Pygmalion Book Review

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Pygmalion by Bernard Shaw

Mythology was and is one of the most important and popular sources of inspiration for plots of authors on different eras. Its topics elaborated by ancient artists manifest the canons of epochs and styles which do not lose relevance until today. Bernard Shaw uses a variety of dramatic instruments while laying the foundations of a new kind of drama and raises problems of sociological, moral, and scientific character in literature. Shaw submits a play to his philosophical and aesthetic concept, combining it with eternal, universal human problems and values. The comedy Pygmalion by B. Shaw was created in the early twentieth century with its name being connected to the images of antiquity but the meaning tied to modern realities.

The sculptor Pygmalion, the hero of the ancient Greek myth, hates and avoids women. It is, however, the image of a woman in art that captivates him. His thirst for beauty is embodied in the statue of Galatea, a girl he carves out of ivory. Enchanted by his own creation, Pygmalion falls in love with Galatea and marries the statue, and after his request the goddess Aphrodite revives the object of love. However, the play by G. B. Shaw is not merely a new artistic implementation of this old myth. The playwright, being faithful to his passion for paradoxes, decides to revive the myth in a new way. Galatea from the myth is gentle and humble, while in the play by Shaw she rebels against her creator. The antique Pygmalion and Galatea are married, the characters in the moderrn interpretation should not do it. In the end, Galatea as seen by Shaw is supposed to revive Pygmalion spiritually, to teach him the human sensation. The action is transferred to modern England, the sculptor turns into a professor-linguist who conducts a scientific experiment. The image of Pygmalion acquires an important, feminist meaning in the play because women of noble families in the former figuratively symbolic system of culture are likened to works of art, whose observation is to deliver aesthetic pleasure to the male part of society.

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The new strength and popularity of the topic of the play were characteristic to numerous artistic works of the time, although the focus of them in the majority of cases was shifted from the social theme to the romantic one. However, the existence of the precedent of the plot in such works of art led to the emergence of numerous reviews and scientific analyses in screening and production, as well as in the comedy itself. The theme of the play is the process of restoring the human soul, the spiritual awakening of the individual, the development of their moral and intellectual potential under the influence of creativity (Hellman 220). The genre of the play is a social comedy, in the center of which there are problems of great social significance. Among the problems solved in the play, one can highlight the societal issues, the moral and the problem of science. These include the critique of the classes of prejudices and conventions of the bourgeois society, the establishment of creative forces, the potential of ordinary members of society and the limitedness of even the most outstanding representatives of it; the problem of the devastating impact of poverty on a person; a sober look at the positions of ordinary people, and the condemnation of the Lumpen psychology as a consumer approach to life. The moral problem is the problem of the scientist’s responsibility for the consequences of the experiment, the inadmissibility of experimentation on man, as well as the ridicule of bourgeois morals and values. The problems of science are represented by the focus on the significance of language as the most important factor in the mental and spiritual development of personality. The conflict of the play consists in the ideological collision of two different life positions, whose expressions are Professor Henry Higgins and a former flower girl Eliza Doolittle.

This play has a social-democratic orientation, being a product of the natural equality of people living in society, stressing on the ability of each of us to have different opportunities for realization in the community and raising the importance of the topic of talents among the ordinary people. This work reflects a sort of psychological love drama, which depicts the hatred of its participants to each other. However, the play itself is humanistic; the work shows how to carefully relate to everything living, especially to the person. The author tells the reader and spectator about the fear and the prevention of cold experiments on people. It is this main idea that is laid down by the author.

Another aspect stressed on by Shaw is the significance of learning. Unusual charm of Eliza Doolittle, which the reader has the opportunity to feel already in the first act when she communicates in a ridiculous jargon and her manners later in Pygmalion describes how people’s lives can change due to their education. The main acting heroes of the play are florist from the lower class named Eliza Doolittle, her father working as a scavenger, Colonel Pickering, scientist Henry Higgins, as well as Mrs. Hill with children (daughter and son).

