Sunday, March 14, 2004


14th March 04 Pygmalion

We long for that we cannot have and yearn to be loved. Ovid's use of mythology went beyond the simple narrative of gods chasing nymphs and men fighting wars to delve the human psyche. Although ancient, his writings are still fresh, inspiring new inspiration and interpretation in literature throughout the ages. Of the myths collected in the Metamorphoses, Pygmalion is one certainly well-known, not only in sculpture, but in painting, theater and music.

Pygmalion was recast by George Bernard Shaw, ironically, the man of the chaste marriage. The play reflecting somewhat autobiographically of his own life with the exception of physical entanglement.

Ovid's Pygmalion revels in the beauty and sensuality of his sculpture although he shuns the society of women. The other myths that come from the Metamorphoses with this theme are not so kind, Narcissus falls over the edge and Orpheus is torn to pieces by Maenads, neither a desirable end as a result of spurning women. Pygmalion doesn't want a real woman, but an image he has created for himself—the problem found in Strindberg's Doll's House. When GBS takes up the matter up, he invariably creates a real woman out of the model he molded and the role of Eliza was handed to Mrs. Patrick Campbell, with whom he had maintained questionable, if not scandalous relations. He took her on as a mediocre actress that he was to perfect, but the relationship was something more than that. Although he tantalized, but did not satiate her appetite. The fires of love would not only be consumed, but quenched and so he toyed with her cat-and-mouse over years.

This causes the problems with the ending of Pygmalion, for no one was very happy with the one he presented and in Lerner and Loewe, the song and dance flowed a more natural course as Liza gets her man.

Ovid's Pygmalion, though sculpts a figure, becomes enamored with it and it comes to life under his caressing fingers. The story is a twist on Narcissus, because in reality, the woman is only an image of his own creation and imagination. It isn't real, pointing to the psychological dilemma that many confront: we often fabricate illusions regarding the beloved when infatuated, but then one day we wake up to find the god/goddess to be stone cold toward us. The problem may not be that the person was not ideal, but that we are too busy imagining and imposing our ideals on an object or person rather than accepting reality.

And as myth can be interpreted many different ways, another is that we tend to fall in love which reflects our own identity, our own creativity, and manage to stay on safe ground without falling into the black hole along with Narcissus who went over the edge.

Shaw walks the tightrope, keeping us on edge. His Professor Higgins sets out to create his goddess, but in the end he loses control of it, almost like rabbi Loew and his Golem. The Golem becomes self-destructive because it is an automaton that doesn't know when to stop, a bit like the vehicles piling up in the Mojave Desert in behalf of military creativity to invent a roaming robot. Higgins cannot recognize that Eliza is of the same intellectual level because she comes from the lower society with the wrong dialect. Shaw parodies the hypocrisy of affluent society which prides itself on being superior to the working-bloke because it has the "hay-ches in the right places", but perhaps the reverse is true as Eliza has the mettle to parry with her pedant and doesn't succumb.

All three forms are linked below from Ovid's Metamorphoses Book X to the stage play and later Lerner and Loewe production of My Fair Lady which is now suffering a revival on Drury Lane. It is also a zany must see in German if ever in Vienna at the Volksoper.

Ovid, Metamorphoses Bk X : Pygmalion
1713 rather free verse translation with illustrations

Ovid, Metamorphoses Bk X: Pygmalion
in prose 1850 transl

Ovid, Metamorphoses Bk X: Pygmalion
Garth transl 17th c with Dryden

"The University of Vermont's rare book department contains an extensive collection of illustrated works of Ovid. Included are several editions of engravings by the 17th century German artist, Johann Wilhelm Bauer, depicting 150 scenes from the Metamorphoses. Each scene has a brief description in both Latin and German. Some plates from a 1640 edition of the translation done by George Sandys are also available"

main page

Ovid, Metamorphoses Bk X: Pygmalion

Ovid, Metamorphoses Kline translation
page for downloading etext: Kline, Dryden and Caxton

Short Bio: George Bernard Shaw

Kirjasto: GBS

Shaw the Socialist and founder of Fabian Society

Abacci: George Bernard Shaw, Pygmalion
brief article and free ebook download of GBS play

Palm digital: GBS, Pygmalion

at Gutenberg, GBS, Pygmalion

Mouth Shut: Review of Pygmalion

Lerner & Loewe, My Fair Lady
Drury Lane Theatre, West End London

"The Hilton Award for Outstanding Musical Production:
My Fair Lady book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, music by Frederick Loewe, adapted from Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion and Gabriel Pascal's motion picture"

imbd portal: Pygmalion 1938
Anthony Asquith, Leslie Howard

on Amazon DVD: My Fair Lady
Rex Harrison, Audrey Hepburn 1964 2discs Limited

A brief history of the filmed musical

imbd portal: My Fair lady
Audrey Hepburn doubled by Marnie Nixon

From Stage to Screen: My Fair Lady

Rotten Tomatoes: review of My Fair Lady

TV Guide review: My Fair Lady

6 July Golem and Gollums


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