I know what it is to live entirely for and with what I love best on earth.-Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Mona's Musings

June 6th, 2011

Pygmalion at the Garrick Theatre: An Interpretation

Every girl has a right to be loved. – Eliza Doolittle

Dear Rupert and Kara,

I saw your show last week in previews with What’sOnStage. I loved it. Kara, as I am an American, you are new to me, but I thought your performance was lovely – especially the tea with the Eynsford Hills – hysterical. Rupert, I am a big fan so it was a delight, if not a shock, to see you with black eyes — and almost sinister. The best part of What’sOnStage is the cast chats of course, and I thought it very generous of you both to appear in your t-shirts and jeans afterwards to appease us groupies and to answer our questions. I never did raise my hand, but I wanted to. My question would have been along these lines:

Most of the commentary I’ve seen on this play relates to the issue of linguistics or social politics. From a psychological perspective though, don’t you think it could be about the differences in men and women: how convoluted relationships become — all because we don’t understand what’s really at the heart of it all?

Since I know, as professional thespians, you’ll be interested in enriching your subtext and character, here’s my interpretation, as a professional romantic, of what Eliza and Henry are REALLY saying:

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Photo from “The Public Review”

Eliza tries to control herself and feel indifferent as she rises and walks across to the hearth to switch off the lights. By the time she gets there she is on the point of screaming. She sits down in Higgins’s chair and holds on hard to the arms. Finally she gives way and flings herself furiously on the floor raging.

LIZA:I feel so terribly unloved!

HIGGINS [in despairing wrath outside] What the devil have I done with my slippers? [He appears at the door].

LIZA [snatching up the slippers, and hurling them at him one after the other with all her force] There are your slippers. And there. Take your slippers; and may you never have a day’s luck with them!

LIZA: I hate the way you make me feel so unloved!

HIGGINS [astounded] What on earth—! [He comes to her]. Whats the matter? Get up. [He pulls her up]. Anything wrong?

HIGGINS:  I just had the triumph of my career – aren’t you happy for me? What could possibly be wrong?

LIZA [breathless] Nothing wrong—with you. I’ve won your bet for you, haven’t I? That’s enough for you. I don’t matter, I suppose.

LIZA: Why is work always more important than I am? I should be the most important thing to you!

HIGGINS. You won my bet! You! Presumptuous insect! I won it. What did you throw those slippers at me for?

HIGGINS: I’ve worked hard to achieve what I have in the world of men. I need you to admire me, not try to steal my thunder.

LIZA. Because I wanted to smash your face. I’d like to kill you, you selfish brute. Why didn’t you leave me where you picked me out of—in the gutter? You thank God it’s all over, and that now you can throw me back again there, do you? [She crisps her fingers frantically].

LIZA:  I hate the way I’ve come to need you so desperately. My craving for your affection is insatiable. I need you to commit to me.

HIGGINS [looking at her in cool wonder] The creature is nervous, after all.

HIGGINS: Women are such overly sensitive creatures!

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A pause. Eliza hopeless and crushed. Higgins a little uneasy.

HIGGINS [in his loftiest manner] Why have you begun going on like this? May I ask whether you complain of your treatment here?

HIGGINS: Haven’t I provided for you? I need you to appreciate my need to provide and to realize that this is how I show you I care.

LIZA. No.

LIZA: Yes.

HIGGINS. Has anybody behaved badly to you? Colonel Pickering? Mrs. Pearce? Any of the servants?

LIZA. No.

HIGGINS. I presume you don’t pretend that I have treated you badly.

HIGGINS: Haven’t I protected you? I need you to appreciate my need to protect and to realize that this is how I show you I care.

LIZA. No.

LIZA: Yes.

HIGGINS. I am glad to hear it. [He moderates his tone]. Perhaps you’re tired after the strain of the day. Will you have a glass of champagne? [He moves towards the door].

HIGGINS: You see, I knew I could fix your problem. I like to fix your problems. You should feel assured that I care about you.

**********

LIZA. No. Nothing more for you to worry about. [She suddenly rises and gets away from him by going to the piano bench, where she sits and hides her face]. Oh God! I wish I was dead.

LIZA: I don’t want you to fix my problems! I just need you to listen!

 

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LIZA. Do my clothes belong to me or to Colonel Pickering?

HIGGINS [coming back into the room as if her question were the very climax of unreason] What the devil use would they be to Pickering?

LIZA. He might want them for the next girl you pick up to experiment on.

LIZA: You obviously do not love me any better than any other woman and that kills me.

