Pygmalion Copy


Shaw is considered the most important English-language modern playwright.

Introduced the Theatre of Ideas in British literature – a type of drama that deals with controversial issues in a realistic manner, exposes social evils, stimulating thought and discussion on the part of the audience. The characters represent ideas,  conflicting points of view in a realistic context.

Parodies melodrama to develop an intellectual comedy of manners;

Major theme: hypocrisy – his plays try to reveal the bogus values of society;

Modernist traits in Shaw’s prose:

  • Satirical use of love plots and melodrama;
  • Toned-down modernist and expressionist traits;
  • Conflict of ideas under a conventional form;
  • Long narrative stage directions in which the playwright indicated how the play should be acted;
  • Experiments with representing world history on stage in an expressionist manner.

Shaw was an anti-romantic, because he thought that the romantic view went in the way of people seeing what really happened in the world.

“I had no taste for popular art, no respect for popular morality, no belief in popular religion, no admiration for popular heroics. I simply understood life differently”(G.B. Shaw)

He was against the principle of art for art’s sake or entertainment through drama. He was for a theatre that preached to its audience on social issues.



Genre: comedy of ideas about manners and class

Inspiration: Pygmalion was a legendary figure of Cyprus in Greek mythology who was a king and a sculptor. He appears in Ovid’s narrative poem “Metamorphoses”, in which Pygmalion was a sculptor who fell in love with a statue he had carved.


  • London, England, early 20th century


Main theme: Language and communication. The play explores language in all its forms, from slang to small talk, pleas, or philosophical language about the soul. Throughout the play, in various characters’ opinions, language connects, separates, degrades, elevates, or transforms. To be effective, language doesn’t necessarily have to be true, because it can both deceive and reveal the truth. Communication is not solely based on language, but also on appearance, clothing, and accents.

Other themes:

  • Identity;
  • Transformation;
  • Appearance;
  • Manipulation;
  • Society;
  • Women;
  • Hope.


Professor Higgins, a linguist, bets his friend Colonel Pickering, another linguist, that he can teach a cockney-speaking flower girl, Eliza Doolittle to speak as elegantly as a duchess within 6 months. He begins his experiment after the girl offers him some money to teach her how to speak and act properly, and the girl’s father demands money so that he will allow the lessons. After several months, Eliza fails her first test, as she slips into cockney speech while at Higgin’s mother’s house. The second trial is a success, but Eliza and Higgins fight, as Higgins has grown bored of the experiment, and Eliza doesn’t know what to do next. The next day, they fight again, at Higgins’ mother’s house and Higgins understands that he admires Eliza for her determination and fierceness. She threatens to work with his competitor, but Higgins is certain that she will return to work with him again.


Characters presented in the analysis of the literary fragment should be adapted to the fragment itself.

  • Professor Henry Higgins – a professor of phonetics, is cast in the role of the mythical creator Pygmalion who falls in love with his creation. He is a well-known linguist whose theories tend to reduce people to their speech patterns and transform them into units. He is unconventional, impatient with high society, inconsiderate of formal social niceties. At his heart, however, he is good and harmless. Sometimes he can be a bully.
  • Eliza Doolittle – she is a sassy, smart-mouth flower girl who speaks deplorable English. The professor’s experiment turns her into a regal figure, who is still sassy but can pass as noble-born. Language, behaviour, and exterior aspect are not the only aspects of her that change. After the ambassador’s party, she makes a statement for her own dignity and against Higgins’ treatment. In doing this, she becomes an independent woman and provokes Higgins’ admiration.
  • Mrs. Higgins – the professor’s mother. She is the only character who understands that the experiment is insensitive. She considers her son and his scholarly friend to act like senseless children. When her worries prove true, the other characters turn to her. She understands her son’s flaws and her opinion of him is in sharp contrast with his opinion of himself, as he builds his image at mythic proportions (see Pygmalion myth).


The point of view in drama is usually objective;

It is defined by

  • The characters’ speech;
  • The characters’ gestures and pantomimic movements.


In drama, the tone can belong to:

  • The author – present in stage directions
  • The characters – present in the characters’ lines.

Author’s tone:

  • Didactic, witty, tries to get the audience to think about certain ideas;
  • The play starts as a simple story, but by the end builds complex issues of identity, communication, and sensibility.

Character’s tone: relevant for characterisation.


  • Straightforward: characters are characterised in the author’s notes;
  • Witty, lively, humorous dialogue;
  • The play presents the variety of ways in which English can be spoken.