Pygmalion by G.B. Shaw has been one of my favourite plays on screen, both in the 1938 and the 1964 versions. I recently also had the pleasure of watching it on stage in London with R. Everett, K. Tointon and D. Rigg. After such an overdose of visual, it was time for the written word to see what the author himself has in mind.
Pygmalion tries to bring the original myth into real life. In it, a man, disillusioned with women, renounces them and lives alone. While making a statue of a woman, falls in love with it, and prays for it to become an actual woman - Galateia (and they lived happily ever after...)
With this myth in mind, I set off to reading this play and already I was perplexed - I could not find any romantic predisposition in Shaw's work - everything is so "common" with the details of everyday life, with all the faults, insecurities and expectations.
What I did find, however, was this drive to address gender and class inequality in society (then and now). The play attempts to unite lower and upper class systems as well as male and female roles. As to the characters of the play, they do come through as rather "rigid", each more or less confined to their own boundaries of character. I had read that this is supposedly a feminist play, given the fact that Eliza is the apparent victor, surpassing her confines, but I would like to raise an issue - She did indeed go beyond her "limits", but primarily because of the push she received by Higgins and Pickering (even if this was done for a bet). So, I wonder, would she have achieved the same on her own? Would society have allowed her to go beyond being a flower girl? hmmm.... I'd rather think this play is about the ability, given the chance, we all have to rise above our social status in life and "better" ourselves, just as Eliza did. It is up to us to take advantage of the possibilities that come our way and emerge victorious...
On other points in this play, I found the use of minor characters an excellent means to showcase the way people treat each other with regard to class distinction. I thoroughly enjoyed Alfred Doolittle, Eliza's father, who is dragged into "middle class morality" and completely changes character...
And one slightly negative (on my part) point on the play - the very long acts. Being a reader who has to stop at completed scenes (I think it's called compulsive), I had a couple of all-nighters before I could let the book down...
Did I mind that the play does not have a happy ending? Certainly not! I actually fully agree with Shaw:
"The rest of the story need not be shewn in action, and indeed, would hardly need telling if our imaginations were not so enfeebled by their lazy dependence on the ready-mades and reach-me-downs of the ragshop in which Romance keeps its stock of 'happy endings to misfit all stories."
Leslie Howard, Wendy Hiller