Illustration depicting Mrs Patrick Campbell as Eliza Doolittle
Written byGeorge Bernard Shaw
  • Professor Henry Higgins
  • Colonel Pickering
  • Eliza Doolittle
  • Alfred Doolittle
  • Mrs Pearce
  • Mrs Higgins
  • Mrs Eynsford-Hill
  • Clara Eynsford-Hill
  • Freddy Eynsford-Hill
Date premiered16 October 1913 (1913-10-16)
Place premieredHofburg Theatre in Vienna, Austria
GenreRomantic comedy, social criticism
SettingLondon, England

Pygmalion is a play by Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, named after the Greek mythological figure. It premièred at the Hofburg Theatre in Vienna on 16 October 1913 and was first presented on stage in German. Its English-language première took place at His Majesty's Theatre in London's West End in April 1914 and starred Herbert Beerbohm Tree as phonetics professor Henry Higgins and Mrs Patrick Campbell as Cockney flower-girl Eliza Doolittle.

Shaw's play has been adapted many times, most notably as the 1938 film Pygmalion, the 1956 stage musical My Fair Lady, and its 1964 film version.


In ancient Greek mythology, Pygmalion fell in love with one of his sculptures, which then came to life. The general idea of that myth was a popular subject for Victorian era British playwrights, including one of Shaw's influences, W. S. Gilbert, who wrote a successful play based on the story called Pygmalion and Galatea that was first presented in 1871. Shaw would also have been familiar with the musical Adonis and the burlesque version, Galatea, or Pygmalion Reversed.

Eliza Doolittle was inspired by Kitty Wilson, owner of a sidewalk flower stall at Norfolk Street, Strand in London. Wilson continued selling flowers at the stall until September, 1958. Her daughter, Betty Benton, then took over, but was forced to close down a month later when the City of London decreed that the corner was no longer "designated" for street trading. [1]

Shaw mentioned that the character of Professor Henry Higgins was inspired by several British professors of phonetics: Alexander Melville Bell, Alexander J. Ellis, Tito Pagliardini, but above all the cantankerous Henry Sweet.[2]

Shaw is also very likely to have known the life story of Jacob Henle, a professor at Heidelberg University, who fell in love with Elise Egloff, a Swiss housemaid, forcing her through several years of bourgeois education to turn her into an adequate wife. Egloff died shortly after their marriage. Her story inspired various literary works, including a play by Charlotte Birch-Pfeiffer and a novella by Gottfried Keller, comparing Henle with the Greek Pygmalion. [3]

First productions

A Sketch Magazine illustration of Mrs Patrick Campbell as Eliza Doolittle from 22 April 1914. Shaw wrote the part of Eliza expressly for Campbell, who played opposite Herbert Beerbohm Tree as Henry Higgins.
After creating the role of Colonel Pickering in the London production, Philip Merivale (second from right) played Henry Higgins opposite Mrs Patrick Campbell (right) when Pygmalion was taken to Broadway (1914)

Shaw wrote the play in early 1912 and read it to actress Mrs Patrick Campbell in June. She came on board almost immediately, but her mild nervous breakdown contributed to the delay of a London production. Pygmalion premièred at the Hofburg Theatre in Vienna on 16 October 1913, in a German translation by Shaw's Viennese literary agent and acolyte, Siegfried Trebitsch.[4][5]

Its first New York production opened on 24 March 1914 at the German-language Irving Place Theatre starring Hansi Arnstaedt as Eliza.[6] It opened in London on 11 April 1914, at Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree's His Majesty's Theatre, with Campbell as Eliza and Tree as Higgins, and ran for 118 performances.[7] Shaw directed the actors through tempestuous rehearsals, often punctuated by at least one of the two storming out of the theatre in a rage.[8]


Act One

A group of people are sheltering from the rain. Among them are the Eynsford-Hills, superficial social climbers eking out a living in "genteel poverty". We first see Mrs Eynsford-Hill and her daughter Clara; Clara's brother Freddy enters having earlier been dispatched to secure them a cab (which they can ill afford), but being rather timid and faint-hearted he has failed to do so. As he goes off once again to find a cab, he bumps into a flower girl, Eliza Doolittle. Her flowers drop into the mud of Covent Garden, the flowers she needs to survive in her poverty-stricken world.

They are soon joined by a gentleman, Colonel Pickering. While Eliza tries to sell flowers to the Colonel, a bystander informs her that another man is writing down everything she says. That man is Henry Higgins, a linguist and phonetician. Eliza worries that Higgins is a police officer and will not calm down until Higgins introduces himself.

