“Pygmalion”, a play by George Bernard Shaw was first presented on the stage in 1913. The play is about a young cockney flower girl that is transformed into a lady by the phonetics professor Henry Higgins. Eliza Doolittle wants to improve her life and social standing, so when she overhears two gentlemen challenging each other about the importance of dialect in the social standing of people. Henry Higgins wagers Colonel Pickering that he could take a girl like a flower girl near them, and transfer her into a duchess in a short time.

When Eliza Doolittle, the flower girl, hears the bet, she decides to take them up on it. She goes to the house of Professor Higgins the next morning and offers to pay him to teach her to speak clearer so she can upgrade herself from selling flowers on the street corner to working in a flower shop. Pickering agrees to pay for her expenses while the two of them take her on as an experiment in social reform. When they are finished, the take Eliza to a party where she is a huge hit, and fools many people into believing she is a lady. But, when the experiment is over, she wonders where she will fit in society.

Since Higgins has never thought about her leaving and has become accustomed to where she fits into his life, he takes her for granted.
But, as a strong and independent woman, she leaves his house. When the play ends the viewers are still not quite sure whether he will win or she will as they meet on more even ground.

Book Summary

Act I

Pygmalion opens to a heavy thunderstorm late at night. A variety of London residents is sheltered under the portico of St. Paul’s church in Convent Garden. Poor and rich alike are sheltered together while the more affluent residents try to ignore the poorer residents, a flower girl still tries to sell her wares to them. A harried young man is sent to find a taxi for his mother and sister. While he passes by the flower girl he knocks over her flower basket and she calls to him to watch where he is going. Since she calls him Freddy, which is his name, his mother pays her for some flowers and asks how she knows his name. But she tells her that the name is a common word she would have used for anyone.

The flower girl tries to sell her flowers to an older military gentleman, and while he is giving her some change a friend of hers warns her that another man is looking at her and taking notes about her activities. The friend thinks he may be a police informer. This leads the flower girl to hysterical protestations. The listeners become very angry and hostile towards the note taker. They accuse him of being an undercover cop. But, each time someone speaks up, he has the ability to place the person’s home location simply by listening to their accent. The viewers become more and more interested in this ability.

When the rain clears almost everyone leaves. The note taker, gentleman and flower girl are still there. The gentleman asks the note taker how he performed his act. He replies that it is phonetics or the science of speech. The note taker brags that he could make a duchess out of a flower girl with the use of phonetics. The note taker introduces himself as Henry Higgins and the gentleman is Colonel Pickering. They are both scholars of dialects and have been hoping to meet for a while. Before the two men can leave the flower girl convinces Higgins to give her some change and when he does she is pleased to discover it is enough to take a taxi home. It is the same taxi that Freddy brought for his mother and sister, who he is surprised to find left without him.

Act II

The next morning Higgins and Pickering are resting after a long night of talking about their shared interests. The flower girl, Eliza Doolittle arrives at the door and surprises the two men and Higgins’ housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce. Eliza has come for lessons. She wants to pay Higgins to teach her how to talk like a duchess so she can have a more genteel manner of speech. Her dream is to work in a flower shop instead of selling flowers on the street corners. He bragged the night before about his abilities and she plans on calling him on his blustering. Higgins alternates between laughing at her and threatening her. When he threatens to beat her with a broomstick, she begins to howl and screech. This noise upsets Pickering who steps in and is kinder. He tries to be considerate of her feelings and calls her Miss Doolittle and offers her a seat.

Pickering is interested in the idea of teaching Miss Doolittle. He finds the experiment fascinating. So, he bets Higgins that if he can make Eliza appear as a duchess by the Ambassador’s Garden Party. If Higgins is able to pull this off, Pickering agrees to pay the expenses. The two men go back and forth on how to train her, while Mrs. Pearce tries to convince them on the impropriety and Eliza goes between being insulted and interested. Whenever she becomes indignant and threatens to leave Higgins stuff her mouth with chocolate. Since she accuses him of trying to poison her with the chocolate, he eats the other half. Finally, they agree that Higgins will spend the next six months teaching proper speech and manners of a high-class lady. The first step is a bath. Eliza is led upstairs for a bath by Mrs. Pearce.

