The of Henry and Eliza getting married, and
The Controversial Ending of Shaw’s Pygmalion George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion is a play that has become a classic in today’s world. It is a retelling of an ancient story, of the same name, by the Roman poet, Ovid, in which a sculptor falls in love with a statue he carved. In Shaw’s story, Henry Higgins, an expert in phonetics, happens upon a poor flower girl with awful English and street manners named Eliza Doolittle.
Throughout the course of the play Higgins transforms her into an elegant independent woman.The play tracks Eliza and Higgins’s journey and the transformation of their relationship from teacher and pupil to one where both are equally accustomed to the other and have become integral parts of the others lives. Shaw does not end the play as most would expect though. The general public expects and practically demands a happy ending of a play that seems so highly romantic, but Shaw provides the audience with a strictly logical ending instead. In the end, Eliza becomes tired of Higgins’s pompous attitude as she grows independent, and leaves him to marry a typical romantic character of the middle-class.The play then ends with Henry mocking her idea of marrying this man (Shaw). The audience had conceived the idea of Henry and Eliza getting married, and could not accept this abrupt ending (Solomon 59).
Over time, Shaw’s purpose behind this ending has been debated endlessly. Many have even gone as far as to simply call Shaw “wrong” in having created this ending, and have gone on to adjust the ending to what they would consider a “correct” ending (Solomon 60). This revised ending has spread into most productions and adaptations.It will be recreated yet again in the upcoming 2012 film remake of My Fair Lady, the musical adaptation of Pygmalion, and most will never know that another ending—the original ending—exists. In this paper, I will show that what is considered a “correct” ending by the revisers of Shaw’s play is actually nothing more than a safe, audience-pleasing ending that is not even consistent with the nature of the main characters.
Furthermore, I will give logical reasoning to my assertion that Shaw’s original ending is superior, and in fact the only one that fulfills the play’s purpose.George Bernard Shaw wrote Pygmalion in 1912, and the play premiered in Vienna in October of 1913. It premiered in London in April of 1914 starring Mrs.
Patrick Campbell as Eliza and Herbert Berrbohm Tree as Higgins with Shaw directing. It was a stormy rehearsal process that involved tempers constantly flaring during rehearsals (Matlaw 33). After the show premiered with its original ending, many critics began to criticize the ending of the play, and audiences were also dissatisfied with the fact that the hero and heroine do not end up married or even on good terms with each other.Tree decided to change the ending after Shaw had left and ended the show with Higgins standing on a balcony tossing a bouquet of flowers to Eliza as the final curtain comes down.
When Shaw returned for the hundredth performance he was shocked and outraged to see this ending. Tree is quoted as saying to Shaw, “My ending makes money; you ought to be grateful. ” To which Shaw replied, “Your ending is damnable: you ought to be shot” (Gainor 406). The call for a happier, clarified ending continued though, prompting Shaw to write an explanation that serves as a sort of epilogue to the story that is attached to all subsequent editions of Pygmalion.In it, Shaw defends his ending and explains why it is the only ending that stays true the character: The rest of the story…would hardly need telling if our imaginations were not so enfeebled by their lazy dependence on the ready-mades…in which Romance keeps its stock of “happy endings” to misfit all stories… Nevertheless, people…have assumed, for no other reason than that she became the heroine of a romance, that she must have married the hero of it… the true sequel is patent to anyone with a sense of human nature in general. Shaw) Shaw goes on to explain that Eliza did not refuse to marry Higgins out of a fit of anger, but after a long thought out process. It is also mentioned that we should not assume that Higgins would marry Eliza since in his eyes, no woman would ever compare to his mother.
Shaw then details the future life of Eliza and her marriage to Freddy, and it still is not a perfect one. Shaw does give some assurance that Eliza constantly visits her old home with Higgins and the Colonel, and that Eliza and Higgins bicker just as ever before, but reaffirms his stance that she simply does not like him in a way that is fitting for marriage (Shaw).This simply would not suffice for those reading, attending, and directing the play though. Despite Shaw’s addendum to the ending of Pygmalion, directors still fought for a different ending so as to please their audiences. The production of a movie version of Pygmalion, was started in 1938. The producer, Gabriel Pascal demanded that there be a different ending to please the general public to which this would be released.
Shaw, in a sort of compromise, sent him a revised ending that he felt retained the truthfulness of his story.In it Eliza and Higgins have an affectionate goodbye instead of the bitter almost non-existent farewell written in the play, and there is then a scene of Eliza and Freddy happy in a flower shop. Pascal accepted this from Shaw, but secretly filmed the ending that was actually released which included Eliza returning to Higgins and repeating a line spoken at the beginning of the play, “I washed my hands and face before I came” (Champion 35).
Until the day Shaw died in 1950, he refused to allow a musical to be made of Pygmalion, knowing that due to the overly-romantic nature of musicals that his ending would definitely be ruined in his eyes (Weintraub 13). After he died though, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe created My Fair Lady, a musical closely based on Pygmalion. My Fair Lady was and is an enormous hit with theatre-goers and was even made into an Academy Award winning movie starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison. Shaw’s prediction that the musical’s ending would be adapted romantically despite his wishes turned out to be true.
