George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion: A Romance in Five Acts (1912) is one of greatest comic masterpieces of the 20th century. It's hard now to imagine how a play about a phonetics expert who decides to... More > convert an uneducated Cockney flower girl into a high society lady would have been controversial. It does take jabs at the British social hierarchy and women's independence, all packaged up as a neat comic play. Shaw originally staged Pygmalion as a translation in Vienna, hoping to generate a buzz for his work outside the purview of British critics. When the play was a hit, English audiences and critics where intrigued.
Shaw's second tactic to launch a successful staging was to make his audiences think that Pygmalion, which referenced Ovid's Metamorphosis, was a classical play. In the Metamorphosis, Pygmalion becomes celibate after becoming fed up with women, whereafter he pursues the ideal female which he carves out of ivory. After making a quick sacrifice to the gods, Pygmalion's woman comes to life.< Less