It soon becomes apparent that he and Colonel Pickering have a shared interest in phonetics and an intense mutual admiration; indeed, Pickering has come from India specifically to meet Higgins, and Higgins was planning to go to India to meet Pickering. Higgins tells Pickering that he could pass off the flower girl as a duchess merely by teaching her to speak properly.

These words of bravado spark an interest in Eliza, who would love to make changes in her life and become more mannerly, even though to her it only means working in a flower shop. At the end of the act, Freddy returns after finding a taxi, only to find that his mother and sister have gone and left him with the cab. The streetwise Eliza takes the cab from him, using the money that Higgins tossed to her, leaving him on his own.

Act Two

Lynn Fontanne (Eliza) and Henry Travers (Alfred Doolittle) in the Theatre Guild production of Pygmalion (1926)

Higgins's house – the next day

As Higgins demonstrates his phonetics to Pickering, the housekeeper Mrs Pearce tells him that a young girl wants to see him. Eliza has shown up because she wants to talk like a lady in a flower shop. She tells Higgins that she will pay for lessons. He shows no interest, but she reminds him of his boast the previous day: he had claimed that he could pass her off as a duchess.

Pickering makes a bet with him on his claim and says that he will pay for her lessons if Higgins succeeds. She is sent off to have a bath. Mrs Pearce tells Higgins that he must behave himself in the young girl's presence, meaning he must stop swearing and improve his table manners, but he is at a loss to understand why she should find fault with him.

Alfred Doolittle, Eliza's father, appears, with the sole purpose of getting money out of Higgins, having no paternal interest in his daughter's welfare. He requests and received five pounds in compensation for the loss of Eliza, although Higgins, much amused by Doolittle's approach to morality, is tempted to pay ten.

Doolittle refuses; he sees himself as a member of the undeserving poor and means to go on being undeserving. With his intelligent mind untamed by education, he has an eccentric view of life. He is also aggressive, and Eliza, on her return, sticks her tongue out at him. He goes to hit her, but Pickering prevents him. The scene ends with Higgins telling Pickering that they really have a difficult job on their hands.

Act Three

Mrs Higgins's drawing room

Higgins bursts in and tells his mother he has picked up a "common flower girl" whom he has been teaching. Mrs Higgins is unimpressed with her son's attempts to win her approval, because it is her 'at home' day and she is entertaining visitors. The visitors are the Eynsford-Hills. When they arrive, Higgins is rude to them.

Eliza enters and soon falls into talking about the weather and her family. While she is now able to speak in beautifully modulated tones, the substance of what she says remains unchanged from the gutter. She confides her suspicions that her aunt was killed by relatives, mentions that gin had been "mother's milk" to her aunt, and that Eliza's own father was "always more agreeable when he had a drop in".

Higgins passes off her remarks as "the new small talk", and Freddy is enraptured by Eliza. When she is leaving, he asks her if she is going to walk across the park, to which she replies, "Walk? Not bloody likely!" This is the most famous line from the play and, for many years after the play's debut, use of the word 'bloody' was known as a pygmalion; Mrs Campbell was considered to have risked her career by speaking the line on stage.[9]

After Eliza and the Eynsford-Hills leave, Henry asks for his mother's opinion. She says the girl is not presentable and she is concerned about what will happen to her, but neither Higgins nor Pickering understands her concerns about Eliza's future. They leave feeling confident and excited about how Eliza will get on. This leaves Mrs Higgins feeling exasperated, and exclaiming, "Men! Men!! Men!!!"

Act Four

Higgins's house – midnight

Higgins, Pickering, and Eliza have returned from a ball. A tired Eliza sits unnoticed, brooding and silent, while Pickering congratulates Higgins on winning the bet. Higgins scoffs and declares the evening a "silly tomfoolery", thanking God it's over, and saying that he had been sick of the whole thing for the last two months. Still barely acknowledging Eliza, beyond asking her to leave a note for Mrs Pearce regarding coffee, the two retire to bed.

Higgins soon returns to the room, looking for his slippers, and Eliza throws them at him. Higgins is taken aback, and is at first completely unable to understand Eliza's preoccupation, which, aside from being ignored after her triumph, is the question of what she is to do now. When Higgins finally understands, he makes light of it, saying she could get married, but Eliza interprets this as selling herself like a prostitute. "We were above that at the corner of Tottenham Court Road."

