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Compare and Contrast Pygmalion Essay

In this “Pygmalion” essay, we offer you an all-embracing insight into these two literary masterpieces, where we trace the parallels between the two iconic protagonists: the affectionate ancient artist and the conceited post-Victorian professor. This essay features the comparison of these two characters based on the thorough evaluation of the two. If you are feeling entrenched in your literature assignments and looking for some comprehensive explanation of “Pygmalion,” feel free to use the provided analysis as an illumination of both the play and the narrative.

Pygmalion Essay Sample

What similarities does “Pygmalion” by Ovid and “Pygmalion” by B. Shaw have? How has each author transformed the myth to his own play?


“Pygmalion” written by the Roman poet Ovid is an ancient myth and a part of Ovid’s book of “Metamorphose.” Its modern interpretation takes place in Bernard’s Shaw’s play “Pygmalion” many centuries later. Inspired by the central idea that a man is a creator and a woman, his masterpiece, Shaw transformed the myth into a story appropriate for modern times.

Eventually, these two visions of the writers from different epochs have some similarities and differences. In the ancient myth, Pygmalion was a very talented sculptor who lived in Cyprus. Once, he created an incredibly realistic-looking sculpture of a woman of fabulous beauty and fell in love with his masterpiece.

“Pygmalion” by Ovid and Its Main Events

Pygmalion had no interest in women because he was sure that he would never get married, for the reason that women had too many bad qualities. But this time his feelings were so strong and sincere that he treated the statue as if it was a real person. He called her Galatea. He was dressing her, bringing her presents, and admiring her beauty in the rays of sunlight and moonlight.

One day, at Aphrodite’s festival he internally wished to meet a woman with “the living likeness of my ivory girl.” The goddess of love heard him, and being impressed with his pure love, made his wish become the truth. Pygmalion went back home, thinking about his fervent wish and daring prayer. His first action was to kiss his beloved Galatea, and to his wonder, he noticed that her face became warm, as if she was alive.

He noticed that the sculpture was coming to life and that Aphrodite had granted his wish. Finally, he married his perfect woman. This story was a great inspiration in the development of ideas for literature, theater, and cinema in the next generations. Perhaps the most popular was the play “Pygmalion” by George Bernard Shaw, written in 1912 and first premiering the next year at the Hofburg Theatre in Vienna.

George Bernard Shaw’s Transformation of the Myth

However, Shaw did not simply repeat Ovid’s plot, but transformed the myth to reflect the thinking of the modern era. Shaw’s modern remake tells the story of Eliza, an ill-bred girl from a low-income family. The events of the story take place in London. It is raining, and Freddy is trying to catch a cab for his family after an evening at the cinema.

Accidentally he runs into Eliza, who is selling flowers. All of Eliza’s flowers fall to the ground. Henry Higgins, a professor of phonetics, and Colonel Pickering are witnesses to this situation. The pair, who are both interested in phonetics, place a bet. Higgins bets that he can teach Eliza to speak and behave “as a Duchess.”

Eliza is interested in Higgin’s suggestion and comes to his house the next day. She stays to live there for the period of study and immediately becomes a fascinating object of study due to her direct and unexpected manner of speaking. She struggles to adapt her manner of speaking to that of the gentry under Higgins’ tutelage.

However, her manner of speaking is still inappropriate for high society. Her reply when invited to go for a walk,“Walk? Not bloody likely!” become legendary in literary circles. After months of education however, even her father fails to recognize Eliza, and Higgins wins the bet. He loses interest in the “project” and Eliza then has no idea how to live.

The two argue, and she leaves his house. Nevertheless, three main protagonists have gotten accustomed to each other and grown fond of each other to the point where it seems that Eliza will return to Higgins and Pickering and the three will live like “three friendly old bachelors.” Despite dramatic differences, Pygmalion by Ovid and Pygmalion by Shaw have some general similarities.

The Comparison of Male Characters

First of all, both main male heroes, Pygmalion and Professor Higgins cannot find a common language with women. Pygmalion does not get along with ladies, and Higgins thinks that “women upset everything.” “When you let them into your life, you find that woman is driving at one thing and you driving at another,” he says. Both are the confident bachelors (“Comparison Between Pygmalion-Shaw & Pygmalion-Ovid’s Metamorphoses”).

The second obvious similarity is that the men in both stories are creators. The mythological Pygmalion is literally the creator of a female sculpture made from ivory, while Higgins is the “creator” of an intelligent, well-spoken lady from elite society, transformed from a plain flower-girl from the street. Nevertheless, in Shaw’s adaptation of the mythology to his play, there are significant differences.

In Ovid’s version, Pygmalion falls in love and marries his creation. In the new interpretation, there is no chance for romantic relations between Higgins and Eliza. The contemporary version leaves ellipses in their relationships, but Higgins has always been rude to Eliza. Moreover, Higgins dedicates too much time to his mother and science, while Eliza becomes a confident and independent woman and overcomes the role of the student (Bostridge).

