Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw

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Mrs. Higgins's drawing room, the next day. Henry and Pickering arrive and while they are downstairs phoning the police about Liza's disappearance, Mrs. Higgins asks the chambermaid to warn Liza, taking shelter upstairs, not to come down. Mrs. Higgins scolds Henry and Pickering for their childishness and the careless manner in which they treated another human. The arrival of Alfred Doolittle is announced; he enters dressed fashionably as a bridegroom, but in an agitated state, casting accusations at Higgins. Doolittle explains at length how by a deed of Henry's he has come into a regular pension. His lady companion will now marry him, but still he is miserable. Where he once could "put the touch" on anyone for drinking money, now everyone comes to him, demanding favors and monetary support. At this point, Mrs. Higgins reveals that Liza is upstairs, again criticizing Henry for his unthoughtf ul behavior towards the girl. Mrs. Higgins calls Liza down, asking Doolittle to step out for a moment to delay the shock of the news he brings. Liza enters, politely cool towards Henry. She thanks Pickering for all the respect he has shown her since their first meeting: calling her Miss Doolittle, removing his hat, opening doors. ' The difference," Liza concludes, "between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves but how she's treated."

At this point, Doolittle returns. He and Liza are re-united, and all the characters (excepting Henry) prepare to leave to see Doolittle married. Liza and Higgins are left alone. Higgins argues that he didn't treat Liza poorly because she was a flower girl but because he treats everyone the same. He defends his behavior by attacking traditional social graces as absurd: "You call me a brute because you couldn't buy a claim on me by fetching my slippers," he says. Liza declares that since Higgins gave no thought to her future, she will marry Freddy and support herself by teaching phonetics, perhaps assisting Nepommuck. Higgins grows furious at Liza and "lays his hands on her." He quickly regrets doing so and expresses appreciation of Liza's newfound independence. At the play's curtain he remains incorrigible, however, cheerfully assuming that Liza will continue to manage his household details as she had done during her days of instruction with him.

Preface to Pygmalion. A Professor of Phonetics Summary

Shaw starts out telling his readers that the English are not speaking properly and do not teach their children to speak properly either. He believes that the English study other languages, but not their own. He pays tribute to Melville Bell, Alexander J. Ellis and Tito Pagliardini but holds none in higher regard Henry Sweet.

Sweet was not an amiable man and detested academics who did not respect his field of study. Shaw tried to foster Sweet's career, but the man wrote a libelous article so Sweet's career became tenuous. According to Shaw, Sweet continued to write accusatory and defamatory articles, but nothing he wrote could be published for some time. Sweet was not malicious for the sake of being that way; he was, in fact, impatient with silliness and stupidity.

According to Shaw, he alludes to Sweet in the third act of this play. Mrs. Higgins describes postcards done in Sweet's script. A discussion of shorthand methods follows: Sweet, of course, preferred his own, yet not many knew it. Sweet, in typical fashion, criticized other methods.

Shaw makes the point that Sweet is not Higgins in his play, although there are some similarities. Shaw laments the point that his own country and university, Oxford, did not appreciate his greatness, yet Europe did. According to the playwright, though, he understands the university's need for some appropriateness and discretion, and Sweet could not expect to be recognized when he did not abide by that.

G. Bernard Shaw hopes his play will make people aware that phoneticians exist and provide valuable services. He also hopes his play instructs, for he sees that as the job of literature. He wants readers to know that such a transformation that occurs in Eliza is possible if done "scientifically." In Shaw's opinion, untrained imitation of a dialect is far worse than an authentic course speech pattern.

Preface to Pygmalion. A Professor of Phonetics Analysis

Shaw takes the soapbox here, so to speak, just as he feels he does in his play. He sees literature as instructive, teaching a lesson. He shares with his readers the importance of proper pronunciation and speech patterns. He wants everyone to know of a Henry Sweet, whose abruptness kept him from phonetic greatness. He further shares that Sweet is not Higgins, a questionable assertion by readers after reading the brusque and oftentimes offensive personality of Higgins.

Act 1 Summary

It is 11:15 P.M. in London. People are running for cover from the rain, and cab whistles are echoing throughout the area. A woman and her daughter have found cover under the overhang of a church in Covent Gardens. The daughter introduces readers/audiences to her brother Freddie who has been gone some time looking for a cab. The daughter does not have much faith in her brother, but her mother defends the missing child. Someone nearby comments that a cab will be hard to find; most cabs have already gone to theatergoers.

Freddy, a young man of twenty joins his family and informs them that it is impossible to find a cab. He says that he had been to stations in two directions in search of a cab and could not find one. His sister questions how much effort he actually gave this search; the mother insults her son and orders him to search again.