While the women are away, Pickering talks to Higgins about his intentions toward the young woman. Higgins reassures him that he has no interest in women least of all her. Mrs. Pearce returns and admonishes him on his language and table manners while entertaining an impressionable young woman.

Alfred Doolittle, Eliza’s father, enters. He has learned about his daughter’s plans from a neighbor and is using the excuse of defending his daughter’s honor to meet with Higgins. When Higgins tells him to go ahead and take his daughter, Doolittle reveals that he is actually there for five pounds. He proudly promises to use the money for instant gratification putting none of it in savings, which is useless. The man’s blustering and rhetoric amuse Higgins, who gives him more money. Eliza enters the room then. She is clean and dressed in a blue kimono. The men are amazed at the change and her father doesn’t recognize her. She is so happy with her transformation already that she wants to go to her old neighborhood and show off. The two men agree that they have a difficult task before them.


Higgins shows up at his mother’s house for her at – home day. His mother is not pleased to see him because she fears his eccentric activities will embarrass her when her friends visit. He tells her about Eliza and wants to bring the girl to his mother’s house. Before she can deny him, Mrs. and Miss Eynsford arrive. The two women were in the first act with Freddy, who arrives with Colonel Pickering.

Before Higgins can offend the group with a discussion on his belief that they are all savages who are completely uncivilized, Eliza is announced. Her studied grace and pedantic speech make a positive impact on the group. All is going well until Mrs. Eynsford mentions influenza. The brings Eliza to mention her aunt who died of the disease. She becomes so involved in the subject that she has a slip of her accent and reveals personal facts such as her father’s alcoholism. Freddy is dazzled by her and thinks her slip is the “new small talk.” He is obviously besotted. When it comes time to leave he offers to walk her when she replies that she will only go by taxi. Mrs. Eynsford leaves, but her children stay a bit longer. Miss Eynsford, Clara, tries to imitate some of Eliza’s speech.

After the guests leave, Mrs. Higgins berates her son on behalf of Eliza. She tells him that Eliza will never become presentable while she is living with him and his constant swearing. She wants to know more about the conditions Eliza is living under and berates the men further on playing with their live doll. The two men try to assure her with stories of the improvements Eliza had made, but she stops them. She tries to point out to them that they must accept the responsibility of what to do with the girl when the experiment is over and she doesn’t fit into to any set class. They refuse to listen to her warnings and as they are leaving she is exasperated with the obstinacy of men.

Act IV

When Higgins, Pickering, and Eliza return to Higgins’ home they discuss the night. They feel the success of the experiment. Higgins is looking for his slippers that he seems to misplace often. Eliza knows where they are and she brings them to him, but he doesn’t notice. Neither of them notices her as they speak about her. The men agree that they are glad the experiment is over, the last few months have become boring. As the two men leave to go to bed, Eliza becomes hurt and angry at their thoughtless words. The stage direction is that Eliza’s beauty becomes murderous.

Henry Higgins enters again, still looking for his slippers. Eliza has become so angry that she throws the slippers at his face. She is furious and tells him that she is no more important to him than his slippers. He accuses her of being ungrateful and over confident. She admits that although she has not been mistreated, she is left unsure of what is to happen to her now that the bet is over. He replies that she could get married or open the flower shop she had talked about. She replies that she was better off where she was. At least she didn’t know any better. She asks him if the clothes she wears are hers so she can know what to take and not be accused of stealing. Higgins is hurt and furious. He angrily tells her to take everything but leave his jewelry as it is on loan. When he tries to leave, she realizes she has finally gotten through to his feelings and has hurt them, so she digs deeper.

