How You're Spoken to

        Comparing the 1913 play Pygmalion and its 1964 film version, My Fair Lady (directed by George Cukor), is quite easy to do. The play and film are similar in everything except their endings. The more important thing to observe is the story itself. The different versions can mainly be compared in the way they handled the ending of the story.

        In George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, we are introduced to Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn in the film), a Cockney flower girl. She and the phonetician Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) meet while sheltering from a rainy night. He is caught observing the girl and taking down what she says. When he reveals his trade he is talked into showing it off a little. He goes on to brag that he could teach Eliza how to speak as well as a princess. It is soon after this declaration he discovers he has been in company of a fellow phonetician, Colonel Pickering (Wilfred Hyde-White). They go on their way, but they have planted a seed of hope in the flower girl.

        Soon after that night, Higgins and Colonel Pickering meet Eliza again. She is asking Higgins to teach her to speak well enough to work in a flower shop. Higgins decides instead to make a bet with Pickering that, in six months, he will pass Eliza off as a duchess at a fancy party. Eliza is put in residence with little trouble and the experiment begins. Eliza is a clever girl and begins to learn the speech and ways of a lady from the two men. The two men are pleased with their experiment, but do not seem to be considering what will happen at its end.

        The final test for the experiment is a grand party and Eliza does beautifully. On their return home the two men comment about how well they did and how they are pleased to be done with the experiment. This sends Eliza into a rage, and she leaves the house.

        The conclusion of the story and the film both deal with Higgins and Pickering finding Eliza and asking her to return. In the play Eliza decides to marry Freddie, a simple boy from the upper class that has fallen in love with her; she knows that she may have to support him; but she would rather not return to Higgins and his abuse. In the film Eliza puts Higgins in his place but comes back at the end, because she feels she belongs there. Deciding which ending is the best resolution is difficult. Both could turn out very well or very badly. It is not something that the observer can decide. Eliza is a clever character, and it seems likely that she will place herself into the best situation for her.

        We can only know what would be best for ourselves.

Lace Gilger