GEORGE BERNARD SHAW (1856- 1950)

He was born in Dublin, with him modern British drama begins. Shaw left school to work in an estate agent’s office and he wasn’t initially famous for his novels. He was concerned about social reforms, indeed he was one of the founding members of Fabian society (Fabian society, which believed in gradual reforms rather than violent revolution. Fabian society take its name from Quintus Fabius Maximus, the roman general called cunctator, who delays war).
He believed in a theatre of ideas in which social and political ideas were debated, where action is subordinated to ideas; Shaw’s plays are never boring because of his prose and the wit of dialogues with paradoxes and verbal puns. He admired the Ibsen’s plays, which talks about hypocrisy of middle-classes. This admiration is expressed in Shaw’s “The Quintessence of Ibsenism”. So Shaw used theatre as a tool for propaganda. He acquired success and in 1925 won the Nobel Prize for literature. Shaw’s first collection of plays were “Plays Unpleasant”, so called because talks about unpleasant facts with a dramatic power, it contains “Widower’s Houses” and “Mrs Warren’s Profession”. In the last the theme is prostitution, which either is a job, and so women have to enter in society, or it’s an evil, and its causes (poverty, ignorance) must be corrected. This play was banned from the public stage, but this is Shaw’s intent, to shock. He wrote “Plays Pleasant”, less shocking than Plays Unpleasant, but still in them Shaw talks about problems of that time, socialism, capitalism, alcoholism, science.. it contains “Arms and the Man”, “Candida”, “Caesar and Cleopatra” and “Major Barbara”. In this plays satire was tempered by humour as in Pygmalion.

PYGMALION
This is one of Shaw’s most popular plays, the title is taken from a Greek myth, Pygmalion was a sculptor who falls in love with an ivory statue of a woman, and gods turn her in a real woman. Now Pygmalion is the symbol of someone who shapes another person, his/her personality. Indeed the themes are: The manipulation of people and a criticism of British class system. It is a reflection on social conventions.
Higgins, a rich professor of phonetics, makes a bet with his friend Pickering, in six months he has to turn a flower-seller, Eliza Doolittle, in a gentlewoman by teaching her how to speak and how to behave, she just speaks Cockney, the London dialect. So she is taken by Higgins into his house, and she soon learns grammar, intonation, study of phonetics, good manners. Higgins and Pickering take her to a reception party at a London embassy but Higgins and Pickering don’t give her attention so she thinks Higgins is just interested to his experiment, and wants manipulate her so she marry Freddy, a young man met at the embassy. So Higgins by teaching her to speak and behave has lost his advantage over her.

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