( 1856 – 1950 )
„The English have no respect for their language, and will not teach their children to speak it. They spell it so abominably that no man can teach himself what it sounds like.“
Shaw is often considered a dramatists second only to William Shakespeare and “the most trenchant pamphleteer since Swith”. But he also was a brilliant music, art and drama critic and his essays on politics, economics and sociology, together with his anti-war speeches during Word War I., made him well known.
G. B. Shaw was born in Dublin of Irish parents in 1856. Shaw’s parents were not well off and he had to start work at the age of fifteen. His mother left her impractical and unsuccessful husband and went to London. Shaw and his two sisters followed her mother, because he knew that he had to live in the centre of international culture if he wanted to achieve success in the field of literature.
In London he devoted much time to his additional self-education. Then he started to write novels. He completely failed as a novelist, but succeed as a journalist and playwright. In writing plays, he followed the example of Ibsen and introduced a modern realistic drama onto the English stage. He wanted to shock people into looking at moral problems. The dialogues in his plays were often turned upside down - he hated conventional attitudes and acceptances of ideas, which would lead to injustice. He wanted people not to adopt these attitudes without thinking. He helped them find own opinion.
He spent most of his life in London, Hertfordshire, where he moved with his wealthy wife Charlotte soon after their marriage in 1898. He lived there till his death. In 1925 G. B. Shaw won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
He divided his plays into “unpleasant”, “pleasant”, historical …
“Unpleasant plays” forced the spectator to face unpleasant facts: Widower’s Houses (play about the exploitation of the poor who lived in London’s slums), Mrs. Warren’s Profession (play about gaining of money from organized prostitution) and Philanderer.
“Pleasant plays” are mostly optimistic, sanguine and cheerful: Candida, The Man and Destiny, …
The other of his well-known plays are for example: Saint Joan, Androcles and the Lion, Caesar and Cleopatra, Major Barbara, The Doctor’s Dilemma and Pygmalion, of course.
Pygmalion is Shaw’s most popular and entertaining comic masterpiece. In Pygmalion the lively Cockney speech of Eliza and her father contrasts with the refined English of wealthier London society. Cockney is a dialect spoken by the working classes in East London.
Pygmalion was a king of Cyprus and a sculptor. He fell in love with the beautiful statue of a woman that he had made. Because of his prayers – Aphrodite gives it life. Thus a beautiful living woman was created, and in Shaw’s play we see how a young flower seller taken by a professor from her work on the city streets is transformed into a fine lady.
Eliza Doolittle has come from a background of poverty and neglect. She is dirty and unkempt and makes her living in Covent Garden Market where she sells flowers. Early in the play, Professor Higgins, an expert in phonetics, overhears Eliza at work and makes a bet with his friend Colonel Pickering that, after training Eliza’s speech, he can pass her off as a duchess. Eliza takes up the chance of his new education in an attempt to improve herself. Higgins treats her rather as an object for improvement than as a sensitive woman. Eliza is learnt how to spell, to pronounce, to speak without accent.
Eliza’s father Alfred Doolittle, a dustman, has never looked after Eliza, never married any of the woman he has lived with, and has only come to try to extort some money out of Higgins.
After few months Professor, Pickering and Eliza visit the horse races at Ascot to Eliza try to behave in high-society. She meets young man Freddy Eynsford-Hill here, who can’t take his eyes off her and was immediately, hopelessly in love with her. At first Eliza speaks about weather - in phrases, but soon she starts to talk about things that she doesn’t know how to say and her London accent comes back to her. Then everybody go to watch the race and Freddy gives Eliza his ticket – on a horse called Dover. When the race begins and the horses run, Eliza starts to shout more and more and her London accent gets stronger and stronger.
Six weeks later the Embassy Ball takes place. Eliza is wearing a wonderful expensive new evening dress and looks very beautiful. When the Queen of Transylvania comes into the room, she stops and puts one hand up to touch Eliza’s face. Eliza is admired by the prince, by the all men, inclusive of Professor Higgins.
But she is particularly annoyed when, back at home, Higgins and Pickering are full of self-congratulation at their achievement and don’t thing about her as a person. What is she going to do now? – a problem Higgins has failed to thing about. She is very angry, she throws slippers to Higgins, leaves his house and goes to Mrs. Higgins – Professor’s mother. In the city Eliza meets her father, who is getting married:
“I’m getting married in the morning!
Ding-dong! The are gonna chime.
Pull out the stopper!
Let’s have a whopper!
But get me to the church on time! “
In the morning Higgins looks for Eliza, he calls police and then he runs to his mother, where finds her. But Eliza refuses his offer to return in his house and tells him, that she plans to marry Freddy. Sad and hopeful Professor leaves mother’s house.
At the end of this story Higgins sits at home and listens to Eliza’s voice on records while she stands behind him and smiles, turns a record-player off and gives him his slippers.
I liked this story so much, I saw the musical My Fair Lady by ALAN JAY LERNER with Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison and it was amazing.