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Pygmalion

George Bernard Shaw

Theme: Pride, Love, and Marriage
Grades: Grades 11-12


Summary:
One of the most entertaining and best-loved modern British plays, Pygmalion is intriguing for its social commentary and endearing for its love story. In this play, Henry Higgins, an upper-middle-class gentleman of leisure, transforms Eliza Doolittle, a member of the working poor, by training her in language and manners.


THEME OPENERS
  1. Definition Chart.
    Ask students to work independently or in small groups to define the following concepts: language, culture, manners, class, identity. They may choose to write dictionary definitions, give positive and negative examples, or list attributes of each.
  1. Role Playing.
    Have students discuss or role-play one of the following situations: (1) Imagine that one of your classmates has been invited to the Inaugural Ball at the White House. What coaching would you give your friend so that she or he would be able to speak and behave appropriately? (2) Imagine that you just got the good news that you will receive $80,000 a year for the rest of your life. How would your life be different? What aspects would not change? If students role-play, have them show before-and-after scenarios.
CROSSCURRICULAR ACTIVITIES
  1. I Did it My Way!
    Point out that Shaw's epilogue is not included when the play is performed. Encourage students to imagine what they think might happen when the curtain closes, and write their own sequel to the action, detailing the future of Eliza, Freddy, and Higgins (and other characters, if they wish).

  1. No Third Class Carriages: A Utopian Society.
    In this project, students will imagine that Shaw left money in his will to create a classless society based on his Fabian Socialist ideas. Their task is to work cooperatively to create the economic structure that will prevent some people from being doomed to a life of poverty while others lead a luxurious life.

    Suggested Procedure:

  • Divide the class into small groups. Have groups research the economic system in place in England in the early 1900s.
  • Have groups research the Fabian Society and Shaw's views on capitalism, socialism, and creating a classless society.
  • Have groups set up a framework for their design indicating what factors need to be controlled to create they system that will eradicate social and economic classes. Then they should designe their society and prepare a class presentation on it. The presentation may be through role playing, videotape, charts and posters, a game, a comptuer simulation, etc.
RESEARCH ASSIGNMENTS
  1. Social Status.
    Have students read several analyses of social classes in the United States today and how people can or cannot change their social status. Have them write a research paper in which they look at the contemporary American class system, using such categories as: the names we use to identify social classes; the factors used to identify someone as a member of a class; the opportunities for class mobility; the role of education in maintaining or breaking class barriers.
  1. Speech Therapy.
    Higgin's practice of accent reduction is one of may practices of speech therapy. Have students research speech therapy as it was practived during Higgin's era as well as today and write a comparison, focusing on similarities and differences in the methodology and intent.