Pygmalion

The didactic purpose of Shaw's 'Pygmalion' College

Years before he became the greatest living writer of comedy, Shaw was an ardent social reformer. "My conscience", he once wrote, "is the genuine pulpit article; it annoys me to see people comfortable when they ought to be uncomfortable; and I insist on making them think..." Shaw's brand of socialism never won many converts, but his wit did shock people into thinking.

In 'Pygmalion' he finds a mouthpiece in the highly original character of Alfred Doolittle, a chimney sweep, who admits he is one of the "undeserving poor" and openly glories it. Just because he is undeserving, Doolittle demands that Professor Higgins pay him 5 pounds for using his daughter Eliza for experiments in phonetics. "I don't need less than a deserving man: I need more." For the suggestion, "Why don't you marry that missus of yours", Doolittle replies "I'm willing. It's me that suffers by it. I've no hold on her. I got to be agreeable to her...I'm a slave to that woman" Higgins is so amused by this paradoxical logic that he gives the undeserving Doolittle 5 pounds.

Shaw used detailed stage directions to retain a degree of control over the performance. For Shaw, unless a play has some “use”, it is without value. There is an acknowledged didactic...

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