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“Inventing New Elizas”: Anxieties about Automaton and Class in Pygmalion

  • Journal of Modern English Drama
  • Abbr : JMBARD
  • 2018, 31(2), pp.57-80
  • Publisher : 한국현대영미드라마학회
  • Research Area : Humanities > English Language and Literature > English Literature > Contemporary English Drama

Eunha Na 1

1서울대학교/경기대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

The article investigates the subversive possibilities and limitations of Eliza’s acting in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion(1914), focusing on the recurring trope of the marionette. Drawing upon the emergent discourses on automaton at the turn of the twentieth century, which coincided with the early modernist attempts to eliminate human actors on stage, the article demonstrates how the heroine’s transformation from a flower girl to a perfect duchess evokes ambivalent feelings of fascination and anxiety in the viewer. Eliza’s compelling performance as an “artificial duchess” destabilizes the essentialist notion of class and poses a threat to the existing social order. This potentially disruptive power, however, is precarious because Eliza is subjected to Higgins’s directorial control and lacks agency over her own identity. The article argues that the play’s subversive promise is manifested in the heroine’s ultimate transition from an automaton-like actress to the über-marionette, an ideal performer equipped with free will and self-control, that Edward Gordon Craig has suggested for the theater of the future.

Citation status

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