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1. George Bernard Shaw - his life & work

George Bernard Shaw was born on the 26th of July 1856 in Dublin. He was the third child of Geoge Carr Shaw and the seventeen years younger Lucinda Elizabeth Gurly. After Lucinda had to find out that her husband was an alcoholic, the marriage was condemned to fail. Neither one of them took care of the children and Lucinda left her family in 1873 for her career as a musician in London. Shaw stayed with his father and received the main part of his formal education at the Dublin Wesleyan Connexional School and at the Central Model Boys’ School before going to an estate agent’s office as a junior clerk. He quitt his job in 1876, the same day his sister died from Tuberculoses, to live in London with his mother. Shaws first efforts as a writer were hardly sufficient for living and his five first novels between 1879 and 1883 attracted little attention. Those like his first one called „Immaturity“ were later considered as interesting work of a famous playwright.In 1884 the Fabian Society was founded which was then becoming an influencial body in the spread of socialism. Shaw joined the society after he had become a socialist during his first years in London.In the following years, from 1885 until 1898 Shaw worked as a practice journalist doing reviews on books, and critics on art and music as well as writing for the Saturday Review.In 1892 he completed his first play „Widowers‘ Houses“ for production in the
Independent Theater Society. This one and the following ones did not get much attention in society, so it was also with „Mrs. Warren’s Profession“ (1894) which was banned from the stage for many years because of it’s links to prostitution.Four years later he got to know the affluent 39 year-old Charlotte Payne-Townshend. After building up friendship they married in 1898.Then in 1897 Bernard Shaw had his first real success with the production of „The Devil’s Discipline“ in New York.Followed, by outstanding plays like „Man and Superman“, „Candida“, etc. all played in the famous Court Theatre in London. From now on, he was considered the most played English playwright besides Shakespeare and he still is nowadays.After 1906 „The Doctor’s Dilemma“ he had a low of creativity but the year 1912 brought two of his best dramas, „Androcles and the Lion“ and „Pygmalion“ which had it‘s first performance on the 16th of October in 1913 in Vienna. It was said that he had a love relationship with the actress playing Eliza, Mrs. Patrick Campbell also know as Stella.By this time Shaw ordered that a part of his heritage should be invested in the developement of a phonetic correct alphabet for the English language, which should contain at least 40 letters.Besides his success with his plays George Bernard Shaw also engaged himself in things like the foundation of the magazine „New Statesman“ which was to become one of the leading papers of England.After the death of his mother and his sister in 1920 Shaw completed „Back to Methuselah“ on which he had worked since the end of World War I. He himself considered it his best play ever, next to „Saint Joan“ basing on the French heroine Jean D’Arc.Honoring his work Shaw received the Nobel price for literature in 1925 and the medal of the Irish Academy of Letters in 1934. This somehow concluded his life of a famous playwright. The last years of his life he spent travelling with his wife. Charlotte died on the 12th of September in 1943.George Bernard Shaw passed away at the age of 94 on November second in 1950. In keepsake, broadways lights were shut off for a couple of minutes to remember this genius.

2. „Pygmalion“

a) The storyline In general the play is about the transformation of the poor uneducated flower-girl Eliza Doolittle into a duchess-like lady. The phonetic expert Henry Higgins bets with his friend Colonel Pickering that he could turn anybody, no matter what dialect of lower class they speak, into a well-mannered person that speaks proper English. So they pick up the innocent cockney speaking Eliza of the street to start the experiment which will not work out as they expect it to... .

b) Historical background Shaw got the inspiration for the name of his play from Ovids „Metamorphoses“. It is about the women-detesting man Pygmalion who creates out of hatred a perfect woman out of stone. But then, of a sudden, he fell in love with her and asked Aphrodite, the goddess of love, to make her come alive. After she did so, Pygmalion called her Galatea and they married and were happy ever after.

