Pygmalion Take-Home Essay: Shaw entitles his play Pygmalion” A Romance in Five Acts. Is Pygmalion really a romance? Or is it a comedy? Shaw suggests the play is about language, while many critics interpret it as a satire with a socialist message. Consider the characteristics of romances, comedies and satires, and cite specific evidence from the play to support your answer. Argue for one of these interpretations. With the sounding of Eliza Doolittle’s characteristic “Ah-ah-ah-ow-oo-o!” any unsuspecting reader would soon be confounded by a fit of laughter. Added to the stale witty banter of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion and a side of inadequate romance, the results are that of a syncretism of styles. Still, the didactic nature of this play concentrates it under the category of satire. Used to ridicule and pinpoint human weaknesses with the intent of correcting them, one can see the satire Shaw exploited through scholars of dialects: renowned Henry Higgins and Colonel Pickering, and their strong sense of verisimilitude in the rectifying of Eliza Doolittle; former Cockney gutter girl. Shaw translated a Greek myth for Victorian England, stripped it of enchantments and instead packed with sordid twists– to match the time and scenery. Interpretations of this said satire are embodied in the words and actions of the characters, as well as its malformed, modified roots to the original Pygmalion myth. The social values of the high, “modern” people: what are they, exactly? Whereas Eliza Doolittle firmly establishes her system of values from the beginning, making her living as well to her ability as possible, these so-called gentlemen and women she becomes involved with throughout the rest of the play fail to mention what they value, considering that the apogee of their concern in some acts were neckties and napkins (or slippers in Act 4). Even after she is transformed, Eliza is still spoken to as more of an object than a person, often times so ridiculous in nature it can have a humorous tone as can be seen in Act 2: [tempted, looking at her] “It’s almost irresistible. She’s so deliciously low–so horribly dirty—.” This dichotomy between people and objects set up by Higgins is present throughout the novel, only coming to a halt in Act 5 when Eliza flings his slippers in his face, and complains that she means no more to him than his slippers–“You don’t care. I know you don’t care. You wouldn’t care if I was dead. I’m nothing to you–not so much as them slippers.” Not only does she object to being treated like an object, she goes on to assert herself by saying that she would never sell herself, like Higgins suggests when he tells her she can go get married. “I sold flowers. I didn’t sell myself. Now you’ve made a lady of me I’m not fit to sell anything else. I wish you’d left me where you found me.” Strong social commentary is evidenced by Eliza’s realization that selling one’s self, albeit in different context and social situations, may happen just as much in the higher ranks of society as in the lower ones. She notices that now, as a lady, she cannot return to selling in streets, and has little other economical outlet, that is, other than marrying rich. In her female viewpoint, she feels that is no different than the prostitutes that sell themselves for money on the streets, and regrets her transformation as she yearns for the days past of selling flowers in her cockney accent. Moral values are not the only thing striking the satirical note in the vernacular—moments of self proclaimed stupidity marked by Higgins such as the one in Act 3 shed light on another family value overlooked—intellect. “You see, we’re all savages, more or less. We’re supposed to be civilized and cultured–to know all about poetry and philosophy and art and science, and so on; …What the devil do you imagine I know of philosophy?” Higgins, as well as the other two people he addresses are considered part of “high society”, something characterized by wealth and distinguishment. Higgins’ self-belittlement, is a result of turning to humility when it conveniences him in an argument. The theme of a prevailing social hierarchy evolves the plot, and elicit the reader to re-think the ideals set forth by the characters in the book, a high class with little knowledge makes them no better than the lower class, it delineates the double-standard. Actions speak louder than words, and, as seen in Pygmalion, they served as the catalyst for irony within the satire, as professions proved themselves hollow and the practices vicious. Higgins and Pickering are both proud bachelors, and plan on staying that way—their reasons juvenile and naïve. Their refusal to settle down are proof of their prejudice against women, and as Higgins proclaims in Act 2: “[dogmatically, lifting himself on his hands to the level of the piano, and sitting on it with a bounce] Well, I haven’t. I find that the moment I let a woman make friends with me, she becomes jealous, exacting, suspicious, and a damned nuisance. I find that the moment I let myself make friends with a woman, I become selfish and tyrannical. Women upset everything. When you let them into your life, you find that the woman is driving at one thing and you’re driving at another.” Higgins makes an absolutely inept romantic hero. For him, if women do not inform his science in any way, “they might as well be blocks of wood.” The play ends with Higgins’s roaring laughter as he says to his mother, “She’s going to marry Freddy. Ha ha! Freddy! Freddy!! Ha ha ha ha ha!!!!!” The greatest problem that people have with Pygmalion is its highly ambivalent conclusion, in which the audience is left frustrated if it wants to see the typical consummation of the hero and heroine one expects in a romance–which is what the play advertises itself to be after all. Most people like to believe that Eliza’s talk about Freddy and leaving for good is only womanly pride speaking, but that she will ultimately return to Higgins. OK THIS IS NOT DONE FIX IT AND THEN PRINT IT OK? OK.


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