In real life there was even a fight between the lead actor of the play, Herbert Beerbohm Tree, and Shaw over the ending of the play. Tree wanted Eliza to catch a bouquet of flowers in the last episode of the play, to foreshadow a wedding (Ellis).

Different Endings

In fact, it’s proposed that Shaw’s final version even comes with the subtext that Eliza rejects a proposal from Higgins. Pygmalion by Ovid and Shaw’s transformation from myth to play have a common and immortal theme: relationships between men and women.

These stories have differences and share similarities. The main common feature of these writings is the character of the central male heroes: bachelors, both trying to avoid dealing with women. Another similarity becomes visible in the endings of the stories: both Higgins and Pygmalion are “creators” of “perfect women.”

A significant difference between Ovid’s and Shaw’s interpretations is in the endings of their stories: Ovid brings his story to the end with Pygmalion feeling happy and full of love as he marries his creation, while Shaw leaves the end to his audience’s imagination. Although the stories differ as they’re written in the contexts of different times, cultures, and modes of thought, both “Pygmalions” are justifiably beloved for the impact they’ve had throughout the world.

Works Cited

Bostridge, Mark. Why My Fair Lady Betrays Pygmalion. Telegraph.co.uk. N.p., 2018. Web. 5 Jan. 2018. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/theatre-features/10755716/Why-My-Fair-Lady-betrays-Pygmalion.html.
Ellis, Samantha. Pygmalion’s Opening Night In London, 11 April 1914.The
Guardian. N.p., 2011. Web. 5 Jan. 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2004/feb/11/theatre.
Comparison Between Pygmalion-Shaw Pygmalion-Ovid’s Metamorphoses. A Life Full of Drama,…2007. Web. 5 Jan. 2018. http://chelsea-fk.blogspot.com/2007/09/comparison-between-pygmalion-shaw.html.

Non-Trivial Pygmalion Essay Topics

Even though the myth and the play are well-known masterpieces, it might be challenging to decide what topic to explore when writing an essay. Use this list as a guide when you can’t choose which way to go with this assignment.

  • Socio-linguistic portrait of the main character
  • The world of things in Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion”
  • The analysis of metaphors in Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion”
  • The structure of the play
  • Moral responsibility and its reflection in the main characters
  • What would happen in the sixth act of the play if you were to write its continuation?
  • Compare and contrast: Bernard Shaw’s play “Pygmalion” and George Cukor’s musical comedy-drama “My Fair Lady”
  • The role of dialogue in the play; its linguistic features
  • The originality of ideas of Bernard Shaw’
  • Satire and Irony in “Pygmalion” and the power of languageProto-feminist views of the author in “Pygmalion”
  • The explorations of superficial social requirements in “Pygmalion”
  • What determines the status of a lady/gentleman – social status, financial status, or personal representation?

How to Analyze a Play

Students need to analyze dozens of literary works while studying in college. It is a time-consuming assignment that requires strong analytical and writing skills. Moreover, a significant difference exists between analyzing a play and a novel. You aim to pay attention to an author’s remarks and stage notes- the characters’ mood, the surroundings, stage directions, etc.
Everything plays an essential role in a play. Remember that you still need to analyze the characters, plot, and theme of a play. However, it may be more challenging to do so as these elements do not appear in the same order as in prose.

Here are some practical tips on how to approach this task:

  • Identify the type of play: comedy, tragedy, melodrama, romantic comedy, satirical comedy, or tragicomedy
  • Consider the historical context of the play
  • Notice the difference in the tone of voice of different characters: it will provide insight into their personalities and the themes they represent
  • Analyze the dramatic devices that an author uses: what effect are they trying to make on an audience?
  • Determine the central conflict of the play: what do characters want and what actions do they take to achieve their goals?
  • When analyzing a specific character, explore their journey: what is the difference between them in the beginning and in the end of a play, how do they change?
  • Concentrate on the role the language plays: as you can see, language is one of the central elements in Pygmalion
  • Think about the role of time in a play: are there any deadlines, if there are, why are they so important?
  • Focus on the choices of the characters: these moments are often the keys to understanding a dramatic story
  • Analyze scenic metaphors: everything you see on stage is there for a reason;
  • If you notice elements of the metaphorical and the real world in a play, try to understand the correlation between them
  • After reading a play, write several thesis statements that summarize its main messages
  • Explore other authors who’ve used the same idea for their masterpieces: what distinguishes their works
  • Ask yourself unexpected questions: what happens next, after the final act of the play?

Hopefully, these tips will help you analyze a play while reducing your stress.

Get Help with Your Essay from Our Talented Writers

This ‘Pygmalion’ essay was developed by our top experts in English literature. It features the analysis of the key characters from these legendary examples of fiction literature, and explores how Bernard Shaw managed to reenact this timeless narrative into a play. We hope that this essay will aid you in passing your literature course and help you perceive these pieces of literary art more effectively.

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