Places: Pygmalion

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1912

First produced: 1913 (in German), 1914 (in English)

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Comedy

Time of work: c. 1900

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*London

*London. PygmalionIn the early twentieth century, London was the center of world commerce and the leading city of the democratic societies. However, for all its importance to world democracies, London was home to the British Empire and organized into a rigid class system, which permitted no crossing of boundaries. One of the chief means of enforcing such a system was categorizing people according to their language patterns. Pygmalion is about how a guttersnipe, Eliza Doolittle, overcomes the English class system by exchanging her Cockney accent for an upper-class English one with the help of linguistics expert Henry Higgins. During the course of the lessons, they fall in love with each other, but Higgins is never able to escape his own class sufficiently to reciprocate Eliza’s love.

*St. Paul’s Cathedral

*St. Paul’s Cathedral. Magnificent late seventeenth century church located located in Covent Garden, London’s entertainment and market district. St. Paul’s portico, at the entrance to the building, is a place where the different classes are permitted to mingle. There, Eliza encounters Higgins and decides to accept the challenge of changing her speech patterns.

27A Wimpole Street

27A Wimpole Street. Address of Henry Higgins’s Covent Garden home and speech laboratory, located in an upscale area. It comes to represent the place of learning where Eliza is reborn as a “lady,” with an entirely new habit of speech. Higgins assumes that Eliza will never leave Wimpole Street, but to his surprise she does leave him to marry a young man from fashionable Earls Court, the final proof of her transformation.

Mrs. Higgins’s home

Mrs. Higgins’s home. As a test of her new social skills, Higgins brings Eliza to his mother’s home in exclusive Chelsea. There, Eliza meets the Eynsford Hills, who, although poor, are nevertheless members of the upper crust residing in Earl’s Court. Freddy Eynsford Hill falls in love with her almost immediately. Mrs. Higgins’s home is also where Eliza passes her first test in a new social setting and where she ultimately rejects Higgins.

BibliographyBerst, Charles A. “Pygmalion”: Shaw’s Spin on Myth and Cinderella. New York: Twayne, 1995. An excellent source for students that examines the literary and historical contexts of the play and provides an intelligent and thorough interpretation tracing Eliza’s transformation into a woman and lady. Focuses on Shaw’s use of the Pygmalion myth and the Cinderella fairy tale.Bloom, Harold, ed. George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion.” New York: Chelsea House, 1988. A judicious selection of eight critical essays that represent major interpretations of the play. In his introduction, Bloom argues that Pygmalion is Shaw’s masterpiece. Excellent for students.Hornby, Richard. “Beyond the Verbal in Pygmalion.” In Shaw’s Plays in Performance, edited by Daniel Leary. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1983. Examines Shaw’s stagecraft and the performance qualities inherent in the play as a script. Goes beyond “the purely verbal or literary” qualities of the play to show how the visual and aural elements convey meaning.Huggett, Richard. The Truth About “Pygmalion.” New York: Random House, 1969. A fascinating narrative account of the original 1914 London production, in which “three of the most monstrous egoists the theatre ever produced” participated: actress Mrs. Patrick Campbell, who played Eliza; actor Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, who played Higgins; and Shaw himself.Silver, Arnold. Bernard Shaw: The Darker Side. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1982. A major part of this challenging and unconventional book on Shaw is a very thorough and complex psychological interpretation of Pygmalion that shows Shaw working out intense personal conflicts. Fascinating materials for more advanced students.
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