Caldbeck Players

 

Pygmalion

Pygmalion (1913) is a play by George Bernard Shaw based on Ovid's tale of Pygmalion. It tells the story of Henry Higgins, a professor of phonetics (based on phonetician Henry Sweet), who makes a bet with his friend Colonel Pickering that he can turn a Cockney flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, into a refined society lady merely by teaching her how to speak with an upper class accent and training her in etiquette. In the process, Higgins and Doolittle grow close, but she ultimately rejects his domineering ways and declares she will marry Freddy Eynsford-Hill, a poor but young gentleman.

Shaw wrote the lead role of Eliza Doolittle for Mrs Patrick Campbell (though at 49 she was considered by some to be too old for the part). Due to delays in mounting a London production and Campbell's injury in a car accident, the first English presentation did not take place until some time after Pygmalion premiered at the Hofburg Theater in Vienna on October 16, 1913, in a German translation by Shaw. The first production in English finally opened at His Majesty's Theatre, London on April 11, 1914 and starred Mrs Patrick Campbell as Eliza and Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree as Henry Higgins; it was directed by Shaw himself.

The Ending
Despite the intense central relationship between Eliza and Henry, the original play ends with her leaving to marry the eager young Freddy Eynsford-Hill. Shaw, annoyed by the tendency of audiences, actors, and even directors to seek 'romantic' re-interpretations of his ending, later wrote an essay for inclusion with subsequent editions, in which he explained precisely why it was impossible for the story to end with Higgins and Eliza getting married.

Subsequent adaptations have all changed this ending. Despite his previous insistence that the original ending remain intact, Shaw provided a more ambiguous end to the 1938 film: instead of marrying Freddy, Eliza apparently reconciles with Henry in the final scene, leaving open the possibility of their marriage. The musical version My Fair Lady and its 1964 film have similarly happy endings.

Trivia
Shaw's play shocked Edwardian audiences with Eliza's swearing in the line "Not bloody likely!". Campbell was considered to have risked her successful career by speaking the line.

Joseph Weizenbaum named his artificial intelligence computer program ELIZA after the character Eliza Doolittle.