Freddy darts into the rain and collides with a flower girl. Thunder and lightning mark the event. The flower girl tells Freddy to watch where he is going, calling him by name. The girl then picks up the flowers knocked known. She is about eighteen with dirty, unkempt hair and a hat soiled from London. Her coat is knee length and fitted at the waist. Under it, she has on a brown skirt and an apron. Her appearance reflects her life on the street, neglected and dirtied. Her teeth show the lack of care.

The flower girl asks the mother to pay for the strewn flowers caused by the son. She asks her daughter Clara for any pennies, but Clara only has a sixpence. The flower girl promises change, and the mother orders Clara to give her the money. The mother hands it to the poor girl and tells her to keep the change, but the mother does want to know how the flower girl knew Freddy's name. The dirty flower girl tells the mother that she just called the son any name to be pleasant. The daughter doubts this and believes her mother a fool. Clara moves away from the flower girl.

A military looking gentleman soon joins the waiting family. The mother commiserates with the gentleman regarding the weather, and the flower girl approaches him to buy some flowers. The gentleman does not have any change but manages to give the girl three halfpence. She is grateful, but a bystander warns her to give the man flowers because there is someone nearby taking down every word that is being said.

The flower girl panics and defends herself as "'a respectable girl'" creating a scene in her elevated tones. The surrounding group of rain dodgers try to hush her, some kindly, others rudely. Some believe the note taker to be a detective, and the flower girl begs the gentleman to defend her; she did nothing wrong. The bystander sees that the note taker is a gentleman by his boots and tries to reassure the flower girl. She is still convinced police are watching her, and the note taker tells her to shut up. She still cannot believe he means her no harm; she wants to know why he took down her words.

The note taker realizes he will have to show this girl what he has written, but she does not recognize anything. He then goes on to reproduce her words exactly. This upsets her even more, as she believes her use of the word "Captain" could result in charges against her. The gentleman intervenes on the flower girl's behalf, telling the note taker that the girl is innocent, and that the gentleman does not need protection from young women. A group of bystanders supports the flower girl against this seeming covert police activity. They escort her to the column base she started from, and the bystander, who noted the man's boots originally, calls the note taker "'a busybody.'"

The note taker astonishes the man by referring to his family in Selsey. The bystander wants to know how the man in the fine boots knows that and the note taker ignores him. Then the note taker turns to the flower girl and refers to her being born in Lisson Grove. She validates his assessment by saying that she had to get out of that filthy place, and begins to cry. The note taker tells her to stop, and the gentleman sympathizes with the girl. Another bystander challenges the note taker to identify his place of origin, and again the man taking notes is correct. This gains the interest of others, and the note taker continues his "performance" of identifying a variety of other people's origins. The gentleman asks the note taker if he is in fact a performer, and he responds that he has thought of it. While this goes on, the flower girl broods and talks to herself.

The note taker's ability to tell where each speaker is from entertains the crowd, and he grows in popularity. The flower girl resents this and says that he is no gentleman. The rain stops and Clara pushes to the front of the crowd in search of Freddy. The note taker identifies Clara's background, and the young woman tells him to keep his forward comments to himself. The note taker then correctly identifies where Clara's mother is from, and mother and daughter leave to get a motorbus.

Under the church portico remain only the note taker, gentleman and flower girl who is lost in tidying her flowers and self-pity. The gentleman is curious about the note taker's ability to identify where anyone is from and asks him how he accomplishes it. The note taker tells him that he teaches phonetics to those wishing to better themselves, and it is quite lucrative. While the two men speak, the flower girl is moaning and complaining about her recent experience with the note taker. The note taker tells her to shut up, that she can go elsewhere or cease to exist completely. He feels a betrayal to the language of great authors when he hears her speak. The flower girl makes a series of loud vowel sounds in wailing, and the note taker immediately takes them down.

The note taker then tells the gentleman that he could remake "'this creature with her curbstone English'" in three months. He further boasts that he could pass her off as royalty at a formal garden party and get her a job in service to lesser royalty, requiring formal English. The note taker tells the gentleman that he makes quite a comfortable living out of doing just this thing. The gentleman informs the note taker than he is himself a dialectician of Indian languages. This sounds somewhat familiar to the note taker, and he asks the gentleman if he knows the author Colonel Pickering. The gentleman happens to be that very man, and Pickering asks the note taker if he knows a Henry Higgins, another famous author and phonetician. The note taker identifies himself as that man.

They had planned to meet each other while Pickering was in London anyway, so they schedule an appointment for the next day at Higgins's address, 27A Wimpole Street. The two leave to have supper and the flower girl tries to sell flowers to Pickering, who has no change. Higgins calls the flower girl on her earlier offer of change, and the flower girl is angered by Higgins's exposure of her lie. She throws the basket at his feet.

The clock indicates that it is now 11:30 P.M., and Higgins is reminded of his Christian responsibility. He throws coins at the girl, who shrieks with delight. After the gentlemen leave, Freddy returns with the sought after cab. The flower girl tells him they have taken a bus, and she approaches the cab herself. The driver secures the door against her entry, and when she produces coins, he lets her in. She tells the driver to take her to Angel Court in Drury Lane. Freddy is amazed at this turn of events, securing a cab for a gutter rat.

