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Free Study Guide-Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw-Free Book Notes
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KEY LITERARY ELEMENTS

SETTING

Pygmalion is set in London in the early 1900s. The physical settings of the play include the Portico at St. Paul's in Covent Garden, Higgins' laboratory and drawing room at Wimpole Street and Mrs. Higgins' drawing room in a flat on Chelsea Embankment. However it must be kept in mind that in the theatrical context the word 'setting' may refer to the physical effects of a production, the scenery and properties, or it may refer to the scenery alone. Although some critics find Pygmalion's setting to be naturalistic, others tend to disagree.

LIST OF CHARACTERS

Major Characters

Henry Higgins

He is a mature, robust and authoritative single man in his forties. In his first appearance in the play he reveals his single-minded devotion to his career as a phonetician. During the course of the play he transforms a common flower girl into a duchess by teaching her how to speak correctly. However, he is surprised to learn that his creation has acquired human emotions and has fallen in love with him.


Colonel Pickering

Shaw describes the colonel as "an elderly gentleman of the amiable military type." Colonel Pickering is the author of Spoken Sanskrit and an expert on the subject. His caution and good manners serve to highlight Higgins' more abrasive and volatile characteristics. Pickering thus functions as a foil to Higgins. In fact Eliza insists in the last act that it was Pickering's courteous gentlemanly conduct and kindness of heart that really transformed her into a lady.

Eliza Doolittle

She is a young, Cockney flower girl of about twenty who is transformed in the course of the play from a "draggletailed guttersnipe" into a duchess. The play charts her growth and development from a helpless being into an independent woman of strength and character.

Alfred Doolittle

Eliza's father is an elderly but vigorous dustman. He first appears in the play in the stock role of an aggrieved father who intends to blackmail Higgins. When Higgins bullies him he instantly assumes the role of a pimp and sells his daughter for a worthless sum of merely five pounds. By his second appearance in the play, he has become a gentleman by virtue of a legacy of several thousand pounds a year left by an eccentric American millionaire.

Minor Characters

Mrs. Higgins

Higgins's mother is over sixty years old. She possesses exquisite elegance and refinement of manners. Her intelligence, personal grace and dignity of character are idealized by her son to such an extent that he is indifferent to young women. She thus unwittingly poses a formidable rival to any young woman who wishes to acquire her son's affection. She also disapproves of her son's behavior and manners.

Mrs. Eynsford Hill

She is a well-bred lady who lacks money but clings to gentility. She lives in the fashionable Earls Court even though she does not have the financial capacity to sustain the kind of lifestyle expected of a lady.

Clara Eynsford Hill

Her daughter who wants to keep up with contemporary trends in society. By the play's end she comes under the influence of Wellsian philosophy and goes to work in an old furniture shop in Docer Street.

Freddy Eynsford Hill

Her son who is a good-looking man of about twenty. He comes across as weak and worthless, not having money or an occupation. Ironically, it is Freddy (and not Higgins) who captivates Eliza because he cares about her.

Mrs. Pearce

She is Higgins's housekeeper and representative mother figure in his bachelor establishment at the Wimpole Street laboratory. She is an extremely lovable character who ceaselessly chides Higgins for his incurable swearing, disgusting table manners and general slovenliness.

Parlormaid

A maid at Mrs. Higgins's house, she performs the minor functions of announcing guests and following orders.

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