Pygmalion Historical Context• Pygmalion derives its name from the famous story in Ovids Metamorphoses, in which Pygmalion, disgusted by the loose and shameful lives of the women of his era, decides to live alone and unmarried. With wondrous art, he creates a beautiful statue more perfect than any living woman. The more he looks upon her, the more deeply he falls in love with her, until he wishes that she were more than a statue. This statue is Galatea. Lovesick, Pygmalion goes to the temple of the goddess Venus and prays that she give him a lover like his statue; Venus is touched by his love and brings Galatea to life. When Pygmalion returns from Venus temple and kisses his statue, he is delighted to find that she is warm and soft to the touch.
Contextual Knowledge• George Bernard Shaw- Born in 1856 and raised in Dublin. He was an Irish novellist and the Co-Founder of the London School of Economics.• He wrote as many as 60 plays and nearly all his plays have a vein of comedy running through them, this is particularly evident in Pygmalion through the use of Eliza’s exclamatories and Higgins’ clumsiness.
Plot Summary• The story begins with two old gentlemen meeting in a rainy Covent Garden. Professor Higgins is a scientist of phonetics, and Colonel Pickering is a linguist of Indian dialects. The first bets the other that he can, with his knowledge of phonetics, convince high London society that, in a matter of months, he will be able to transform the cockney speaking Covent Garden flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, into a woman as well-spoken as a duchess. The next morning, the girl appears at his laboratory on Wimpole Street to ask for speech lessons, offering to pay a shilling, so that she may speak properly enough to work in a flower shop. Higgins makes fun of her, but is seduced by the idea of working his magic on her. Pickering goads him on by agreeing to cover the costs of the experiment if Higgins can pass Eliza off as a duchess at an ambassadors garden party. The challenge is taken, and Higgins starts by having his housekeeper bathe Eliza and give her new clothes. Then Elizas father Alfred Doolittle comes to demand the return of his daughter, though his real intention is to hit Higgins up for some money. The professor, amused by Doolittles unusual rhetoric, gives him five pounds. On his way out, the dustman fails to recognize the now clean, pretty flower girl as his daughter.• For a number of months, Higgins trains Eliza to speak properly. Two trials for Eliza follow. The first occurs at Higgins mothers home, where Eliza is introduced to the Eynsford Hills, a trio of mother, daughter, and son. The son Freddy is very attracted to her, and further taken with what he thinks is her affected "small talk" when she slips into cockney. Mrs. Higgins worries that the experiment will lead to problems once it is ended, but Higgins and Pickering are too absorbed in their game to take heed. A second trial, which takes place some months later at an ambassadors party (and which is not actually staged), is a resounding success. The wager is definitely won, but Higgins and Pickering are now bored with the project, which causes Eliza to be hurt. She throws Higgins slippers at him in a rage because she does not know what is to become of her, thereby bewildering him. He suggests she marry somebody. She returns him the hired jewelry, and he accuses her of ingratitude.• The following morning, Higgins rushes to his mother, in a panic because Eliza has run away. On his tail is Elizas father, now unhappily rich from the trust of a deceased millionaire who took to heart Higgins recommendation that Doolittle was Englands "most original moralist." Mrs. Higgins, who has been hiding Eliza upstairs all along, chides the two of them for playing with the girls affections. When she enters, Eliza thanks Pickering for always treating her like a lady, but threatens Higgins that she will go work with his rival phonetician, Nepommuck. The outraged Higgins cannot help but start to admire her. As Eliza leaves for her fathers wedding, Higgins shouts out a few errands for her to run, assuming that she will return to him at Wimpole Street. Eliza, who has a lovelorn sweetheart in Freddy, and the wherewithal to pass as a duchess, never makes it clear whether she will or not.
Professor Henry Higgins• Henry Higgins is a professor of phonetics who plays Pygmalion to Eliza Doolittles Galatea. He is the author of Higgins Universal Alphabet, believes in concepts like visible speech, and uses all manner of recording and photographic material to document his phonetic subjects, reducing people and their dialects into what he sees as readily understandable units. He is an unconventional man, who goes in the opposite direction from the rest of society in most matters. Indeed, he is impatient with high society, forgetful in his public graces, and poorly considerate of normal social niceties--the only reason the world has not turned against him is because he is at heart a good and harmless man. His biggest fault is that he can be a bully.• What is the character’s original status?• The first time we meet Higgins hes acting as a combination of street magician/peacemaker. He calms down Eliza, then proceeds to show off his skills by telling people where theyre from just by listening to the sound of their voice. Right from the beginning we can tell hes a bit of a braggart and a bit of a preacher – he cant help but tell Pickering all about his trade, his life philosophy, and his ability to turn flower girls into duchesses.• What is the character seen to be struggling against or to achieve in his/her life?• One also detects changes in Higgins or to be more precise he appears to the reader in a new light at the end. This is seen when he tells Eliza that he has grown accustomed to seeing her face and hearing her voice. This is not much of a sensitive display of emotions but it is quite different than the savage invective he hurled at her at the beginning of the play in Covent Garden and the alk with his mother where he referred to all young women as ‘idiots’.
