Rating: 7 out of 10
Publisher: Dover Publications
Challenges: 2012 Back to the Classics Challenge
Synopsis (from Wikipedia): Professor of phonetics Henry Higgins makes a bet that he can train a bedraggled Cockney flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, to pass for a duchess at an ambassador’s garden party by teaching her to assume a veneer of gentility, the most important element of which, he believes, is impeccable speech. The play is a sharp lampoon of the rigid British class system of the day and a comment on women’s independence, packaged as a romantic comedy.
* * * This review contains spoilers about the end of Pygmalion
(which is different than the end of My Fair Lady) * * *
Overall Impression: Way back when, we studied the original Greek myth of Pygmalion, where the sculptor finds his statue so beautiful that he falls in love with it. Aphrodite hears his prayers and turns the statue into a real woman, and they live happily every after. Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw is the playwright’s own take on this classic myth.
The play itself is not familiar only because of the Greek myth, but also because it was adapted into the film My Fair Lady, starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison. Perhaps you have heard of it.
The play itself is very entertaining (probably more entertaining on stage than it is on paper), with witty banter and sharp dialogue all the way through. Eliza is ever the proud Cockney flower girl, even after she’s been turned into a lady. Henry is…an asshat. He might be the most clueless man in literature. I found his lack of growth as a character disturbing, but I also realize that Shaw is making some razor-sharp satire, and it doesn’t work if Henry changes his ways.
Most people would assume (based on the original myth and My Fair Lady) that Eliza and Henry end up married, but they do not. Shaw made the choice of having Eliza marry Freddy, and then offers an extra part (not part of the play) explaining his motives behind not having Eliza and Henry end up together. While I thought this to be an awkward addition (I didn’t realize I’d moved from play to explanation and I was confused at what was happening), it really made Shaw’s point that there’s no way that Eliza could have been happy with her creator.
Positives: Entertaining dialogue. A sharp commentary on what society makes of us.
Negatives: I felt…meh at the end. I think we’ve been so conditioned to happy endings that we’re a little shocked when they aren’t handed to us on a silver platter.
Other books I’ve read by George Bernard Shaw: none
Other blogger opinions:
Broke and Bookish: “I could see in my head some of the cues onstage and how well they would work.”
A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook: “This play is a lovely satire that directs to high society’s snobbery and willful ignorance.”
A Hoyden’s Look at Literature: “The play itself is a quick read, especially since most of the scenes are familiar from My Fair Lady.”
I had watched My Fair Lady way back when I was a kid, and apparently I didn’t have many memories of it since much of it felt brand new. This time, I thoroughly enjoyed the production. The songs were a particularly wonderful addition (I could have danced all night…). Hepburn was over-the-top as Eliza (how is she so pretty covered in dirt?), and Harrison was a slightly less asshatty Henry than the Henry in the original play. The ending, of course, has Eliza and Henry working through their difficulties and finding they truly love each other after all.