Pygmalion: The Connection Between The Play And The Ancient Greek Myth

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Pygmalion is a play wrote by an Irish playwriter George Bernard Shaw, the play describes how a professor of phonetics trained a poor flower girl and eventually succeeded in being recognized by the upper class. Pygmalion is a satirical play since it slammed the conservative class level consciousness of Britain at the time. The play was named after an ancient Greek mythological figure of Ovid’s narrative poem Metamorphosis, where Shaw is clearly showing the reader the connection between the play and the myth.

In the original Pygmalion mythology, the sculptor Pygmalion created a beautiful woman out of clay and is rewarded when she turns human; this is a transformation from ivory to a beautiful young lady, Galatea. In the play Pygmalion, Eliza Doolittle turned from a common flower girl into a duchess; and this was the result of Henry Higgins, the linguistic professor’s six-month training by changing the way of how Eliza dressed, spoke and acted. Moreover, both Pygmalion and Higgins are woman-hating. Pygmalion disgusted by the loose and shameful lives of the women of his era, decides to live alone and unmarried. And Higgins treats women like trash sometimes and he is also not interested in women; we can prove this by act III of the book while Higgins is talking with his mother. -HIGGINS: Oh, I can’t be bothered with young women. My idea of a lovable woman is somebody as like you as possible. I shall never get into the way of seriously liking young women: some habits lie too deep to be charged. [….] Besides, theyre all idiots.

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An artist has control over the creation while creating and modeling it, but once it is over, the creation will have its own form. As Eliza’s creator, Higgins had power over Eliza throughout the entire play. Eliza could not have her own independence, she gave Higgins full control over her and did everything he expected she to do. Where Higgins treated Eliza as his experiment, an object, and a maid. Although in Higgin’s eyes, Eliza is a masterpiece of his own, but Eliza – except the language and act of a duchess – does not belong to him mentally and physically. Higgins finished his work with an outstanding result, but he forgot one thing, he is facing a person, not a delicate machine. Though Eliza finally completed the change from a flower girl into a duchess, most importantly, she became a woman with independent consciousness. As a result, once six-months has passed and Eliza won the bet, Higgins’ control over Eliza has come to an end. When Eliza threw Higgins’ slippers in his face, she is acting out on her own will, ignoring all the proper language and performance that Higgins taught her, not as a lady or a slave under Higgins’ manner. This event marks the end of Higgins’ creation and the beginning of Eliza’s independence.

Both Higgins and Pygmalion are artists in their own interest field, with sculpting and phonetics. The relationship between the artists and their art is always symbiotic: the artist creates an artwork according to his/her own wish and purpose, the crecation wants to be created to have its own form, therefore they both are using each other to fulfill their own needs. Even though Galatea and Eliza are both artworks that have been mold by Pygmalion and Higgins to become a perfect woman. However, their endings are different, Shaw made a bold change while imitating the myth. Different from the passiveness of Galatea who had no choice except following Pygmalion; Eliza clearly realized her expectation of life, and bravely embarked on the road of seeking inner independence and equal care and love. Hence, between Higgins and Eliza, the relationship between the creator and the work that results in master and servant is impossible. On the contrary, as Eliza’s self-consciousness gradually increases, the relationship between them becomes equal.


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