For today’s post I would like discuss the story of Pygmalion. This tale began as a myth in ancient Greece, and later would be used to inspire George Bernard Shaw when he wrote a play of the same name. That play, which was set in the nineteenth century, was adapted to become the musical My Fair Lady! As you can already see this story has an impressive legacy.
Let’s start at the beginning with the original Greek myth, which was made popular in Ovid’s Metamorphosis. Pygmalion was a sculptor of unmatched talent, and he was obsessed with beauty, particularly female beauty. As he spent all day creating impeccable artworks, he felt that no real woman could match the beauty of his sculptures. As he was creating his latest perfect feminine form he began to wish, and pray to Aphrodite to let him fall in love with a real woman as beautiful as the one he had made. The goddess of love gave him his wish in an unexpected way. She turned his sculpture into a real living breathing woman! He ended up marrying this ivory sculpture, who was now a woman.
The play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw was written in the early 20th century. It premiered on stage in 1913. This is the story of Henry Higgins, who meets a humble cockney flower shop girl. That girl is, or course, Eliza Doolittle. As a professor of phonetics, Higgins had decided to teach this flower shop girl how to speak properly. He also taught her how to conduct herself in high society. Essentially he is molding her into his vision of the perfect woman. This will lead to much of the drama, and discontent throughout the play! Of course, Higgins falls in love with his “creation” of a more cultured Eliza. This is the crux of the similarity between the play and the original myth.
In the musical version the name was changed to My Fair Lady. The film version of My Fair Lady starred the incomparable Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle and Rex Harrison portrayed Henry Higgins! This is a delightful musical that takes the plot of the original play, but I feel that it is much lighter in tone than the play.
I hope that you have enjoyed this short post! I also hope you learned a little bit about the evolution of the tale of Pygmalion. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
- Metamorphosis by Ovid
- Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
- My Fair Lady (1964)