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The problem of the play is multifaceted. B. Shaw was particularly bright in his work to highlight the problem of inequality of people in society. At the end of the work, Eliza, although already educated, remains with nothing just as before, only stricken by the tragic awareness of her poor material position and the feeling of endless injustice that people from the lower classes face. As a result, the girl returns to the house of Higgins, where she is already appreciated and accepted as an equal, full-fledged person. The play places a lot of emphasis on the issues related to education. Indeed, proper education and upbringing play far not the last role in the life of any harmonious and self-sufficient person, even if they remain financially challenged.

Pygmalion by Bernard Shaw is one of the most successful artworks, where the social aspect of literature is directly put in the foreground. The play itself is fundamentally in Shaws style it is constructed as a kind of a statement, an elaborate line in public discourse. The author enters into a dialogue with the modern spectator and reader, systematically questioning his stereotypical views and literary preferences, thereby showing the enormous role that verbal art plays in the formation of public consciousness. The play has an important subtitle. It is presented as a romantic story in five acts. Indeed, what could be more romantic than the history of a street flower girl, who unexpectedly finds patrons and penetrates into the higher class world moreover, she does it for a bet. However, Shaw skillfully destroys from within the romanticism of this plot path. After all, Higgins and Pickering not just pick up Eliza in the street, she herself comes to them with a business proposal. She takes lessons, she has her own, quite specific economic and social ambitions for them and not for a romantic dream, and she is ready to work day and night.

The writer creates the image of a society in the face of great changes, on the threshold of the twentieth century. It is the society where flower girls tend to change their socio-economic status, where the established class, the hierarchical structure is bursting at the seams. Some literary and theatrical critics argue that Pygmalion promotes unhealthy political and social views and ideas. One can agree with this idea because the texts of the play are permeated with apt aphorisms that characterize the contemporary social and political situation of the time. The main problem that B. Shaw solves in Pygmalion is based on the question of whether a society can change a person completely. The author of the play exemplifying the protagonists shows how it is possible to change a person in a radical way, from one extreme to another. If such a drastic shift is enabled in a relatively short period of time, then the reader or the viewer must make sure that in this case, any other change in the human being is possible. In Pygmalion, Shaw combines two topics that he was concerned about: the problem of inequality among different layers of the then population and the problem of using literary English. The behavior of a person from the high class of the society should include a good pronunciation, sophisticated language, an intellectual way of thinking, and the ability to support conversation on any topic (Prasad 2). The simple people must be able to adapt to the conditions of such a medium of the nobility. The subjective being and the objective world are interrelated and mutually intertwined.

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The deeply humane ideological foundations are the core of the play Pygmalion. The writer believes in an inexhaustible supply of creative forces that are hidden in ordinary citizens. Poverty can distort the appearance of a man but it is unable to destroy his personality. Similarly, under favorable circumstances, everything that is hidden under the mask of virtue reveals itself. For example, Eliza’s father a scavenger Alfred Doolittle, grotesquely written by Shaw, suddenly rich, with glitter and scum of a first-rate speaker delivers speeches to exquisite audiences. During the writing of Pygmalion, Bernard Shaw was particularly keen on phonetics. He believed that the perfectly correct English language, free from vulgarism and the pretentious phraseology of aristocratic salons, was able to change the thinking of a man, strengthen will, and develop a correct vision of reality. Subsequently, in his will, he donated a large sum of money for the compilation of a new English alphabet, which would contribute to the elimination of the boundary between the spelling and pronunciation of words.

