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Pygmalion is a character of Greek mythology and a play by George Bernard Shaw. It is also the name of a king of Tyre (who is possibly the person the mythological character is based on), see Pygmalion of Tyre.


The Greek myth of Pygmalion tells the story of a sculptor who falls in love with his own sculpture. Pygmalion, son of Belus, was a lonely sculptor who made a woman out of ivory and called her Galatea. He prayed to Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and love, who took pity on the lovesick artist, and brought to life the exquisite sculpture, which was named Galatea. Pygmalion loved Galatea and they were soon married.


Warning: wikipedia contains spoilers

George Bernard Shaw used the myth as the basic idea for his play, also called Pygmalion. This tells the story of Professor Henry Higgins, a snobbish linguist, who makes a wager that he can turn a Cockney flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, into the toast of London society merely by teaching her how to speak with a high class accent. In the process, he becomes fond of her and attempts to direct her future, but she rejects his domineering ways and marries a young aristocrat.

The original stage play shocked audiences by Eliza's use of a swear word. Humour is drawn from Eliza's ability to speak nicely, but without an understanding of those topics of conversation acceptable in polite society. Hence, when asked whether she is walking home, she replies, "Not bloody likely!" The actress, Mrs Patrick Campbell, for whom the role was written by her friend Shaw, was thought to be risking her career by uttering the line.

The play was the basis for the musical play and film My Fair Lady.

In 1938, a film version of the stage play, non-musical, was released, starring Leslie Howard as Professor Henry Higgins, Wendy Hiller as Eliza Doolittle, Wilfrid Lawson as her father, Alfred Doolittle, Scott Sunderland as Colonel George Pickering and David Tree as Freddy Eynsford-Hill.

It was adapted by Shaw, W.P. Lipscomb, Cecil Lewis, Ian Dalrymple and Anatole de Grunwald from the Shaw play, and directed by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard. The movie was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.

One major difference between the play, musical and film is the various endings, which show a clear progression. In the play, Eliza leaves the aristocrat. In the musical, this is left unresolved, and the final scene is of a lonely Higgins. In the film, the final scene closes with both of them apparently about to reconcile.

A contemporary version of the Pygmalion motif can be found in Willy Russell's play Educating Rita (1980).