Pygmalion written by Bernard Shaw, was first performed on stage with Rex Harrison as Henry Higgins. The reception of the audience during the play was of utmost disappointment due to the non romantic ending of the play, even though that was Shaws initial intentions. My fair Lady on the other hand is a musical based on Pygmalion, and the movie was shot in 1964 by director George Cukor. Although there are numerous similarities between musical and play such as the character interactions or how both of them portray social status, especially in the conclusion, the musical displays several contradictions in comparison to the movie.
Bernard Shaw wrote the play during an important moment in history, which was when women were starting to gain independence in the beginning of the 20th century. It is produced in 1914 which is when WW1 broke out and war time made it easier for women to find work, and soon after women got their independent vote in 1920. Thus Pygmalion has a strong sense of feminism and independence as one of the leading themes to guide the characters on, especially Eliza.
Eliza throughout the play is striving to prove how women should be independent and not rely on men in order to lead a life. Both movie and play shows us that when Higgins turns Eliza into a duchess, he didnt give her just class and status but he took her independence away because she is not fit to sell anything else. What happens now is that if Eliza doesnt marry she has no one to provide for her and Freddy is useless because he has no talent for making money. Thus Higgins indirectly limited Elizas opportunities making her dependent on men. And during the movie when she goes back to Higgins she loses power in her character. Even though it was of her own free will and not on necessity, she still loses the power she had before.
Pygmalion comes from a Greek Myth, Ovids narrative where a man called Pygmalion makes a sculpture of a woman called Galatea. Ovids original idea is that Galatea would be a worshipping monument to Pygmalion with a woman who refuses to be bound to a man who says that he has created her. Shaw in a way is flouting with Ovids original purpose due to all the inferences even in Pygmalion that Higgins maybe has feelings for Eliza, supporting Shaws proposal of a woman within a low rank to dominate and gain the love of a middle class man. However, whether Eliza loves him or not is a different matter.
On the other hand, Shaw has an ironic ending of Eliza marrying Freddy. So her independence goes straight into the gutter when she goes from being the subject of one man to another, because that is the only thing an upper class woman is supposed to do in her life, just like when Mr. Doolittle said I was free. He wants to return to the undeserving poverty instead of living as a rich man where everyone wants something from him, including his wife now wants to marry him.
What happens is that as a working class woman, Eliza had her own independence and was used to assert her own rights I wont stay here if I dont like and I wont let nobody wallop me!. Now, women in her position cannot sell flowers and she must sell [her]self into marriage, giving up her rights and being dominate by men.
As a second theme, Higgins is shown as a dangerous teacher to Eliza due to his mind broadening influence. Similar to the movie Dead poets Society, just like the teacher Mr. Keating, Higgins exerts a subversive influence on Eliza, with an encouragement to such an extent that he fills her heads with dreams that life cant give. His destructive influence although with best intentions at heart, if Higgins had done nothing, Eliza would not have moved classes. But now that he has given her attributes changing her social class, he creates expectations, illusions and taste to a dream which she cannot fulfill.
The consequence is that his actions creates these ripples which can disrupt society, because he is going against societys flow, just like Socrates, who was popular among young men, he gave ideas going against cities principles. For any person, not just a fictional character within a play, when someone doesnt have what they want, this creates frustration because there is no structure to support their dreams, and Higgins just like Mr Keating doesnt realize the consequence of his actions. So now Higgins created a situation where Eliza cant do anything else and is now only fit to sell myself.
This theme is also connected to another theme in the play such as social class and language, because Higgins gives Eliza her language, but as shown in the first meeting that Eliza has with Mrs. Higgins, she has a flawless English however lacks a decent background, manners and taste. Thus social class is a combination of all of these and Pickering is the one who gives her the rest of her social class in addition to the language given by Higgins. So language also has an important role as shown in Higgins song why cant the English? where he says that Eliza is condemned by every syllable that she utters.