Act 1 Analysis

The play's title is an allusion to Greek mythology. Pygmalion was a Cyprian king who was disgusted by the immorality of women, so he poured his affection into a beautiful marble statue. He prayed to Aphrodite, and she gave the statue life. Pygmalion married his beautiful "new" woman. This allusion foreshadows the play itself, the remaking of the imperfect into a more socially acceptable form.

Shaw establishes the setting as late night London in the rain. Two women, mother and daughter, have sought shelter from the weather in front of a church in Covent Garden, an area still known today for its markets. Freddie and his sister have a typical sibling relationship, one thinking the other inadequate. The flower girl contrasts the appearance of the two waiting women. The stage directions say, "[h]er features are no worse than theirs," indicating the superficial differences between the two classes.

The flower girl also represents an important lesson the playwright wanted to make in his writing. Her language is spelled phonetically, as best the apologizing playwright can. George Bernard Shaw wanted to convey to his readers, in particular, that language breaks down barriers of class, and proper speech should be taught. According to Shaw's "Prologue," "the play makes the public aware that there are such people as phoneticians, and that they are among the most important people in England at present, it will serve its turn." By refusing to continue spelling the flower girl's speech phonetically, Shaw is making the point that if it cannot be spelled phonetically and understood, it is no language at all. He stops spelling her crude speech that way and uses traditional phonetics to record her speech from this point on in the play.

It is in dealing with the flower girl that Shaw makes his case about crowds. They quickly shift from sympathizing with the flower girl to admiring the note taker for his entertainment provided. He is able to identify where people are from by listening to their speech. Shaw also makes an important point about human beings in this first act. In referring to the note taker, the flower girl says, "'He's no right to take away my character. My character is the same to me as any lady's.'" The flower girl, whose features "'are no worse than theirs'" (referring to the mother and daughter), is, according to the playwright, distinguishable only by a little dirt and language. That language, Shaw proposed in his "Prologue," is correctable, making markers of class distinction removable.

In this first act, Shaw introduces readers/audiences to the setting, several characters and the theme. The setting is an area in London where theatergoers gather to await transportation home. Knowing this area to be such, the flower girl taps into the rich theatergoers. She is in fact successful in this endeavor and in so doing, interacts with several of the key characters in this play.

The characterization of the flower girl herself begins in this act. She has poor language skills, is dressed commonly and is unkempt. Her character introduces a theme. She and her description convey that she is no different from others around her other than her language and superficial appearance. She makes the point that no one has the right to take away her identity, and she does not defend that identity. She shrieks for her rights.

The characterizations of Higgins and Pickering are also begun in this act. Higgins is an arrogant, impatient professional who baits his audience with his knowledge and performance skills. Readers/viewers learn he is a successful author and dialectician, as is Pickering. He is a much more patient and sensitive man as seen in his defense and interactions with the flower girl. The two meet in a chance encounter and leave at the end of this act to share a meal. Higgins propels the plot forward with his boast to remake someone with poor speech patterns.

The Eynsford Hills are also introduced in this act. They are a family who travel in upper social circles, and the daughter is impatient and arrogant. Readers/viewer do learn, however, that money is an issue for this family, something that will be relevant in the final acts. The symbolism of the thunder and lightning when Freddy Eynsford Hill runs into Liza represents a cosmic force that will intrude into their lives.

The theme of language being a barrier to social acceptance is seen in the flower girl's character, in particular her speech patterns. Her moral character is never in question nor is her attire, but it is her pronunciation of words that classifies her as poor and uneducated. In a time of post-industrialization in England where the old order of class still holds archaic values and perceptions, Liza represents a reeducated and trained element into that order. Her soon-to-be-acquired language skills guarantee her entrance into any social circle even though she continues to be penniless. The emerging industrialized middle class could benefit from formal speech instruction, such as Liza received.

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Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw iconThe Project Gutenberg ebook of George Bernard Shaw, by Gilbert K. Chesterton

Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw iconChakats © Bernard Doove/Chakat Goldfur used with permission

Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw iconSallie Bernard* Albert Enayati, B. S., Ch. E., M. S. M. E. Heidi Roger

Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw iconShaw College, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw iconCompiled and edited by Tony Shaw, Program Chair, Wilshire Conferences, Inc

Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw iconThis report compiled and edited by Tony Shaw, Program Chair, Wilshire Conferences

Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw iconJames P. Chambers1,*, Bernard P. Arulanandam1, Leann L. Matta2, Alex Weis3, and James J. Valdes4

Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw iconGeorge R. Jackson, M. D., Ph. D

Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw iconGeorge R. Jackson, M. D., Ph. D

Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw iconGeorge C. Kyriakos Journalism & Society

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