At the turn of 19th-20th centuries, the new types of dramatic conflicts began to appear in world drama. George Bernard Shaw was the first artist who felt the new ideas and implemented them in his famous works.
George Bernard Shaw is the outstanding English playwright, critic, novelist and civic leader; he was one of the best representatives of the “new drama” at the end of 19th - the first half of the 20th century. Inspired by Ibsen’s innovations, Shaw created his own, completely original theatrical aesthetics - an intellectual and realistic theater. Paradox was one of the favorite Show’s means of influence on the minds of the readers and viewers. Shaw has brought philosophy back into drama-philosophy in the sense of a certain freedom of the mind (Chesterson 244). Shaw was one of the greatest European intellectuals who underwent a complex ideological evolution. He was a witness of historical events such as the First and Second World Wars, the October Revolution in Russia, the Hitler’s coming to power, and each of them had a lively response not only in the theatrical works of Shaw, but also in speeches, articles and interviews. He has always been a political fighter. As a result of his activities, the English theater went completely the other way and again, as in Shakespeare’s time, was one of the decisive factors in the development of world theater arts. George Bernard Shaw died in 1950.
Pygmalion is one of the most famous and beloved by public Shaw’s plays. Written in accordance with the specific social problems of those times (Shaw has repeatedly emphasized that this play is didactic one), it is still relevant nowadays. The first and the main reason of such popularity of this play is that Shaw raised the sharp question concerning the social status of women, as well as gave this issue a special perspective that was essential to the feminist consciousness of the 20th century. On the other hand, with his characteristic irony, Shaw entered into a controversy with not only old patterns of thought, but with typical feminist illusions manifested till nowadays. What is more, Shaw offered his very realistic vision of the relationship between a man and a woman in the new social reality, which emerged in the 20th century.
Analyzing the historical period, it should be noted that turn of the 19th and 20th centuries was a period of activation of the women’s movement for their rights. It is called “feminine”, but actually it unites people of both sexes in the struggle for women’s equality. Both women in Europe and America did not have political as well as many other civil and economic rights.
The theme of female emancipation was important for many “New” drama theater representatives who aimed to raise topical social questions in their works; Ibsen in his Dolls` House was the first artist who rejected the existing social stereotypes. Shaw also consistently struggled for a women’s issue in world literature.
Pygmalion was first staged in London and New York in 1914, and published in 1916. In Pygmalion, George Bernard Shaw with his characteristic insight continues the theme of women’s emancipation as well as gives it a special twist, important for feminism of 20th and 21th centuries: connecting issues of economic independence of women and their role in the family. Shaw is the first who sees them in a very special perspective – finding a woman’s right to speak and her way out of silence and humiliation of slurred speech.
Shaw’s Pygmalion is imbued by a deep understanding of the meaning of the woman’s place in a society. It should be noted that the play shows how woman can possess her own mind and how she actively begins to develop reality.
Eliza, originally wanted just to improve her socioeconomic status, eventually finds herself as a complete person and builds her new human world. Such a conversion of the object into a subject, dumb statue into an independent woman, the miraculous birth of a new woman surpasses all the expectations; it appears in the play as an Ordinary Miracle. Indeed, Shaw empathizes that such “miracles” happen to thousands of people. Compared with Higgins, the character of Eliza, despite the comic description of her ignorance and lack of manner, is much more human than her mentor. She is naive and innocent. She understands her situation very well (Lihua 43).
Mugglestone confesses, “The Pygmalion myth in Shaw’s hands, predictably endowed with social meaning, becomes therefore not only a paradigm of social mobility, but also a paean to inherent equality, with its thesis that ‘a lady is only a flower-girl plus six months phonetic training, a gentleman only a dustman with money.’ Eliza’s education in the behavioral norms of the English upper classes, and in the markers, and particularly the linguistic markers, of superior social status, is as a result used as a means of exploring not only the potential for individual advancement in an ‘age of upstarts,’ but also, and more importantly, the very foundations of social equality and inequality, and the values and value judgments, the perceptions of worth and status, which come in turn to surround them” (Mugglestone 374).
It is significant that the play is not completed with “linguistic triumph” of Eliza at the ball, but when Eliza goes from her teachers. In these critical final scenes, in front of the audience, in fact, metamorphosis occurs.