In the year 300 b.c. Aristotle made it clear that a tragedy usually ends in death and a comedy ends in marriage. Throughout the play, Bernard Shaw leads the characters in believing that Eliza will end up marrying Higgins or someone with very great richness, when in fact, Shaw does not follow Aristotles rule and he breaks the whole build up of expectations that the audience had while watching the play. In contrast the film ends with Eliza entering Higgins room and his ending line is where the hell are my slippers so the film allows us to believe they dont get married, it only hints it, and that if they do, he will be a dominant person in their relationship. However when Shaw wrote the play, and the movie changes his initial reasons of writing the ending the way he did, Shaw wanted to show that people who dont marry, such as Higgins, arent disintegrated from their parents because they put their parents in high pedestals, which is also known as Oedipus tragedy.
Both endings in Pygmalion and My Fair Lady, seem to have an ending which is adapted to the main theme of the story, i.e. the film director and Shaw wanted to make different statements in their work. This leads to the assumption that the ending from Pygmalion is an ending that makes sense when seen that Shaws initial intention of having a play about feminism and independence, and at the same time the ending of My Fair Lady also makes sense because it is a Hollywood movie, like a Cinderella story with a romantic twist, shot in order to attract an audience.
Thus although the movie and play are the same story the focus placed on each one is on different themes which is what causes the alteration of the ending. This means that if My Fair Lady had a different ending, the addition of the songs such as rain in Spain and grown accustomed in the movie, which add a sense of romance, would be completely destroyed if both lovers werent able to conquer all of the issues between both of them.
In addition, the film director also placed an emphasis on different characters and evens than Shaw. Whilst Shaws play is on social concern, criticizing the way social classes judge others based on their accent, the films message is of an individuals life that if one tries hard enough a development may be achieved. Or during the film when they say that she needs the services of a dentist so that she can get used to live and speak like a lady, meaning that all that the film was concerned about was Elizas development and her climbing of steps on the social ladder. Not to mention that for the movies ending, an idealized Eliza is portrayed in order to appeal to the public: with a noble posture when dealing under pressure. Whilst in comparison to the play she does not show her sincere feelings as Shaw first wrote it.
However, even though when Eliza leaves Higgins in Pygmalions ending, although it follows through with the feminist theme, it is completely understandable why the audience for this play end the play with a feeling of dissatisfaction because after reading a whole play with a character such as Higgins who is hilarious at every speech, and at some point in the play makes you feel compassion for him, it is extremely infuriating when the main character goes off without him after a man who is in the play mainly for tempting Eliza and has no other part in play. All Freddie feels for Eliza is a platonic love and he writes her three pages every day, when Higgins actually shows true feelings for Eliza in his own disguised way.
In My fair Lady, when Eliza returns from the ball, she is crying and really afraid of what might happen to her in the future where am I to go, what am I to do which Higgins without any kind of respect throws her options like working in a florists shop or marrying someone. However none of these options satisfy Eliza. Then on the next day, it seems like it dawns on Higgins because he says where will you go, in Heaven`s name?, giving a sense that he realized that he would miss Eliza as shown in the song grown accustomed.
Even though she says quite firmly she would teach phonetics, it is obvious for the audience that teaching phonetics is not what she really wanted. So what the movie shows more clearly is that Eliza does indeed have options and that Higgins is afraid he will be without her. So what makes the ending of this movie such an attraction to the audience is that Eliza comes back to Higgins as a choice of her own and not as a need. Which is in fact exactly what Higgins likes: a person who makes their decisions based on rational thinking and not on weakness.
In conclusion the film has added and taken away certain characteristics of the play, but this does not mean that one is better than the other, it only means that the author and the director had different propositions in mind as to what they wanted to show their audience. One could say that the main obvious difference between the play and the movie are the songs.
The songs entertain the public and thus they are more appealed because it follows a movies characteristics of those days, in addition it emphasizes Shaws initial ideas of what the characters felt leading to the main themes of the play. For example when Eliza is in the market and she wished for comfort, warmth and chocolate. However the disadvantage is that the main theme of the play which is a criticism to high classes is lost, thus songs lose the main themes and makes the story appear more Hollywood like instead of being based on a book.
NOTES TAKEN FROM THE BOOK “PYGMALION” BY BERNARD SHAW AND FROM THE MOVIE “MY FAIR LADY”
Courtney from Study Moose
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