Finally she returns her jewelry to Higgins, including the ring he had given her, which he throws into the fireplace with a violence that scares Eliza. Furious with himself for losing his temper, he damns Mrs Pearce, the coffee, Eliza, and finally himself, for "lavishing" his knowledge and his "regard and intimacy" on a "heartless guttersnipe", and retires in great dudgeon. Eliza roots around in the fireplace and retrieves the ring.

Act Five

Mrs Higgins's drawing room

The next morning Higgins and Pickering, perturbed by discovering that Eliza has walked out on them, call on Mrs Higgins to phone the police. Higgins is particularly distracted, since Eliza had assumed the responsibility of maintaining his diary and keeping track of his possessions, which causes Mrs Higgins to decry their calling the police as though Eliza were "a lost umbrella".

Doolittle is announced; he emerges dressed in splendid wedding attire and is furious with Higgins, who after their previous encounter had been so taken with Doolittle's unorthodox ethics that he had recommended him as the "most original moralist in England" to a rich American, a founder of Moral Reform Societies; the American had subsequently left Doolittle a pension worth three thousand pounds a year, as a consequence of which Doolittle feels intimidated into joining the middle class and marrying his missus.

Mrs Higgins observes that this at least settles the problem of who shall provide for Eliza, to which Higgins objects – after all, he paid Doolittle five pounds for her. Mrs Higgins informs her son that Eliza is upstairs, and explains the circumstances of her arrival, alluding to how marginalized and overlooked Eliza had felt the previous night. Higgins is unable to appreciate this, and sulks when told that he must behave if Eliza is to join them. Doolittle is asked to wait outside.

Eliza enters, at ease and self-possessed. Higgins blusters but Eliza is unshaken and speaks exclusively to Pickering. Throwing Higgins's previous insults back at him ("Oh, I'm only a squashed cabbage leaf"), Eliza remarks that it was only by Pickering's example that she learned to be a lady, which renders Higgins speechless.

Eliza goes on to say that she has completely left behind the flower girl she was, and that she couldn't utter any of her old sounds if she tried – at which point Doolittle emerges from the balcony, causing Eliza to emit her old sounds. Higgins is jubilant, jumping up and crowing over what he calls his victory. Doolittle explains his situation and asks if Eliza will come with him to his wedding. Pickering and Mrs Higgins also agree to go, and they leave, with Doolittle and Eliza to follow.

The scene ends with another confrontation between Higgins and Eliza. Higgins asks if Eliza is satisfied with the revenge she has brought thus far and if she will now come back, but she refuses. Higgins defends himself from Eliza's earlier accusation by arguing that he treats everyone the same, so she shouldn't feel singled out. Eliza replies that she just wants a little kindness, and that since he will never stoop to show her this, she will not come back, but will marry Freddy.

Higgins scolds her for such low ambitions: he has made her "a consort for a king." When she threatens to teach phonetics and offer herself as an assistant to Higgins's academic rival Nepommuck, Higgins again loses his temper and vows to wring her neck if she does so. Eliza realises that this last threat strikes Higgins at the very core and that it gives her power over him.

Higgins, for his part, is delighted to see a spark of fight in Eliza, rather than her erstwhile fretting and worrying. He remarks "I like you like this", and calls her a "pillar of strength". Mrs Higgins returns and she and Eliza depart for the wedding. As they leave, Higgins incorrigibly gives Eliza a list of errands to run, as though their recent conversation had not taken place. Eliza disdainfully tells him to do the errands himself. Mrs Higgins says that she'll get the items, but Higgins cheerfully tells her that Eliza will do it after all. Higgins laughs to himself at the idea of Eliza marrying Freddy as the play ends.

Critical reception

The play was well received by critics in major cities following its premières in Vienna, London, and New York. The initial release in Vienna garnered several reviews describing the show as a positive departure from Shaw's usual dry and didactic style.[10] The Broadway première in New York was praised in terms of both plot and acting, and the play was described as "a love story with brusque diffidence and a wealth of humor."[11] Reviews of the production in London were slightly less positive. The Telegraph noted that the play was deeply diverting, with interesting mechanical staging, although the critic ultimately found the production somewhat shallow and overly lengthy.[12] The Times, however, praised both the characters and the actors (especially Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree as Higgins and Mrs Patrick Campbell as Eliza) and the "unconventional" ending.[13][14]


Pygmalion was the most broadly appealing of all Shaw's plays. But popular audiences, looking for pleasant entertainment with big stars in a West End venue, wanted a "happy ending" for the characters they liked so well, as did some critics.[15] During the 1914 run, Tree sought to sweeten Shaw's ending to please himself and his record houses.[16] Shaw remained sufficiently irritated to add a postscript essay to the 1916 print edition, "'What Happened Afterwards",[17] for inclusion with subsequent editions, in which he explained precisely why it was impossible for the story to end with Higgins and Eliza getting married.

