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Ensaios-->PYGMALION: THE PLAY AND THE MYTH -- 17/06/2001 - 14:25 (Aparecido Donizete Rossi) Siga o Autor Destaque este autor Envie Outros Textos
Pygmalion is the most known play written by George Bernard Shaw (1856 – 1950), one of the most important Irish writers of the XXth century, contemporary of Oscar Wilde and James Joyce, the highest exponents of the Irish prose in this period. This play, which has five acts and was first published in 1916, tell us Eliza Doolittle’s story of trying to learn how to speak better. The story is best known in its musical film adaptation, My Fair Lady (1964), by George Cukor, with Audrey Hepburn as Eliza and Rex Harrison as Henry Higgins. Although this, it is not the film, but the play, which I will discuss here, because the film is a little different of the play conceived by Shaw. Let’s see.
Eliza is a flower girl in London of the XXth century beginning. She speaks the Cockney dialect, a dialect of London’s suburb which is an almost unintelligible language. One rainy day, she meets Henry Higgins, a professor of phonetics who receives a challenge of one of his friends: try to make, in six months, Eliza speaks and behaves like a lady. So he accepts the challenge and brings Eliza to his home. Of course he would have troubles because, at the end of the six months, Eliza is a little more than a lady: now, she is a human being. That is the lesson which Bernard Shaw, in his conception of art to teach, wants to pass us.
In this essay, I will try to do a comparison between the play Pygmalion and the Greek myth of Pygmalion. We are going to see that the myth is in the whole play, but in a different way. Well, at first, it is interesting to know, or remember, how is the beautiful myth of Pygmalion.
In the tenth chant of Ovid’s Metamorphosis, we have the story of Pygmalion. He was a king of Cyprus and a famous sculptor. One day, he sculpted a marble statue which he called Galatea and, as it was almost perfect, Pygmalion felt in love for it. As it was a statue, he asked to Aphrodite, the goddess of love, to animate it with life, and the goddess attended him. He and Galatea got married and had one daughter, Paphos, mother of the misfortuned Ciniras.
Now, let’s see how the myth is in the play. In the first act, we have something we can call Eliza’s awakening. It is the moment, after to meet Higgins, that she is realizing by herself that she doesn’t know how to speak or behave like a lady, and she wants to change. So, we have a brute Eliza: a poor girl completely unexperient in knowledge and also in life. We can see Eliza’s soul here like a piece of rock, a piece of noble rock that a sculptor has in front of him. Here we remember Pygmalion’s myth and, at the same time, we can see perfectly in front of us Eliza as the rock and Higgins as the sculptor. But, our Galatea is a little bit different: it is Eliza who goes to Higgins asking him to teach her how to speak, its the creature who wants to be equal to the creator, not the contrary, as in the myth. Therefore, our Galatea is already awakening: she knows she can changes, that’s why se wants to change herself, and so she will in a lot of senses.
In the second act, we will have a kind of purgation, or be, Eliza is being shaped. So, here we have sculptor Higgins working in his creature: Eliza is learning how to be a lady and to speak correctly. Our Galatea is very intelligent, that’s why the learning process is so fast. Although, Higgins doesn’t seem to realize that Eliza is not learning only to be a lady, but she is also learning how to be a human being physically and, mainly, in soul.
In act three, we have the first trial: Eliza’s learning process is already completed. Our Galatea is ready to be a statue, like Higgins dreamed. They go to Higgins mother house and Eliza is introduced to the society, but this introduction seems to be awfully artificial: Eliza is speaking like a parrot. To Higgins, this first presentation was very good, but the circunstances will show him that Eliza was not so simples like that.
It’s in act four that we have, finally, Lady Eliza. Galatea is totally done, but this Galatea is much more than a simple statue: she has her own thinkings, her own atittudes, her own soul — she is a human being physically and in soul. But Higgins, our Pygmalion, cannot accept that his creation has her own life. Higgins embodies an upside down Pygmalion myth, that’s why he tries to fight against his creation and we have the conflicts between him and Eliza in this act. Our Galatea is now a complete human being, as Aphrodite done in the Greek myth, but her Pygmalion is still treating her like a piece of rock, the flower girl that she was. Here we realize that Eliza changed, and didn’t like her change because this didn’t bring happyness to her; but not Higgins: he didn’t change from the beginning to the end of the play, and will never change.
After all the conflicts, both Eliza and Higgins are broken up, but he pieces finally fit: as Higgins will not change, Eliza goes away. In this moment we realize a important thing: Higgins was, all time, a piece of rock, because he doesn’t want to accept Eliza as she is now. So Henry Higgins, who should be the sculptor of the Greek myth, is, on the contrary, the brute rock. That’s why he and Eliza never could be together, once Eliza will always change because she is a human being. This is the lesson that I mentioned at the beginning of this essay, the Bernard Shaw’s class of humanity: every human being change, and try to fight against this is a foolish atittude.
I recommend to everybody reads the play and watches the film, because it brings us a knowledge of ourselves which is extremely necessary in these days that sense of humanity is being forgotten.
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