• Eliza Doolittle "She is not at all a romantic figure." So is she introduced in Act I. Everything about Eliza Doolittle seems to defy any conventional notions we might have about the romantic heroine. When she is transformed from a sassy, smart-mouthed kerbstone flower girl with deplorable English, to a (still sassy) regal figure fit to consort with nobility, it has less to do with her innate qualities as a heroine than with the fairy-tale aspect of the transformation myth itself. The real reconstruction of Eliza Doolittle happens after the ambassadors party, when she decides to make a statement for her own dignity against Higgins insensitive treatment. This is when she becomes, not a duchess, but an independent woman; and this explains why Higgins begins to see as a creature worthy of his admiration.• What is the character’s original status?• Eliza’s original status is a poor kerbstone flower girl with abysmal English from the streets. Shaw uses her frequently to present a comic sense this is exemplified through her frequent exclamations, "Garn!" and "Im a good girl, I am," and most notably her performance at Mrs. Higginss party which are all used to Shaw with the specific function of making the reader laugh.• What is the character seen to be struggling against or to achieve in his/her life?• Throughout the play I think it would be fair to say that we have empathy for Eliza as it is evident how hard she is trying to achieve her goal of sophisticated manners and eloquent language and some might argue that she faces a continued struggle against her initial persona This struggle is portrayed towards the end of the play, here despite Eliza having experienced all of Higgins’ training she begins to start again with the ‘darn’ howling. This conveys the continuous struggle that she faces against her initial character.
Quotes• 1.) THE FLOWER GIRL [springing up terrified] I aint done nothing wrong by speaking to the gentleman. Ive a right to sell flowers if I keep off the kerb. [Hysterically] Im a respectable girl: so help me, I never spoke to him except to ask him to buy a flower off me. Theyll take away my character and drive me on the streets for speaking to gentlemen.• Shaw portrays Eliza to convey extreme insecurity about her own identity and character here. She fears that even the smallest offense will lead people to look at her and treat her differently.• 2.) LIZA. No: I dont want no gold and no diamonds. Im a good girl, I am. [She sits down again, with an attempt at dignity]• Eliza attempts again to define herself in contrast to stereotypes. She wants to make it clear that shes not simply looking for handouts; still, its hard for her to look dignified in her dirty clothes.• 3.) HIGGINS [with dignity, in his finest professional style] You have caused me to lose my temper: a thing that has hardly ever happened to me before. I prefer to say nothing more tonight. I am going to bed. (4.89)• Higgins, so used to being in control, he is disappointed and frustrated to find himself losing hold of his emotions. He, the transformer, has become the transformed, if only momentarily.• 4.) LIZA [pulling herself together in desperation] What am I fit for? What have you left me fit for? Where am I to go? What am I to do? Whats to become of me? (4.60)• Having achieved her goal and won the bet, Eliza finds that her metamorphosis has left her confused. Having just "become" something new, she is already afraid of what will come next.
Contextual Knowledge• Tom Stoppard- born 1937 and raised in Singapore, against a backdrop of the outbreak of World War 2 and the rise of the Third Reich and the anti-semitic values that they brought. It was this anti semitism which was the reason for his family’s sudden move from Czechoslovakia to Germany. Before the Japanese occupation of Singapore, Stoppard, his brother and his mother were sent to live in Australia, Stoppard’s father died whilst he was in Australia when Stoppard was just 4 years old.• While Stoppard was in Germany in 1964, Tom Stoppard wrote a short, one act play titled Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Meet King Lear. Later on in 1966 Tom Stoppard revised the play into Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.