In the past two decades there have been several attempts to use Shaw’s original ending in productions of My Fair Lady, or at least to get closer to Shaw’s intent. This is not allowed by the owners of the royalties though, and the few productions that have tried to do this have been informed that they are to immediately reinstate the (now) accepted ending (Champion 35). The fact that not even one small regional production can be staged with the playwright’s ending seems absolutely ridiculous.
It seems to be a cowardly act by the current owners of the story to keep up their fairy-tale, money-making ending.It also shows a great deal of defiant arrogance to completely disregard the playwright’s true intentions, and to take it to the point of demanding that those intentions not be fulfilled. The ending of Pygmalion has been studied and researched since its first publishing. Since Shaw’s death in 1950, critics have become more open in their dismissal of Shaw’s ending.
Alan Jay Lerner, writer of My Fair Lady, is quoted as having said, “Shaw explains how Eliza ends not with Higgins but with Freddy—Shaw and Heaven forgive me! I am not certain he is right! ” (Matlaw 33). An expert in Shavian work, Eric Bentley, was more blunt, going to the extreme of calling Shaw “wrong” (Solomon 60). One must question if we, as audience members and readers have the right to say whether a playwright is right or wrong in his ending of a play.
If we do not agree with the way a play turns out, we can say how we would do it differently, or say that perhaps the playwright did not do a good enough job in communicating the message of the story so that we can understand his ending.To say that the playwright is simply wrong though in having written an ending once again seems to show incredible arrogance. If there is such a disagreement in how this play ends, one must put aside all societal beliefs of a correct romantic ending, and simply analyze the play and the way it was written. To find out which ending of Pygmalion is superior, and best accomplishes the goals of the play, one must determine what the goals actually are. First one must consider the dramatic question of the play.If you consider the question to be, “Will Eliza become a lady by England’s early twentieth century standards? ” then perhaps Shaw’s purpose for the ending is not damaged by the romantic revision. If this is the question of the play though, then why should the play go on past Eliza’s success at the ball? If, instead, one considers the fact that Higgins, though not as likeable, is the one completely controlling the action of the play then suddenly it seems more proper that the main dramatic question of the play be, “Will Higgins succeed in transforming Eliza into a proper lady who can make it in this world? If this question is accepted to be the main dramatic question of the play, then no other ending can lead to success (Solomon 62).
When Higgins agrees to take the challenge of transforming Eliza, he is not simply committing to teach her how to speak. Instead, Higgins has taken on the role of creating a new woman completely. If he were to create a lady who could pass as a duchess at an embassy ball, then he has only succeeded in having transformed her outward appearances and etiquette.Higgins, perhaps as a projection of Shaw’s feminist views, sees more potential for Eliza than for her to be simply a traditional “lady. ” If Eliza would still go and do Higgins’s bidding, do his chores for him, and buy his gloves with chocolate as a reward, then he had not transformed her into a new independent woman and instead a sort of human slave or pet. If this were the case, then Higgins would have failed at having accomplished the question of the play.
This failure is nowhere more apparent than in the “I washed my hands and face before I came” ending.Eliza comes back to Higgins to resume being a slave, and even repeats lines she said when she was a beggar, making the whole play seem futile. Yet, that ending is even included in My Fair Lady! Since the revised ending involves Eliza returning and resuming her servant’s role in the household, it ends in defeat for not only Eliza, but Higgins as well. The two major characters of a play failing in a revision makes for an inferior ending and a rather useless play, especially when victory is possible for both.In Shaw’s conclusion, Eliza learns that the independence and intelligence she has gained is worth more than anything. Due to her independence, she can now rise above being stuck in a social class, whether it is the poor class in which she started, or the upper-middle class she now has the potential to join.
The idea of rising above the issue of a class-system fits with Shaw’s socialist beliefs even, making it believable that this was part of his reasoning for this ending (Solomon 62).Once Eliza realizes that she does not have to put up with being degraded by Higgins and can live her life as she pleases with her newly gained intelligence, she becomes a completely new woman both on the outside in her manners and speech as well on the inside with her independence. In doing this, Higgins accomplished his goal. Higgins, after having an argument with Eliza in the final act, even triumphantly declares, “By George, Eliza, I said I’d make a woman of you; and I have. I like you like this,” (Shaw 5:1).Higgins realizes that he has succeeded in completing the task of the play. The only way for the goal of the play to be achieved is for Eliza to be completely changed and independent, and for Higgins to have completed his task successfully.
The story of Pygmalion has been infused into our society, whether people recognize it by that name or not. Through movie retellings, such as My Fair Lady, it is known not only by theatre-goers, but also by the general public. It has lasted from its premier in 1913 and is still going strong today.It seems that the revised “audience friendly” ending will be attached to the story for the rest of the foreseeable future.
It is understandable to prefer a romantic ending between a hero and heroine, as a romantic ending seems to imply a happy ending. In the case of Pygmalion though, this is not so. After looking at Shaw’s purposes for ending the play the way he did, one clearly sees the ways in which the original ending accomplishes the goal of the play, and the ways in which the romantic ending basically makes Eliza a slave with good English.This leads to the conclusion that though the revised ending may be successful and end in romance between the two main characters, it does not lead to a “happy” ending. It instead ends in actual failure for both Higgins and Eliza.
So although many criticize Shaw as being spiteful in writing an ending that at first glance seems so dismal, it seems that all along Shaw, in setting Eliza free and giving Higgins success, was giving his audience the superior, happy ending they had wanted all along.