Stay or Not to Stay?

     The endings of the 1913 Bernard Shaw play Pygmalion and the 1938 Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard film version of Pygmalion are different. In the play Eliza Doolittle leaves Henry Higgins for Freddy. In the film Eliza, played by Wendy Hiller, stays with Higgins, who is depicted by Leslie Howard. Should Eliza have stayed or left Higgins.

     Henry Higgins is a complex character. Higgins is a phonetics professor. He is a life-long bachelor and very set in his ways. Higgins does not think he needs a woman in his life; he is very content living the bachelor life. He is so set in his ways that he has no manners. He does and says whatever he wants to. His own mother does not like him to visit because of his bad behavior, which embarrasses her. But when Eliza Doolittle comes into his life, that all changes.

     Eliza is a poor flower girl who wants to become a respectable woman in a flower shop. She hears Higgins and Col. Pickering, played by Scott Sunderland, discussing how Higgins could teach Eliza to talk proper English. The next day Eliza shows up at Higgins' home. While there she tells Higgins she wants to hire him as a teacher. At first Higgins rejects the idea, but Pickering comes to Eliza's aid and convinces Higgins that the idea could be worthwhile. Higgins bets Pickering that he can turn Eliza into a Duchess and pass her off as a princes at a royal ball in six months.

     Higgins decides, after around three months of teaching Eliza, he will take her to the home of his mother (Marie Lohr), for a social gathering of his mothers' friends. At this social gathering Eliza meets, for the second time, Freddy Eynsford-Hill, acted by David Tree. Their first meeting was at the front of St. Paul's Church in Covent Garden at the beginning of the film. But neither of them remembers their first encounter. Freddy finds Eliza funny and witty and falls in love with her. Freddy spends most of his time outside Higgins' home just waiting to see Eliza.

     After six months have passed, Higgins and Pickering take Eliza to a ball at the Transylvanian Embassy. Higgins is successful at convincing the royal family of Transylvania that Eliza is a real princess. Higgins and Pickering celebrate Higgins' success. The two of them forget about Eliza and act as if she had played no part in winning the bet. Eliza has an argument with Higgins over her treatment and decides to leave. Freddy is waiting outside the house, and Eliza runs off with Freddy. Higgins and Pickering find Eliza at the home of Higgins' the next day. Eliza realizes that she could do without Higgins. After Eliza leaves, Higgins begins to realize how much he has grown to love her.

     In the play, Eliza leaves Higgins and does not come back. She tells Higgins she is going to marry Freddy. She wants to marry Freddy, despite the fact he is a little ignorant, because he truly loves her and is not afraid to show it. This is the smartest decision she could have made. She can now get a job in a flower shop with Pickering' help, or she could teach phonetics like Higgins. Eliza would be happier with Freddy because he would treat her with respect and show his love for her. If Eliza were to come back to Higgins, as she does in the film, she would not have been as happy. Pickering would still have helped her, and he would have treated her with respect. But Higgins is set in his ways and would never have treated Eliza as well as Freddy would, and the way she wanted him to treat her.

     Bernard Shaw was right to end the play the way he did, with Eliza leaving Higgins for a life with Freddy. Asquith and Howard should have ended the film like the play. Unfortunately for Eliza Doolittle, the film audience had to have a happy ending

Colin Moore

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