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Pygmalion A Play By Bernard Shaw

1689 words - 7 pages

Pygmalion is one of Bernard Shaw’s most famous and beloved plays, which he published in London in 1912. This play was written during the Edwardian era which was characterised by major political, social and economical changes. Politically, the reign of king Edward VII witnessed a relative involvement of social segments such as labourers and women in political life. Socio-economically, the British society was marked by a strict and a clear-cut social class system in the early twentieth century. During this period and up to First World War, it was believed that 1% of the British population owned approximately 70% of the country’s wealth. As an outcome of the industrialisation and urbanisation ...view middle of the document...

This play on the transformation of a poor flower seller into a duchess can be considered as a sharp satire on the British social class system and the position of women at that time.
The social meaning and the function of language is one of the predominant themes in Pygmalion. The differences in how people speak strongly correlates with their membership in various social groups. In other words, the individual’s way of speaking indicates in a way his or her social status in a community. Members at the top of a community usually have a wide and rich linguistic repertoire and they often use the official language. Within Pygmalion, Shaw portrays a divided society by factors such as language, wealth and education. The issue of language is closely related to social class. The fact that Shaw makes professor Higgins able to determine where people were born on the basis of their speech and accent is very significant. So, one’s social identity is strictly related to his birthplace and thus it becomes tough to be socially mobile from one class to another if your accent labels you as originating form a certain neighbourhood. Bernard Shaw utters his criticism towards both layers of society. He ridicules the vulgar speech of the lower class on the one hand and the superficiality of the upper class as they only judge on the basis of speech on the other. Through the major character, Eliza, embodying the lower class, Shaw depicts the social transformation of a poor girl into a sophisticated lady by means of a linguistic and cultural training. As stated in Act II, Eliza’s ambition is to learn proper English pronunciation and manners from the phonetician: “I want to be a lady in a flower shop stead of sellin at the corner of Tottenham Court Road. But the wont take me unless I can talk more genteel”. In the initial acts of the play, Eliza is shown as a vulgar creature without manners and who constantly violates the English language rule. In acts IV and V, Eliza has transformed from an unintelligible lower class girl with a thick accent into an elegant lady.
The theme of social class is also a prevalent one throughout Pygmalion. Around the beginning of the twentieth century, the London’s and English social stratification in general was characterised by a rigid division. The basic unwritten rule of that period was that if an individual is born into one class she cannot move to another one. During this era, the English social classes were divided by language, education and foremost by wealth. The Edwardian society was broadly split into three main layers: upper class, middle class and working class. The characters in Pygmalion embody each of these class distinctions and conceptions which existed at that time. The upper class were the wealthy social elite of the society, attending concerts and formal dinners, possessing large houses with superabundant house decoration and travelling in taxis. Members of the upper class were mainly concerned with maintaining the social...

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