong opinions about romances.)

If you were to create a sixth act to Pygmalion, who would Eliza marry? Or does she marry at all? Use the lines and behavior of the characters throughout the first five acts to support the outcome of your finale.

If possible, try to watch the film version of Pygmalion (1938, screenplay by Shaw), and even the Audrey Hepburn film of the musical My Fair Lady (1956). Consider what has been changed, removed, or enhanced in the move from the stage to the screen, and from a talking play to a musical. What does each subsequent adaptation reveal about popular expectations of a romance, versus the original intentions of the playwright? In your opinion, which of these works is the best? Why?


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