He continued to protect what he saw as the play's, and Eliza's, integrity by protecting the last scene. For at least some performances during the 1920 revival, Shaw adjusted the ending in a way that underscored the Shavian message. In an undated note to Mrs Campbell he wrote,

When Eliza emancipates herself – when Galatea comes to life – she must not relapse. She must retain her pride and triumph to the end. When Higgins takes your arm on 'consort battleship' you must instantly throw him off with implacable pride; and this is the note until the final 'Buy them yourself.' He will go out on the balcony to watch your departure; come back triumphantly into the room; exclaim 'Galatea!' (meaning that the statue has come to life at last); and – curtain. Thus he gets the last word; and you get it too.[18]

(This ending, however, is not included in any print version of the play.)

Shaw fought against a Higgins-Eliza happy-end pairing as late as 1938. He sent the 1938 film version's producer, Gabriel Pascal, a concluding sequence that he felt offered a fair compromise: a tender farewell scene between Higgins and Eliza, followed by one showing Freddy and Eliza happy in their greengrocery-cum-flower shop. Only at the sneak preview did he learn that Pascal had finessed the question of Eliza's future with a slightly ambiguous final scene in which Eliza returns to the house of a sadly musing Higgins and self-mockingly quotes her previous self announcing, "I washed my face and hands before I come, I did".

Different versions

First American (serialized) publication, Everybody's Magazine, November 1914

There are two main versions of the play in circulation. One is based on the earlier version, first published in 1914; the other is a later version that includes several sequences revised by Shaw, first published in 1941. Therefore, different editions of the play omit or add certain lines. For instance, the Project Gutenberg version published online, which is transcribed from an early version, does not include Eliza's exchange with Mrs Pearce in Act II, the scene with Nepommuck in Act III, or Higgins' famous declaration to Eliza, "Yes, you squashed cabbage-leaf, you disgrace to the noble architecture of these columns, you incarnate insult to the English language! I could pass you off as the Queen of Sheba!" – a line so famous that it is now retained in nearly all productions of the play, including the 1938 film version of Pygmalion as well as in the stage and film versions of My Fair Lady.[19]

The co-director of the 1938 film, Anthony Asquith, had seen Mrs Campbell in the 1920 revival of Pygmalion and noticed that she spoke the line, "It's my belief as how they done the old woman in." He knew "as how" was not in Shaw's text, but he felt it added color and rhythm to Eliza's speech, and liked to think that Mrs Campbell had ad libbed it herself. Eighteen years later he added it to Wendy Hiller's line in the film.[8]

In the original play Eliza's test is met at an ambassador's garden party, offstage. For the 1938 film Shaw and co-writers replaced that exposition with a scene at an embassy ball; Nepommuck, the blackmailing translator spoken about in the play, is finally seen, but his name is updated to Aristid Karpathy – named so by Gabriel Pascal, the film's Hungarian producer, who also made sure that Karpathy mistakes Eliza for a Hungarian princess. In My Fair Lady he became Zoltan Karpathy. (The change of name was likely to avoid offending the sensibilities of Roman Catholics, as St. John Nepomuk was, ironically, a Catholic martyr who refused to divulge the secrets of the confessional.)

The 1938 film also introduced the famous pronunciation exercises "the rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain" and "In Hertford, Hereford, and Hampshire, hurricanes hardly ever happen".[20] Neither of these appears in the original play. Shaw's screen version of the play as well as a new print version incorporating the new sequences he had added for the film script were published in 1941. Many of the scenes that were written for the films were separated by asterisks, and explained in a "Note for Technicians" section.


Pygmalion remains Shaw's most popular play. The play's widest audiences know it as the inspiration for the highly romanticized 1956 musical and 1964 film My Fair Lady.

Pygmalion has transcended cultural and language barriers since its first production. The British Library contains "images of the Polish production...; a series of shots of a wonderfully Gallicised Higgins and Eliza in the first French production in Paris in 1923; a fascinating set for a Russian production of the 1930s. There was no country which didn't have its own 'take' on the subjects of class division and social mobility, and it's as enjoyable to view these subtle differences in settings and costumes as it is to imagine translators wracking their brains for their own equivalent of 'Not bloody likely'."[21]

Joseph Weizenbaum named his chatterbot computer program ELIZA after the character Eliza Doolittle.[22]

Notable productions

Lynn Fontanne as Eliza Doolittle in the Theatre Guild production of Pygmalion (1926)


Julie Andrews as flower girl Eliza Doolittle meets Rex Harrison as Professor Henry Higgins in the 1956 musical adaptation of Pygmalion, My Fair Lady.