She calls him back and slowly removes the jewelry she is wearing. She tells him to take them with him so they will be safe with him and there will be no reason to accuse her of stealing any of them. Then she removes a ring he bought for her and gives that to him, too, saying that she doesn’t want it. He angrily throws it in the fireplace and stomps from the room. She is glad to have hurt him as much as he hurt her. After he leaves she removes the ring from the fireplace and places it on the dessert stand before she leaves the room.

Act V

The next day Higgins and Pickering arrive at the home of Mrs. Higgins. They are shaken and upset because Eliza left during the night. The parlor maid enters the room where Mrs. Higgins is writing a letter to tell her that her son and Colonel Pickering are downstairs and are using her phone to call the police. She tells Mrs. Higgins that Henry Higgins seems to have lost something. She tells the maid to show them into her and tell Miss Doolittle to wait upstairs until she calls for her.

Henry is “in a state”. He impatiently tells his mother that Eliza left. When he went to bed, she was supposed to turn off all the lights, lock the doors and settle everything and then go to bed. Instead, she changed clothes and left. His bed did not sleep in. Then she returned at seven in the morning and packed up all her clothes. Higgins is quite angry that Mrs. Pearce just lets her leave in a cab. When Mrs. Higgins learns that they called the police to find her, she is aghast. Pickering tells her that the inspector was more interested in what they were doing with her and why they want to force her to return. Mrs. Higgins agrees with the inspector and reminds them that Eliza is allowed to leave whenever she wants.

The parlor maid comes in again to announce a Mr. Doolittle. Pickering asks the maid if she means the dustman, but she corrects him by saying the man is a gentleman. Henry becomes excited. He thinks that this is a relative Eliza never told them about and she must have gone to him for comfort. Higgins excitedly tells the maid to send the man in.

In walks Eliza’s father. He is dressed in a fashionable suit with a top hat and new shoes. He stomps over to Henry, ignoring Mrs. Higgins. He blames his new life on Henry. He was happy in his old life. Higgins had been so entertained by Mr. Doolittle’s outlook on morals that he jokingly wrote a letter of recommendation to an American who wanted to give five million pounds to found Moral Reform Societies all over the world. The man had wanted Higgins to invent a universal language for him. Higgins states that the man’s name was Ezra D. Wannafeller, but he is dead now. Doolittle agrees that the man is dead and that because of the recommendation from Higgins that Alfred Doolittle was the “most original moralist at present in England”. He tells Higgins that since the man was an American he had no reserve due to Doolittle’s status and left him money in his will. He was left a share in the man’s Pre – digested Cheese Trust worth three thousand a year on the condition that he lectures for the Moral Reform World League whenever they ask him up to six times a year.

The job is not what angers him, it’s the fact that he is a gentleman now. When he was just a dustman people didn’t bother with him. He hardly every had a reason to see a lawyer now he must see him often. Before this, if he went to the hospital the quickly sent him on his way. Now that he has money they want to run tests on him and tell him he has lots of illnesses. He can’t take care of himself anymore, now he can’t even dress. And before, he only had one relative, now they are coming out of the woodwork. Now he has to work for everyone else. It’s the middle-class morality. He tells Higgins not to worry about finding Eliza, she will probably show up on his own doorstep and he will have to support her, too. He finishes by telling Higgins that he will probably be paying him soon, too, as he will have to learn to speak “middle-class language” instead of proper English.

When Mrs. Higgins tells him that he could always turn the money down. Doolittle lowers his voice in deference to her sex and tells her that he would be too intimidated to do so. If he turned it down he would be sent to the workhouse because he hasn’t put any money aside for his old age and he already has to dye his hair to keep his job as a dustman. Since he is the undeserving poor as opposed to the deserving poor he would be nowhere without the money.