Eliza naturally can not accept the fact that she is interesting no more to her teacher after the success, since she is not an object, but an important contributor to the event. She complains that Higgins is indifferent towards her. Higgins answer that he loves life and humanity, and Eliza is just a part of humanity in his house and offers to Eliza just good fellowship.
The Higgins’s speech strengthens her commitment to a free life; her new voice is heard quite clearly, finally, she expresses her position, which Eliza could not previously formulate. Now she determines her position, needs and desires clearly and distinctly. Eliza acknowledges that she is just simple and uneducated girl while Higgins is an educated gentleman, but, at the same time, this fact should not diminish her human dignity. “I know I’m a common ignorant girl and you a book-learned gentleman; but I’m not dirt under your feet. What I done (correcting herself) what I did was not for the dresses and the taxis: I did it because we were pleasant together and I come—came—to care for you...” (Shaw 246).
Higgins’s replicas serve as a catalyst for Eliza’s spiritual growth. Higgins is implicated as the reformer and seducer of Eliza Doolittle as Pygmalion reveals the fine line between philanthropy and predation. When he talks about burning Eliza’s clothes and buying her new ones, Higgins is ostensibly initiating the flower girl’s transformation. Eliza, however, reads his actions as those of a sexual predator, “You are no gentleman, you are not... I know what the like of you are, I do” (Marshik 327).
In a final scene, the leadership goes to Eliza. New Eliza is much more mature, wise and free than her teacher. This qualitative change Shaw expresses through the change of speech behavior of characters.
Eliza chooses marriage, and chooses a man who has no profession, but truly loves her. Eliza says to Higgins that Freddy is not adapted to work and she is habituated to it so in their family Eliza will work. The traditional distribution of gender roles in this scene is completely turned upside down; a woman becomes a worker. Moreover, Eliza is not going to return to the previous level of work that has always been considered as “feminine”; she says that now she is going to teach phonetics. “The interesting thing is that no matter how brilliant Eliza turns out to be and how dependent Higgins becomes on her in life, Higgins never thinks of himself as a possible choice for the girl. The image that Shaw portrays of Higgins is a self-centered and self-absorbed man who shows no interest in any other things but those that can be studied as a scientific subject. In dealing with women, Higgins never allows himself emotionally involved: he is, as Eliza says, a cruel tyrant, a man with no feeling” (Hongwei 338).
Now the characters are finally on equal terms: the play finally ends up with human equality. Eliza understood how to contact with Higgins, because he could not take her knowledge back, and in some ways, this woman exceeds a man, she just laments she was humiliated before him so long. “Since Eliza is regarded as the child and pupil, thus under the guidance and teaching of Higgins, she not only learns phonetics and manners, but also learns to find out her own “spark of divine fire”. So the play is not only the creation of a woman for man's preference, but also the creation of a soul for man's admiration and respect” (Lihua 42).
The image of Pygmalion becomes important in a play; it gets proper feminist meaning, because women from noble families were like the works of art. Looking at them, men just got aesthetic pleasure. Pygmalion created a statue and fell in love with her; Aphrodite turned her into a woman up to his request. Modern Pygmalion Higgins forgets about his limited role and thinks that he just creates a woman, but the new Galatea does not agree with the role of the living “art work” and she does not want to limit her presence by silent listening of men’s talk. “Eliza’s awakening of self-existence and self-respect comes from the oppression and contempt she receives” (Lihua 43). Discussion of impression, which she produces as a product of the male art, does not give her pleasure, but insults her. Eliza insists that she is not an object of male talent; she also succeeds in the self-creation as an individual. Eliza emphasizes that without her work, without her efforts Pygmalion could not handle the task to transform her into a perfect individual: the transformation is the result of co-creation of man and woman, their free human union. During this process, the teachers and pupil are connected by very important movable ties – both of them teach and learn.
The two main characters are described as a sharp contrast to each other. The man is learned, and the woman is ignorant; the man is intelligent, and the woman is stupid; the man is reasonable, and the woman is emotional, etc. (Lihua 42).
In conclusion, it should be noted that Show creates an image of society, which is in the face of great change before the 20th century. It is a society where poor girls change their socio-economic status, where an established class and hierarchical structure can change crucially, and Shaw repeatedly emphasizes this fact.
A play Pygmalion has become a special milestone in the development of women’s image. Eliza’s miraculous transformation is impressive. Shaw masterfully paints how difficult, and painful the process of birth of a new consciousness is. In fact, it is the process of determining of a new personality and its place in the world.