c) Performances
The success of the play was for sure since the first performance in Vienna. Shortly after it was already translated into four languages. In the following years it didn’t lose its attractivity. Already in 1935 the first movie was filmed and since 1956 it is world famous as the musical „My Fair Lady“ by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe. But before it’s premiere this success was never thought of. Not just the problems of casting a fifty year old for the 18 year-old character Eliza, but differences between Shaw‘s and the director‘s methods of putting a play on stage. Beerbohm, the director, also wanted to change the end of the play to a happy ending other than Shaws authentic version. This happy ending is, by the way, one of the major differences between „Pygmalion“ and the musical „My Fair Lady“.

d) The subject of the play
Shaw also was already interested in phonetics before writing the play „Pygmalion“ in 1912. As I mentioned he ordered in his will that part of his money should be used to invent an alphabet for the English language with at least forty letters. He wanted „Androcles and the Lion“ to be translated into real English, the weird thing about this, is why he didn’t choose „Pygmalion“ itself.

In the preface of „Pygmalion“ he already gives some ideas about the necessity of reforming the English education in language. He points out the connection between way of speaking and class membership in thoses days. Social rise assumed taking over the way of speaking of the higher social class. His aim was a society without different social classes. All these critics on society Shaw weaves in with loads of humor. Shaw always tried to make his work educational and amusing at the same time. He once said „It is so intensely and deliberately didactic, and its subject is esteemed so dry, that I delight in throwing it at the heads of the wiseacres who repeat the parrot cry that art should never be didactic. It goes to prove my contention, that great art can never be anything else.“ This means, in easier words, great art has to be educational.

And in my opinion „Pygmalion“ is the best example of great art.

3. Audio of My Fair Lady, Picture book of the Musical

George Bernard Shaw and his play “Pygmalion“

1. George Bernard Shaw - his life and his work
    July 26th: Shaw was born in Dublin as the third child of Lucinda Elizabeth Gurly and George Carr Shaw.

1876 He quit his job to live with his mother in London
    First novel “Immaturity“

1884 Fabian Society founded, socialist Shaw joins it
    Works as a critic for theater and art

1892 Completion of his first play “Widowers‘ Houses“

1894 “Mrs. Warren’s Profession“ was banned from the stage because of links to prostitution

1897 First real success with “The Devil’s Discipline“
    Shaw married Charlotte Payne-Townshend

1905-1908 Further success with “Man and Superman“, “Candida“, “The Doctor’s Dilemma“, etc. at the Court Theatre in London
    Shaw became the most-played playwright next to Shakespeare
    First performance of “Androcles and the Lion“
    October 16th: First performance of his play “Pygmalion“ in Vienna; love affair with Eliza playing actress Mrs. Patrick Campbell a.k.a. Stella; Shaw took part in the foundation of the magazine “New Statesman“.
    Completion of “Back to Methuselah“, his best play according to himself next to “Saint Joan“
    Success with the first performance of “Saint Joan“ in Paris;
Shaw received the Nobel prize for literature.1934 Medal of the Irish Academy of Letters
    September 12th: Charlotte died
    November 2nd: George Bernard Shaw dies a natural death at the age of 94
Professor of phonetics Henry Higgins => picks up cockney speaking flower girl Eliza Doolittle from the streets => bet with Colonel Pickering to make a duchess out of her by changing her way of speaking
    Historical Background
Ovids “Metamorphoses“ : Pygmalion creates out of hate a perfect woman out of stone => falls in love with her=> asks Aphrodite to make her come alive =>“happy ending“
Problems with putting it on stage because of Shaw‘s visions; first performance in Vienna; first film in 1935; world famous as the musical „My fair lady“ by Alan Jay and Frederick Loewe since 1956;
    The subject of the play
Phonetics as the science to develop a real English; the need of a new alphabet;language as the ID card for social classes; criticism on class society by Shaw;didactic and at the time amusing as the real great art.
    Audio from „My Fair Lady“, the „happy ending“ version of „Pygamalion
 Nicole Boeck, 17.12.99  Sources: “G.B.Shaw“ by Armin Arnold; “English Literature“ by A.C. Ward; “Fremdsprachentexte“ published by Reclam