Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw - Book Review #108

Wednesday, November 3, 2010
by George Bernard Shaw

Written in 1912, Pygmalion quickly became a legend in its own time. The characters, situations, and dialogue Bernard Shaw supplies are rich, ebullient, and unmatched in wit as the infamous Henry Higgins prepares to "make a duchess of this draggletailed guttersnipe.”

Thus begins this classic tale as Shaw pokes fun at smugness and priggish conventionality. Who can forget professor Henry Higgins with his passionate interest in the science of phonetics and the improvement of British speech, or of course, poor Eliza Doolittle, who is one of the great heroines of the 20th century?

Get ready to enjoy the greatest Shaw romp of them all as Higgins prepares to transform a common flower girl into a creature "the king of England would accept as royalty.”

When I was around six years old, my mother took me to see Pygmalion for the first time. It was most likely my first adult play that I saw. At that time I didn’t know what Pygmalion meant, who was George Bernard Shaw and what was phonetics. I saw Pygmalion play countless times performed by different troupes. I saw different movie adaptations. And very fast the story became one of my favorites.

After each play we saw, while we were walking along the sea coast line in downtown, my mother told me something new about Pygmalion. It was from her I learned that phonetics was a study of human speech sounds. She was the one who told me that Shaw’s Pygmalion was loosely based on Ovid's tale about sculptor who created an ivory statue of a beautiful woman, fall in love with it and begged Venus to change the statue into the real woman. The more my mother was telling me about that play, the more I was falling in love with it.

However, I have never read Pygmalion until now. And I couldn’t deprive myself of this satisfaction, even though plays are not meant to be read – they are meant to be performed and watched. I remembered almost every line, I remembered even intonation with which actors were delivering that line and I still couldn’t stop reading or laughing. When I reached the end of the play, I was shocked that I actually didn’t remember the original ending of the play. The whole time, while reading, I was thinking about My Fair Lady’s variation of the ending. The whole time during fourth and fifth acts, I could not believe that Bernard Shaw will end his play the way I remembered; I could not imagine how could he, under such circumstances. And of cause he did not. Even though George Bernard Shaw wrote a story based on Ovid's tale, he added a feminist twist: at the end his beautiful statue refuses to be his creation.

This wit, enlightening and brilliant story has been entertaining generation after generation since its first production in 1914 and I believe it will continue doing so for countless more generations to come.


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