Plot Summary• Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead opens with the two self titular characters flipping a coin with the outcome continuously resulting in heads. The two men ponder this dilemma evaluating many different possibilities of why this has occurred. As the two break from the coin toss game they begin to wonder how they got to the place they are currently at and can only come up with the conclusion that they were sent for by a messenger. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern encounter a group of actors called the Tragedians, led by the Player, who want the men to pay them for a show. The Tragedians parallel the line between real life and acting, something that becomes a common motif in the story.• The play changes rather drastically and the two men are now in the presence of Hamlet and Ophelia who are in the royal castle of Denmark. The two men are mistaken for one another by Claudius while he explains why they were sent for which is to find out what is bothering Hamlet. The two men decide that in order to understand what is bothering Hamlet, they are going to have to trick him with intricate word games. In order to prepare themselves they play a word game using the rules of tennis. One of them then pretends to be Hamlet and the other questions him, but to still find no insight as to why Hamlet has gone insane. They are met by Claudius and they inform him that they have no idea if Hamlet is crazy or not. They then continue to think about Hamlets mental state, but then begin wondering about death and what happens after it.• Rosencrantz and Guildenstern then ponder on how to reveal the truth of Hamlets matter and remain in a confused state where they cannot decide if Hamlet is insane or not. The two men are then invited to a play performed by the Tragedians which the reader discovers is a reflection of Claudius and Gertrudes affair. They also witness two spies (dressed just like themselves) die during the play. These deaths foreshadow their death later in the play.• The next scene begins with Claudius telling the two titular characters to depart to England with Hamlet to continue their investigation of Hamlets mysterious case. On the boat ride to England, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern contemplate where they are going and how their journey arisen. They begin talking about what will happen once they get to England and the letter given to them is opened in the process. They read it and see that it instructs the king of England to kill Hamlet. They decide that they should not tamper with what is destined to happen and decide to deliver the letter. Hamlet however switches the letters once they fall asleep. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern wake up to find that the letter instructs the King of England to instead execute the two, of which the characters seem to be oblivious to when Hamlet switched the letters. Horrified, the characters seem to question why life has come to this before the scene ends. Horatio ends the play with the speech he gives at the end of Hamlet.
Rosencrantz• Rosencrantz is definitely the more relaxed of the two, happy to continue flipping coins with little concern about the possible implications of their pattern of landing heads up. Rosencrantz spends a great deal of the play confused by both what is happening around him and Guildenstern’s reactions to their situation, but he rarely engages in the overt despair that is a characteristic of Guildenstern. Rosencrantz is pragmatic and seeks simple and efficient solutions to the pair’s problems rather than philosophical explanations to them, a trait that leads Guildenstern to believe that his friend is complacent and unwilling or unable to think seriously and deeply.• Rosencrantz reveals himself to be more complicated than Guildenstern believes, however, and his apparently straightforward attitude of pragmatism and bewilderment peels back to reveal deeper feelings, both positive and negative. Despite their continued frustrations and problems, Rosencrantz does not lose sight of Guildenstern’s feelings, and he awkwardly tries to cheer his friend up by offering him the opportunity to win several easy bets. Rosencrantz also tries to help Guildenstern in a more serious and sophisticated way by encouraging him to find personal happiness and to soldier on in the face of apparent chaos. Rosencrantz’s positive attitude is not the limit of his feelings, and twice he feels terror at the realization of his own mortality. First, he gets afraid during his discussion of what it would be like to be in a coffin. Later, at the end of the play, he feels fear as he realizes that he is about to die. Rosencrantz may not be an actively philosophical man like his friend Guildenstern, but he is nevertheless capable of sensitive thought.
Guildenstern• On the surface, Guildenstern seems to be the complete opposite of his friend Rosencrantz. Guildenstern is more anxious than Rosencrantz about the strange circumstances in which they find themselves, beginning with his deep concern about the coin-flipping episode. Unlike Rosencrantz, Guildenstern wants desperately to understand their situation, and he tries to reason his way through the incidents that plague them. Guildenstern’s belief that there is a rational explanation for their predicament leads him to sudden bursts of emotion as he grows increasingly frustrated by his inability to make sense of the world around him. Guildenstern’s frustration is heightened by what he sees as Rosencrantz’s jovial indifference, and he lashes out at his friend on several occasions. Guildenstern’s angry despair reaches its peak near the end of the play. His realization that he and Rosencrantz are about to die without having understood anything leads him to attack the Player in a fit of fury and hopelessness.• Guildenstern is not simply a blend of rationality and passion. Subtle gestures within the play show him to be capable of compassion and sympathetic understanding. Although Guildenstern is certainly angry at Rosencrantz at numerous points, he quickly consoles and comforts his friend when the need arises. After arriving at Elsinore and becoming even more confused by Claudius’s reception of the pair, Guildenstern soothes a tongue-tied Rosencrantz and promises him that they will be able to return home soon. Similarly, after belittling Rosencrantz for failing to say anything original when they are onboard the ship to England, Guildenstern recognizes his friend’s suffering and promises him that everything will turn out okay. Though he often acts as if he would rather be alone than be with Rosencrantz, Guildenstern’s final speech in the play has him alone onstage, turning to look for his friend, unable to tell which one of them is which.
QuotesGUIL: But why? Was it all for this? Who are we that so much shouldconverge on our little deaths?(In anguish to the PLAYER) Who are we?PLAYER: You are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Thats enough.GUIL: No-it is not enough. To be told so little-to such an end- and still,finally, to be denied an explanation...•At this moment, the audience sympathizes with Rosencrantz andGuildensterns predicament. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have beentreated as nothing more than objects or plot devices: useful inachieving the goals of the play, but given no distinct identity. Havingbeen denied the dignity of meaning, Guildenstern lifts his voice inprotest, but his objections fall on deaf ears. The Player answers hisplea with an almost cruel brevity, and ultimately their fates areunchanged.