Teaching Students About Pygmalion

When it comes to teaching literature, it’s important to choose works that resonate with students while also providing ample opportunities for meaningful discussions and analysis. One classic play that can do just that is Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw.

Pygmalion tells the story of a phonetics professor named Henry Higgins, who wagers that he can transform a street-smart, Cockney flower seller named Eliza Doolittle into a refined lady. With the help of his friend Colonel Pickering, Higgins takes on the task of teaching Eliza how to speak and act like a member of high society.

The play explores themes such as social class, gender roles, and the power of language. It also presents interesting questions about identity and transformation. Is it possible to change one’s social status through learning proper language and manners? And if so, what does that say about the importance we place on these cultural markers?

There are several ways to approach teaching Pygmalion to students. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

1. Analyze the characters
Have students analyze the motivations and personalities of the main characters, including Higgins, Eliza, and Colonel Pickering. Ask questions such as: What drives Higgins to make the bet with Pickering, and what does he hope to gain by transforming Eliza? How does Eliza change throughout the play, and what does she learn about herself and society?

2. Discuss the themes
Use Pygmalion as a platform to discuss broader themes such as social class, gender roles, and the power of language. Ask students to identify instances in the play where these themes come into play, and explore the implications of those instances.

3. Compare and contrast with other works
Have students compare Pygmalion with other works that explore similar themes, such as My Fair Lady (the musical adaptation of Pygmalion) or Emma by Jane Austen. Ask students to identify similarities and differences between the works, and consider why these themes continue to be relevant across different time periods and genres.

4. Explore the historical context
Pygmalion was first published in 1912, at a time when there was a lot of social upheaval in England. Have students research the historical context of the play, including class tensions and the suffrage movement, and consider how these factors might have influenced Shaw’s writing.

Teaching Pygmalion to students can be a rewarding experience that offers plenty of opportunities for analysis and discussion. By exploring the themes and characters of this classic play, students can gain a deeper understanding of the power of language, social class, and identity.

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