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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.
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
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
Shaw became the most-played playwright next to Shakespeare
First performance of “Androcles and the Lion“
Shaw received the Nobel prize for literature.1934 Medal of
the Irish Academy of Letters
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“
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
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
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