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Pygmalion. by George Bernard Shaw


Eliza Doolittle, a penniless girl selling flowers in the street, wants to learn how speak English correctly so she can get a decent job. She meets Henry Higgins, a speech expert who makes a bet with his friend Pickering that he can pass her off as a Princess. Eliza is trained to talk and behave like a lady and when at the end of her intense studies, she is presented at a grand ball, she indeed passes for a Princess and Higgins wins his bet.

But for Eliza, it is much more than just a bet. Her life has been changed forever. Now she is a princess, all she can do is get married.

The play is not only a wonderfully written comedy but also an attempt by George Bernard Shaw to expose the inequality of opportunity that women suffered in the last century.



A group of strangers shelter from the rain one evening, beside a church in London, 1912. As the conversation goes on we are introduced to Eliza Doolittle, a poor girl selling flowers, who meets Freddie, a handsome young upper class man. We meet Professor Higgins, who is listening to and noting down the variation in peoples' London accents. By chance he meets a fellow expert in phonetics, a Colonel Pickering who he invites to his house in Wimpole Street. Eliza meets Higgins and is interested in his claim that he can teach anyone to speak English how it should be spoken.



Higgins is at home, sharing his knowledge of accents with his new friend Pickering. Eliza enters wanting lessons in English because she wants to get a job in a flower shop, rather than selling flowers in the street, and she knows she can only do this if she loses her working class accent. Higgins claims that he is such a good teacher that in six months, he could turn Eliza into a refined lady with the ability to speak English so perfectly that she could pass herself off as a princess. Pickering bets him he can't and Higgins takes on the challenge. Eliza is taken away and washed and prepared for her first lesson.

Eliza's father, a poor working class dustman called Alfred Doolittle, arrives at the house. Having discovered that these two rich and educated men are interested in keeping Eliza for six months in order to transform her into a respectable lady, Alfred decides that as Eliza's father, he should be paid something in return. Higgins is at first amazed by the man's outrageous demands but then gives in to the Alfred Doolittle's charm. Doolittle leaves with five pounds and the lessons with Eliza begin.



Time has passed and Higgins decides to test Eliza out on his mother. He takes Eliza to his mother's house to see if his mother can still detect in Eliza's speech and behaviour, traces of her poor, uneducated, working class background. Eliza tries hard to speak properly and behave as a sophisticated and well-educated upper class lady, but fails.




After many more months of gruelling teaching, Eliza is finally taken to the Summer Ball to be tested. If none of the guests suspect she is anything other than a refined and cultured upper class lady, Higgins will win his bet.

By chance, an ex-student of Higgins, a Hungarian interpreter called Neppomuck who is now also an expert on accents, is also at the ball. Pickering is worried that such an expert would be able to tell that Eliza was a fraud.

But Eliza puts on a brilliant performance and convinces everyone at the ball, including Neppomuck, that she is so well-spoken and so sophisticated that she must be nothing less than a royal princess.



Back in Wimpole Street, Pickering congratulates Higgins on winning the bet. But Higgins is dismissive. Eliza happens to overhear as Higgins reveals that he was bored with the whole idea and that far from being a fantastic achievement by Eliza, he considers it to have been a silly and pointless exercise.

Eliza is deeply hurt and furious. She accuses Higgins of treating her heartlessly. They argue and fight. She had been made to feel like a toy that Higgins has played with and now discards. She has lost all self-respect. She can't go back to her old, poor working class friends and now feels rejected by Higgins and the high society he represents. Finally she decides to leave his house.

Once outside, she bumps into Freddie, who has been in love with her from the first moment he saw her. She accepts his kisses and kindness.



Eliza goes to back to Mrs Higgins house, hoping that she will be able to offer advice. But Henry Higgins and Pickering turn up, looking for Eliza. Eliza hides from them at first, whilst Mrs Higgins tells her son off for being so thoughtless and uncaring with regard to Eliza. Eliza's father Alfred Doolittle turns up, also looking for Eliza. He has come into a fortune and now feels obliged to do the middle class thing and marry the woman he has been living with. He wants Eliza to be there at the wedding that afternoon.

Eliza finally reveals herself and after agreeing to go to the church with her father, has to decide what she should do after. Should she return to Wimpole Street and remain with Higgins or stick to her plan of leaving him?.

Henry Higgins and Eliza are left alone to sort it out. In a long emotional argument, we discover that Eliza is very fond of Higgins but has hated his coldness and his lack of affection for her. Higgins admits that he has grown used to her company, but still they argue. Then the penny drops. Eliza realises that her new education has given her the power, the confidence and the skills to be free from the dependence on men. Eliza knows that if she goes back to live with Higgins, he will continue to bully her and treat her like a mere flower seller in the street, and she will throw away the rights and opportunities she has gained from her education.

Higgins lets her go, but it is obvious that underneath it all, he is as in love with Eliza as she is with him.


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