HIGGINS [shocked and hurt] Is that the way you feel towards us?

HIGGINS: Don’t you respect me?

LIZA. I don’t want to hear anything more about that. All I want to know is whether anything belongs to me. My own clothes were burnt.

LIZA: I really just want to draw you close to me, to have you open up to me, but I feel so unloved, I am rejecting the things you have provided for me.

HIGGINS. But what does it matter? Why need you start bothering about that in the middle of the night?

HIGGINS: Why are we having an emotional conversation now? Shouldn’t conversation be about conveying information rather than emotion? I’m so tired.

LIZA. I want to know what I may take away with me. I don’t want to be accused of stealing.

LIZA: I need you so badly to show me some loyalty and caring, and my state of heart affects everything about me – whatever time it is! I’ll pretend that I don’t want or need your tokens of affection.

HIGGINS [now deeply wounded] Stealing! You shouldn’t have said that, Eliza. That shows a want of feeling.

HIGGINS: I have gone to great lengths this way to show you how much I care! It kills me that you do not appreciate or respect the way I have tried to provide!

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LIZA [taking a ring off] This ring isn’t the jeweler’s: it’s the one you bought me in Brighton. I don’t want it now. [Higgins dashes the ring violently into the fireplace, and turns on her so threateningly that she crouches over the piano with her hands over her face, and exclaims] Don’t you hit me.

LIZA: Since you won’t love me, you don’t deserve my respect.

HIGGINS. Hit you! You infamous creature, how dare you accuse me of such a thing? It is you who have hit me. You have wounded me to the heart.

HIGGINS: I take pride in protecting – not hurting you! You have actually wounded me to the heart by showing me such contempt and disdain! You don’t know how much it hurts!

LIZA [thrilling with hidden joy] I’m glad. I’ve got a little of my own back, anyhow.

LIZA: If you won’t love me, then I’ll make you hurt almost as much as I am hurting!

HIGGINS [with dignity, in his finest professional style] You have caused me to lose my temper: a thing that has hardly ever happened to me before. I prefer to say nothing more tonight. I am going to bed.

HIGGINS: I cannot communicate in this way – at this intense emotional level. I am sworn by nature to protecting you but you are tempting me to battle – to hurt you. I cannot do it. I must do the honorable thing and retreat.

LIZA [pertly] You’d better leave a note for Mrs. Pearce about the coffee; for she won’t be told by me.

LIZA: Please don’t leave without telling me you care! Why can’t you just say, ‘I’m sorry’? I need you to just say ‘I’m sorry’.

HIGGINS [formally] Damn Mrs. Pearce; and damn the coffee; and damn you; and damn my own folly in having lavished hard-earned knowledge and the treasure of my regard and intimacy on a heartless guttersnipe. [He goes out with impressive decorum, and spoils it by slamming the door savagely].

HIGGINS:What did I do wrong? I just want her respect!

Eliza smiles for the first time; expresses her feelings by a wild pantomime in which an imitation of Higgins’s exit is confused with her own triumph; and finally goes down on her knees on the hearthrug to look for the ring.

LIZA: What did I do wrong? I just want to be loved!

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See what I mean Rupert and Kara? If you want to do more homework along these lines (no pun intended), I highly recommend “LOVE and RESPECT” by Emmerson Eggerich.

I’ll close with a toast I make to all couples, and especially to your partnership on stage:

Here’s to a long and healthy run!

Mona

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nloved, I will get back at you by rejecting the things you have provided for me.

HIGGINS. But what does it matter? Why need you start bothering about that in the middle of the night?

HIGGINS: Why are we having an emotional conversation now? I’m so tired and was feeling good about my accomplishments.

LIZA. I want to know what I may take away with me. I don’t want to be accused of stealing.

LIZA: I need you so badly to show me some loyalty and caring, I’ll pretend that I don’t want or need your tokens of affection.

HIGGINS [now deeply wounded] Stealing! You shouldnt have said that, Eliza. That shews a want of feeling.

HIGGINS: I have gone to great lengths this way to show you how much I care! It kills me that you do not respect the way I have provided for you!

Hint of Romance

It is so basic. Women need love. Men need respect.

What did you think of this musing?

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Discussion

  1. I literally saw that scene from “My fair lady” in my mind, as I read this, and caught a whole new undercurrent I never saw when I was younger. That was fantastic!

  2. Bri Z says:

    I hope you actually sent this letter to them! :)

  3. Sara Lyn says:

    I loved your underscore of the conversation. So true!

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