Mrs. Higgins tells him she is glad for his decision as he will be able to support Eliza now. He sadly agrees but is cut off by Henry who says that he doesn’t own Eliza as he sold her to him for five pounds. Higgins asks Doolittle if he is “an honest man or a rogue”. He replies, “A little of both, Henry, like the rest of us: a little of both”. When Henry reminds him that he doesn’t own Eliza as he sold her, Mrs. Higgins tells him to not be absurd and that Eliza is upstairs. When he begins to head up after her, she stops him and tells him to sit down. She explains to the men that Eliza has a soft heart and they broke it with their callous remarks were hurtful. Instead of congratulating her on her hard work, they spoke of being glad it was over and how bored they had been. Mrs. Higgins tells then to mind their manners and she will call her down so they can let bygones be bygones. But, she asks Doolittle to step outside on the balcony so Eliza can deal with one surprise at a time.Eliza proudly enters. When Pickering apologizes she tells him that even though Higgins trained her to behave like

Eliza proudly enters. When Pickering apologizes she tells him that even though Higgins trained her to behave like duchess Pickering had always treated her like a duchess, even when she was a flower girl. Although he didn’t teach her phonetics, he taught her self-respect. While Pickering is apologizing Henry is making cutting remarks. When Henry says that without them she will quickly go back to being a gutter snipe, she replies that she probably would not be able to speak the same way as she did. Then her father walks in and she exclaims with the same sound she used to make. Her father explains what has happened to him and that he is going to the church to marry the woman he has been living with. He wants Eliza to attend his wedding and she agrees because Pickering tells her she should even though she doesn’t like the woman. While she is getting her hat, Doolittle says he is nervous and Pickering says he’s done it before since he married Eliza’s mother, but he tells him he never married her. Since he wasn’t middle class or of the deserving poor, he never married her, but not to tell Eliza, since he never told her. He asks Pickering to come along and Mrs. Higgins asks if she can come, too. When he agrees, Mrs. Higgins calls for the carriage and they leave Eliza after Pickering asks her to forgive Henry.

Henry and Eliza are alone and he asks her if she has tortured him enough and is ready to come back with him. He tells her that although he treated her badly, he treated her the same as he treats everyone. He tells her that he can adopt her as a daughter, or she could marry Pickering. She replies that Freddy wants to marry her and he laughs at it and dismisses him as a fool. She threatens to marry Freddy and they can take his lessons to his rival.

He is attracted to this side of her more than the submissive side she had been showing. As she is leaving he tells her to fetch gloves, ties, ham, and cheese while she is out. When the play ends we are unsure whether she will follow his orders or not, even though she disdainfully tells him to buy them himself. His mother says that he has spoiled the relationship with Eliza, but never mind, she will pick them up for him. He happily replies that Eliza will take care of it. And when he is left alone he chuckles in a “highly self – satisfied manner”.

Characters Analysis

Professor Henry Higgins – a genius who has devoted his life to the study of phonetics. He has become known around the world for being the top of the profession. He can take the smallest dialect differences and place the exact location of where the speaker originates. Higgins invented the Higgins’ Universal Alphabet. To Higgins, people are placed in recognizable slots by their speech. He believes that a person stays in their stations because of their speech patterns. Therefore, when his contemporary, Colonel Pickering makes a bet with him that he can pass a flower girl off as a duchess just by adjusting her dialect, they are overheard by Eliza Doolittle who wants to take him up on his bet and become their experiment.

Higgins is boorish and impatient with the upper-class society he belongs to. He forgets public graces because he doesn’t care about them. The reason he isn’t ostracized is because his mother is so popular and because he is basically a harmless genius. He considers himself a confirmed bachelor but seems to be falling in love with Eliza to spite himself, as he becomes so passionate about her.

Eliza Doolittle – although she is introduced as an unromantic figure at the beginning of the play, Eliza becomes the romantic heroine quickly. When she overhears Pickering and Higgins talking about the importance of dialect and how they could turn a flower girl such as her into a woman who could pass as a duchess, she decides to make them use her as the subject in their experiment. She is ambitious and doesn’t want to spend her life selling flowers on the street corner. She desires to rise up to working in a flower shop.