Bernard Shaw was one of the first to understand the importance of language in the society, its power and social role. In those years, he first described its influence on crucial domains of the communitys functioning and showed it in Pygmalion. It was Shaw who said this in a poster-edifying but from that no less ironic and fascinating Pygmalion. He depicts Professor Higgins as a specialist in a narrow profile, who, however, surpasses structuralism and post-structuralism. In the second half of the twentieth century, these directions made the idea of discourse and totalitarian language, showing it in the works as a central theme. One of the theses of the play reads that the human character is determined by the aggregate attitude of the individual, with language relations being only a part of it. In the play, this idea is reflected in the scene where Eliza attends language classes, learns the literary English and ethical behavior. The professor, for example, explains to the girl how to communicate and speak as a lady or use and practical significance of a handkerchief. The totality of behavior, that is, the form and content of speech, the way of judgments and thoughts, the usual actions and typical reactions of people are adapted to the conditions of their environment. The subjective being and the objective world correspond to each other and mutually permeate one another. The author employs a large scope of dramatic means to convince every spectator. Shaw found this tool in the systematic application of a sort of alienation effect, forcing his characters from time to time to act in an alien environment, then to step by step returning them to their own comfort zone, skillfully creating at first a false idea of their true nature. Then this impression gradually and methodically changes.

Like most of the dramatic works of Shaw, Pygmalion has a short preface called Professor of Phonetics and a great post word that tells about the fate of the main character, the London street flower girl Eliza Doolittle. The play was first staged on October 16, 1913, in Vienna. The English premiere took place at the London Theater of His Majesty on April 11, 1914, followed by 118 more performances (Bostridge). The author was a director himself and all rehearsals were under his own control. The role of Eliza Doolittle was written by him especially for Stella Patrick Campbell, a talented actress and singer, who Shaw was in love with at that moment. The role of Eliza is considered the highest achievement of the artistic career of Mrs. Kemble. The professor of phonetics Higgins was played Herbert Bird Tree, a famous actor and a co-director of the play. The playwright demanded the attention of actors to every word, to every remark. It is the understanding of the text, he stressed, that the transfer of the author’s thought to the auditorium depends on.

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The play Pygmalion is included in the curricula of both schools and colleges where the subject of literature is studied, as it is one of the best and most popular plays of George Bernard Shaw written for the stage. It was completed during the first period of Shaw’s creative work, when, after the years of literary and philosophical quest, the foundations of his aesthetics, his philosophical conception of man and peace, and his talent evidently emerged. For many decades after the appearance of this interpretation of Pygmalion, thanks to its undoubted originality and artistic elegance, it could not but enjoy the attention of both viewers and readers, theatrical and literary critics, as well as directors and actors. The problem of the play is rather vast and allows interpreting it differently. The witty comedy of the Show could not but attract the attention of the proponents of the sociological method, the supporters of mythological criticism, or the adherents of Freudism. It also did not leave indifferent the followers of analytic philosophy and logical positivism, as well as admirers of the psychology of communication. In the scientific critique of G. B. Shaw as a playwright, Pygmalion is also readily considered and praised, mainly due to the attention to such aspects of societys life as inequality issues.

The primary perception of the play by ordinary readers and literature students is quite easy, causing no serious complications for understanding. However, the secondary, more profound comprehension is the result of the analysis of the works message in its minute details. In this case, it is a sign of the non-traditional, paradoxical, and creative manner of Shaw in general and Pygmalion in particular. This work in many respects impresses with its unusual, at times puzzling approaches and the specific layout of seemingly ordinary concepts. Take at least an open ending, which requires a spectator’s peculiar evaluation of a dramatic action and therefore invokes in him or her a series of questions instead of giving them an easy answer. However, this aesthetic peculiarity of the work makes it difficult for a study by an inexperienced critic. The unconventionality of the play is manifested primarily in the genre-generic features of the work.

To conclude, he play Pygmalion enjoyed the greatest success in both Europe and North America, as well as other countries of the world. In the English-speaking cultural space, the works of Bernard Shaw, especially Pygmalion, have received a general recognition and are among the major performances staged in theaters. Thus, Bernard Shaw, describing at the first glance witty and comic situations, colored with sparkling dialogues and discussions, as well as breaking the melodramatic and false-sentimental illusions, transmits his ideas, submits the play to his philosophical and aesthetic vision. Combining it with eternal, universal human problems, values, and feelings, he gives the spectators and readers the emotional and intellectual pleasure from the work, which unites and forms the secret of Shaw as the playwright with innovative writing skills. This is what makes a number of his plays, and especially Pygmalion, be always in demand.

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