Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Pygmalion is a Greek name, probably going back to Phoenician roots. Pygmalion—or Pygmaion according to Hesychios of Alexandra—is probably a Cypriote form of Adonis, a Levantine vegetation-god. Bearers of the name include:
- Pygmalion, a king of Tyre, brother of Queen Dido of Carthage.
- Pygmalion, a mythical king of Cyprus, father of Metharme, grandfather of Adonis.
- Pygmalion, a 1912 play by George Bernard Shaw.
The Roman poet Ovid in the tenth book of his Metamorphoses tells a story of a sculptor who falls in love with a statue he has made. Pygmalion, son of Belus, was a lonely sculptor who carved a woman out of ivory. He prayed to Venus, the goddess of beauty and love, who took pity on him and brought the statue to life. Paphos was the product of the union between Pygmalion and the ivory statue.
George Bernard Shaw used the myth as the basis for his play, also called Pygmalion. It is the story of Professor Henry Higgins, a snobbish linguist who wagers that he can turn a Cockney flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, into the toast of London society merely by teaching her how to speak with an upper-class accent. In the process, he becomes fond of her and attempts to direct her future, but she rejects his domineering ways and marries a young aristocrat.
The original stage play shocked audiences by Eliza's use of a swear word. Humour is drawn from her ability to speak well, but without an understanding of the conversation acceptable to polite society. For example, when asked whether she is walking home, she replies, "Not bloody likely!" The actress Mrs Patrick Campbell, for whom Shaw wrote the role, was thought to risk her career by uttering the line.
In 1938, a non-musical film version of the stage play was released, starring Leslie Howard as Higgins, Wendy Hiller as Eliza, Wilfrid Lawson as her father Alfred Doolittle, Scott Sunderland as Colonel George Pickering, and David Tree as Freddy Eynsford-Hill. It was adapted to film by Shaw, W.P. Lipscomb , Cecil Lewis , Ian Dalrymple and Anatole de Grunwald from the Shaw play, and directed by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard. The movie was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.
The play, the stage musical, and the film musical have different endings. At the end of the play, Eliza leaves Higgins to marry the aristocrat. 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 together. In the stage musical, this is left unresolved, and the final scene is of a lonely Higgins. In the film version of the musical, the final scene closes with both of them apparently about to reconcile.
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