She is a sassy, smart-mouthed girl with cockney English. But, when she wants to become more, she is willing to put all the work into it that is needed. When she is transformed, she manages to put enough of an act on to attract a young gentleman. But, after the transformation is finished her real colors show, and she becomes the independent, strong woman she always was, but with more grace and speech that is socially acceptable for an upper class.

Colonel Pickering – the author of the Spoken Sanskrit. He is a contemporary of Henry Higgins. Whereas Higgins is boorish, Pickering is a gentleman. He tries to be considerate and quickly apologizes when he realizes he was thoughtless. He sets the plan in motion by making the wager with Higgins and offering to pay for Eliza’s lessons. While Higgins teaches her the correct pronunciations, Pickering teaches her manners and helps her to remember to respect herself.

Alfred Doolittle – Eliza’s father. He begins as a vigorous dust man who has had at least six wives. He is free from fear or conscience. Doolittle has a unique rhetoric. He is never embarrassed or a hypocrite. Doolittle is a great fan of drinking and pleasure as long as he doesn’t have to pay for it. Higgins jokingly tells an American millionaire who is setting up Morality Societies around the world about Doolittle and calls him the greatest moral character he has ever met. With that, Doolittle has left just enough money in the man’s will to move up to the middle class. His honest portrayal of the middle class is recognizable and honest. He blames Higgins for taking him from a simple dust man to a middle class that must pay taxes and support so many poor people. When he discovered that his daughter was living with Higgins, he checked it out. When he sees that their intentions are honorable, he decides to charge them five pounds for the use of his daughter.

George Bernard Shaw Biography

George Bernard Shaw was born in Ireland in 1856. He insisted on being known as Bernard Shaw. He was a playwright and critic. Shaw wrote more than sixty plays. His plays covered areas from contemporary satire to historical morality. In 1925 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, and in 1938 he was awarded an Academy Award for the screenplay version of Pygmalion. He refused all state honors including the Order of Merit in 1946.
In addition to being a prolific playwright, he was also the most prolific pamphleteer since Jonathan Swift and the most well-read music critic and best theater critic of his time . He was also one of the literature’s great letter writers. He was inwardly shy and generous while at the same time ruthless as a social critic. Shaw was irreverent toward institutions. His plays are dramas as well as comedies.

After attending both Catholic and Protestant day schools, Shaw took a job in the clerical field at the age of 16. From that age he was self-educated. When his parent’s marriage ended, Shaw went with his mother and sisters to London in 1876. His mother had become close to George John Lee, who might have been Shaw’s biological father, and well known in the London music scene. Their house was filled with music and began Shaw’s lifelong love of music.

In 1862 the Shaws and Lee shared a large house in Dublin and a house in the country. Since Shaw was such a shy and sensitive child, he was more comfortable in the country than the city. Lee taught music and voice so when his students brought books, Shaw read them. This gave him a love of literature as well as music.

The next decade was spent in frustration and near poverty. During this time he wrote five novels and only two of them found publishers. He also became a firm and lifelong believer in vegetarianism, a spellbinding orator, and tentatively a playwright. He was a founder of the Fabian Society, which was a middle-class socialist group in 1884. The group aimed at the transformation of English government and society. Through the other founders, he met Charlotte Payne – Townshend whom he married in 1898.

Some of his plays include Widowers’ House, in 1893, The Devil’s Disciple, in 1896, Caesar and Cleopatra, in 1901, Pygmalion in 1913, Saint Joan in 1923, then about one week before his ninety-fourth birthday, he wrote Why She Would Not in 1950. During his later years, he tended his gardens at Shaw’s Corner. At the age of ninety-four, he died of renal failure that was brought on by injuries that occurred while pruning a tree. He was cremated and his ashes were mixed with his wife, Charlotte’s. Then they were scattered along footpaths and around the statue of Saint Joan in their garden where the two spent many long afternoons.