The BBC has broadcast radio adaptations at least twice, in 1986 directed by John Tydeman and in 2021 directed by Emma Harding.

Non–English language

In popular culture




  1. ^ "Drury Lane: Eliza Moves Away", Newsweek, Oct. 13, 1958
  2. ^ George Bernard Shaw, Androcles and the Lion: Overruled : Pygmalion (New York City: Brentano's, 1918), page 109. Archived 14 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine (Note: Alexander M. Bell's first wife was named Eliza.)
  3. ^ Robinson, Victor, M.D. (1921). The Life of Jacob Henle. New York: Medical Life Co.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ "Theses & Conference Papers". Archived from the original on 24 September 2015.
  5. ^ Shaw, Bernard, edited by Samuel A. Weiss (1986). Bernard Shaw's Letters to Siegfried Trebitsch. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-1257-3, p.164.
  6. ^ "Herr G.B. Shaw at the Irving Place." Archived 26 April 2016 at the Wayback Machine The New York Times Archived 23 August 2015 at the Wayback Machine 25 March 1914. In late 1914 Mrs Campbell took the London company to tour the United States, opening in New York at the Belasco Theatre.
  7. ^ Laurence, Dan, ed. (1985). Bernard Shaw: Collected Letters, 1911–1925. New York: Viking. p. 228. ISBN 0-670-80545-9.
  8. ^ a b Dent, Alan (1961). Mrs. Patrick Campbell. London: Museum Press Limited.
  9. ^ The Truth About Pygmalion by Richard Huggett, 1969 Random House, pp. 127–128
  10. ^ "The Modest Shaw Again: Explains in His Shrinking Way Why "Pygmalion" Was First Done in Berlin;- Critics Like It". The New York Times. 23 November 1913. ProQuest 97430789.
  11. ^ "Shaw's 'Pygmalion' Has Come to Town: With Mrs. Campbell Delightful as a Galatea from Tottenham Court Road – A Mildly Romantic G. B. S. – His Latest Play Tells a Love Story with Brusque Diffidence and a Wealth of Humor". The New York Times. 13 October 1914. ProQuest 97538713.
  12. ^ "Pygmalion, His Majesty's Theatre, 1914, review". The Telegraph. 11 April 2014. Archived from the original on 8 February 2017. Retrieved 19 September 2016.
  13. ^ "The Story Of "Pygmalion."". The Times. 19 March 1914. Archived from the original on 8 February 2017. Retrieved 19 September 2016 – via Gale.
  14. ^ "Viewing 1914/3/19 Page 11 - The Story Of "Pygmalion."". Archived from the original on 24 February 2021. Retrieved 2 November 2020.
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  16. ^ "From the Point of View of A Playwright," by Bernard Shaw, collected in Herbert Beerbohm Tree, Some Memories of Him and His Art, Collected by Max Beerbohm (1919). London: Hutchinson, p. 246. Versions at Text Archive Internet Archive
  17. ^ Shaw, G.B. (1916). Pygmalion. New York: Brentano. Sequel: What Happened Afterwards. Archived 16 February 2010 at the Wayback Machine Bartleby: Great Books Online. Archived 30 December 2009 at the Wayback Machine
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  20. ^ Pascal, Valerie, The Disciple and His Devil, McGraw-Hill, 1970. p. 83."
  21. ^ Summers, Anne (2 July 2001). "The lesson of a Polish production of 'Pygmalion'". The Independent. Archived from the original on 18 March 2017.
  22. ^ Markoff, John (13 March 2008), "Joseph Weizenbaum, Famed Programmer, Is Dead at 85", The New York Times, archived from the original on 1 April 2011, retrieved 7 January 2009
  23. ^ British Theatre Guide (1997)
  24. ^ Tointon's indisposition on 25 August 2011 enabled understudy Rebecca Birch to make her West End début in a leading role (insert to Garrick Theatre programme for Pygmalion).
  25. ^ Cashell, Eleni (12 April 2023). "PYGMALION revival to star Bertie Carvel and Patsy Ferran". London Box Office. London, UK.
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