By George Bernard Shaw, John A. Bertolini
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Extra info for Pygmalion and Three Other Plays (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)
It isn舗t just the war of wills between Barbara Undershaft, the society girl who turns to the Salvation Army in her need to do good and save souls, and her father, whose munitions empire commits him to war and destruction. It is out-of-work cockneys, young men about town and rich dowagers, all living on habit, instinct and the calculation needed to bridge the gap between what they have and what they want. And, in all Shaw舗s work, it is the rigorous musicality of his language. Jefferson is surely right that Shaw舗s achievement in Major Barbara has two aspects: the variety and plenitude of the world he unfolds before us; and the designing and composing of sentences into harmony, counterpoint, and rhythmical ideas.
The man admits he has never married because he has never found a woman enough like his mother舒a woman, Shaw takes pains to point out, who surrounds herself with art. Now, a son who looks for a replicate of his mother in a wife is a son who wants to take his father舗s place, to be his own father (note that Higgins舗s father is never so much as referred to in the play). Higgins has mastered the art of speech, of phonetics, so that he can identify people舗s hidden origins, as he does with the crowd that gathers around Eliza when she suspects he is a detective ready to arrest her for prostitution and is protesting her innocence.
But let me add a third aspect: the shaping and arranging of action. And it is not for naught that Shaw knew Shakespeare舗s plays as he knew Beethoven舗s nine symphonies note for note. But Shaw舗s view of Shakespeare has often been misunderstood舒Shaw loved Shakespeare舗s art but did not love what he took to be Shakespeare舗s stoic-pessimistic view of life. He said once that no one would ever write a better play than Othello, because humanly speaking, Shakespeare had done the thing as well as it could be done; in the same way no one could improve on Mozart舗s music.