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Pygmalion Study Guide

Pygmalion By George Bernard Shaw

Act One

Freddy Eynsford-Hills, the son of a pair of superficial social climbers, is too timid to get a taxi for his family as they wait in the rain. As he makes another attempt, he bumps into flower girl Eliza Doolittle, dropping her flowers into the mud. Shortly, the crowd waiting for taxis is joined by Colonel Pickering, to whom Eliza attemps to sell the mud-covered flowers. Someone in the crowd informs Eliza that someone is writing down everything she says, and Eliza is thus introduced to Henry Higgins, professor of phonetics. Higgins introduces himself, and learns that Pickering shares an interest in phonetics. Higgins brags that he could pass Eliza off as a duchess simply by teaching her to speak properly. Higgins tosses Eliza some money out of pity, and then Freddy notices that his family have taken a taxi and left him behind. Eliza takes Freddy in out of pity.

Act Two

The next day, Eliza shows up at Higgins' house and asks for lessons. He has no care for her, but she reminds him of his previous boast. Pickering makes a bet with Higgins that he cannot succeed at his claim, and Eliza is sent off to prepare. The housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce, admonishes Higgins to stop swearing and improve his table manners in the presence of such a young lady. Alfred Doolittle, Eliza's distant father, appears to try to milk Higgins for money, but fails.

Act Three

Higgins comes into his mother's drawing room and tells her of Eliza and the bet. She is entertaining the Eynsford-Hills family, to whom Higgins is rude. Eliza enters and chats in high-bred tones, but still using street lingo. Freddy is completely taken with Eliza. She and the Eynsford-Hills family leave, and Mrs. Higgins expresses concern to her son that Eliza is not presentable and may end up worse off for this experience.

Just in time for the Embassy Ball, Eliza masters 'proper English'. At the ball, Nepommuck, former student of Higgins, is dispatched to inform the gentility about Eliza, of whom they know nothing. Higgins gets bored when he realizes that he has succeeded, and in fact Nepommuck tells everyone that Eliza is clearly Hungarian, and of royal blood. Higgins tries to admit the truth, but no one believes him.

Act Four

Midnight, after the ball. Eliza is brooding, and Pickering is congratulating Higgins on his success. Higgins barely acknowledges Eliza, and Eliza gets upset. Higgins can't understand why, and when he realizes it's because she has no idea what to do next, he mocks her, telling her to go get married - which she takes as a form of prostitution. Higgins curses her, himself, and the whole situation. Eliza escapes and comes across Freddy, who declares his love for her, and they drive around all night in a taxi.

Act Five

Next morning, Higgins and Pickering find Eliza missing, and phone the police. Alfred Doolittle returns in wedding attire, furious at Higgins for forcing him to marry his missus (by luring him into the middle class). Mrs. Higgins observes that Alfred can then care for his own daughter, to which Henry replies that he paid Alfred five pounds for her. They learn that Eliza is upstairs, and send for her, asking Alfred to wait outside.

Eliza enters and ignores Higgins entirely as she speaks to Pickering. She explains to Pickering that she couldn't go back to her gutter speech if she tried -- but then her father enters, and she relapses entirely. Alfred asks Eliza to come to his wedding, and the entire group agrees to attend. Higgins and Eliza stay behind for a minute for a final confrontation.

Higgins asks Eliza to treat him normally, and she refuses, asking for a little human kindness - but since he cannot show her this, she will leave and marry Freddy. Higgins scolds her for her lack of ambition, and she threatens to offer herself as an assistant to Nepommuck. Higgins nearly wrings her throat, and she realizes she has found a threat with true power. Higgins is delighted to see some fight in her, and as they leave for the wedding, starts giving her chores to do as though the conversation never happened. Eliza wonders aloud what Higgins will do without her, and the curtain closes as Higgins laughs at the idea of Eliza marrying Freddy.

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