Bernard Shaw – 29th November 2016

In today’s Playwright lesson we looked at George Bernard Shaw, focusing particularly on his famous play ‘Pygmalion’.

George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw was an Irish Playwright, born in Dublin, Ireland on July 26, 1856 and died on the 2 November 1950, in  Ayot St. Lawrence, United Kingdom.

Shaw wrote more than 60 plays during his lifetime and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1925. In 1895, he became a theatre critic for the Saturday Review and then soon began writing plays of his own. His play Pygmalion was later made into a film twice, and the screenplay he wrote for the first version of it won an Oscar.

Shaw started of his writing career (somewhat unsuccessfully) as an author of novels, however the response was not positive and resulted in many rejections from publishers. Consequently, he turned away from writing novels and instead focused on politics and the activities of the British intelligentsia,and ended up joining the Fabian Society in 1884. The Fabian Society was a socialist group which Shaw became heavily involved in over the years leading him to take on roles such as editing a famous tract the group published in 1889 (Fabian Essays in Socialism, 1889). Not long after joining the Fabian Society, Shaw got work writing in the form of book reviews and art, music and theatre criticism, and in 1895 he began writing for the Saturday Review as its theatre critic; inspiring Shaw to begin writing his own plays.

 Bernard Shaw’s Plays

The first plays that Shaw had published were in volumes titled: Plays Unpleasant (which contained Widowers’ Houses, The Philanderer and Mrs. Warren’s Profession) and Plays Pleasant (which featured Arms and the Man, Candida, The Man of Destiny and You Never Can Tell). The Majority of Shaw’s plays explored the topics of social criticism and the class divide (stemming from his Fabian Society leanings) and although his early plays were not highly praised pieces of work they acted as the groundwork for his career to come.

It wasn’t until towards the end of the 19th century Shaw’s writing came into its own, perhaps beginning in 1898 when he wrote Caesar and Cleopatra. Shaw went on to write plays for the next 50 years, the plays written in the 20 years after Man and Superman would becoming foundational plays in his body of work alongside other titles such as Major Barbara (1905), The Doctor’s Dilemma (1906), Pygmalion(1912), Androcles and the Lion (1912) and Saint Joan (1923) which all firmly established Shaw as a leading dramatist of his time. In fact, in 1925 Shaw was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature as a recognition of his success and work as a playwright.



Pygmalion tells the story of a working class Flower girl who wishes to better herself by taking elocution lessons from Mr Henry Higgins who ends up falling for her. The play is a seen as a Romance but not necessarily in the traditional sense of the world. Although it has a similar narrative path to that of the musical adaptation ‘My Fair Lady’, the ending is significantly different; While in the Musical adaptation Eliza the flower girl and Henry Higgins end up falling in love and getting married, in the original version the love is unrequited and Eliza ends up marrying someone else.

Source and context of the Title:

  • The title Pygmalion refers to the Greek Legend of Pygmalion and Galatea
  • Shaw took his title from the ancient Greek legend of the famous sculptor named Pygmalion who could find nothing good in women, and so he resolved to live out his life unmarried. He carved a statue out of ivory that was he thought was so perfect that he fell in love with it and prayed to the goddess of love, Aphrodite, that he might have the statue come to life. Amazingly his is wish had was fulfilled and he married the statue, which he named Galatea.
  • Therefore the word Pygmalion refers to someone who falls in love with their own creations.

Script in hand read through of a short extract:



As a script this was quite difficult to follow and sight read accurately as the style of writing was slightly strange and didn’t quite get the balance of detail one might expect in a novel with the freedom and ease needed in the text of a play script. As well as this, Bernard Shaw seemed to think it appropriate and helpful to randomly write words phonetically in the middle of regular dialogue, to direct the actor is how to say the lines; however at times this becomes more confusing and gets in the way. It appears that George Bernard Shaw still had the need to tell his story in the exact way it formed in his head and was unwilling to compromise with any directorial choices of a director, and so included all the fine detail and direction he wished in the stage directions regardless. Alternatively, it may just be that Shaw hadn’t grasped the concept in altering his writing style from novels to plays. On top of this added barrier we obviously had the struggle of sight reading 19th century language and sentence structures which were not necessarily natural to us any longer as the English language has developed since, as well as decoding Shaw’s transcribe of the cockney dialect and accent.

However, despite all these struggles and barriers, I feel we made a good attempt at bringing the text to life and understanding the characters during our read through. There were moments that we may have missed the intention or meaning of a certain phrases, but as a group we each found a way in to our characters regardless. For example, I obviously had to make a stab at the cockney accent and although at times I think  may have let it slip slightly too high in my voice, I think I demonstrated her rough background and resilience as well as her more vulnerable side well. Emma was playing Mrs Pearse and captured the part very quickly and naturally; she often enjoys taking on characters such as this posh and snooty role and she always executes it very well: using a clipped, slightly nasal voice.






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