Communication in Pygmalion by Bernard Shaw

I will be analysing if it would make a difference if Pygmalion would have been written in a different time, for example the twenty-first century. In this task, I will compare the language used by different classes, and how some language wasn’t accepted back then but might be accepted now, and I will compare some of the historical events that happened between the time that Pygmalion was written in and nowadays. Furthermore, I will explain how marriage has changed over the years.

Last, I will explain how feminism would change the way Pygmalion would have been written.

People change. Language changes. During the past century, language has become much more informal. There is less focus on style or being fancy, but more on getting your point across easily. While some ways of communicating is still formal, like writing an email to a boss or writing a letter to an employer, small talk has seen the biggest hit.

In the play ‘Pygmalion’, small talk is the most used form of communicating.

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Therefore, the differences would be huge if it was written in today’s time. For instance, a big change would be found in the way language is used. In the past century, language has become much more informal. There are still differences in language used in lower class and upper class, but those differences have changed severely. Correct language is no longer based on class. So if this play was written today, the focus on correct language by Higgins and Pickering would be less.

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They would focus more on getting rid of an accent or to ‘tidy up’ someone’s speech.

THE NOTE TAKER: “You see this creature with her kerbstone English: the English that will keep her in the gutter to the end of her days. Well, sir, in three months I could pass that girl off as a duchess at an ambassador's garden party. I could even get her a place as lady's maid or shop assistant, which requires better English. That's the sort of thing I do for commercial millionaires. And on the profits of it I do genuine scientific work in phonetics, and a little as a poet on Miltonic lines.” (Act 1. Line 129.)

In this quote, the note taker explains how Eliza gets to know higher class English in order to be a shop assistant. If this was written today, Higgins would focus on speaking a language without an accent or focussing on removing street language. Instead, Higgins focusses on changing how Eliza speaks entirely, as there is a difference between lower class English and upper class English.

Feminism has played a key role in the development of the western society. ‘Pygmalion’ shows the difference in classes very well, by telling the story of the character Eliza. Eliza is a girl from the lower classes, who wants to start a flower shop. She unfortunately does not have the money to start a business. She runs into Higgins and Pickering, who are willing to help. Higgins teaches all kinds of skills to Eliza, with great success. The only problem now is that Eliza is not fitting in either of the classes. She is too well mannered for the lower class, but can’t climb up the ladder to the upper class.

THE FLOWER GIRL: [springing up terrified] “I ain't done nothing wrong by speaking to the gentleman. I've a right to sell flowers if I keep off the kerb. [Hysterically] I'm a respectable girl: so help me, I never spoke to him except to ask him to buy a flower off me […] They'll take away my character and drive me on the streets for speaking to gentlemen. They’ll take away my character and drive me on the streets for speaking to gentlemen” (Act 1. Line 59.)

In this quote, Eliza gets thinks she will be charged with prostitution by speaking to a gentlemen, while she only wanted to sell flowers. In this situation, women are not seen equal to men. Men have the power to take away her home and her belongings, while the woman has no way to prove she is right. Women have gotten much more power since then, and equality is almost completely realised. If this play was written in this current time and day, we would see a major difference. The classes that we can find in ‘Pygmalion’ would have changed, and the difference between men and woman would have been non-existent.

Marriage is still an important thing for most people. A century ago, marriage was so important for women, as they did not have many choices or career paths. If a woman had an opportunity to move up the social ladder, even by a small bit, they would take it. Eliza marries Freddy so she can enjoy social security and enjoy life. This does however come at a cost, as she can no longer own a flower shop. Nowadays, this would be unheard of in modern western society. Women have their own say and their own needs. It is true that young women sometimes marry rich men, but this is only if they are very wealthy. A woman in current society has much more opportunities and chances to move up in life compared to a century ago.

LIZA [looking fiercely round at him] I wouldn't marry YOU if you asked me; and you're nearer my age than what he is.

HIGGINS [gently] Than he is: not 'than what he is.'

LIZA [losing her temper and rising] I'll talk as I like. You're not my teacher now.

(Act 5. Line 232-34.)

I'll marry Freddy, I will, as soon as he's able to support me. (Act 5. Line 252.)

In this quote, Eliza says that she does not want to marry Higgins, even though he is closer to her age than Freddy. Higgins is correcting her language again, but she is resisting. This can be related to women getting more power and not accepting everything a man says to them.

In conclusion, Pygmalion would have been very different from what it is now if it had been written in a different time. First of all, social inequalities have decreased over the years by implementing a welfare state, so differences between classes are less. Second, the position of Eliza would be stronger. Women have much more power due to feminist movements, which would have elevated her position in society.


  • Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. Austria, Vienna, October 16th 1913.
Updated: Jan 24, 2022
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Communication in Pygmalion by Bernard Shaw essay
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