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Theatre / My Fair Lady

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Why can't the English teach their children how to speak?
This verbal class distinction by now should be antique.
If you spoke as she did, sir, instead of the way you do,
Why, you might be selling flowers, too!
Henry Higgins, "Why Can't The English?"

My Fair Lady started life as a stage musical by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, based on George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, and starring Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison. It was a smash hit when it opened in 1956, and set new records for the longest run in Broadway musical history (a title now held by The Phantom of the Opera, which is still running).

The musical follows the young Eliza Doolittle, an outspoken and hopeful flower girl in Edwardian England who takes elocution lessons from Professor Henry Higgins, who (as a result of a bet with the kindly Colonel Pickering) promises to turn her into "a lady." He then trains her, day and night, using some downright bizarre machinery and techniques (the marbles make sense, but some of the others...)

When Higgins attempts to try Eliza out on Society by introducing her into his mother's box at Ascot, the transfigured flower girl also encounters young Freddy Eynsford-Hill, who, unaware of Eliza's true social standing, is instantly smitten — despite (indeed, because of) Eliza's humiliating lapse into vulgarity at the running of the horserace itself.


The lessons finally culminate in the Embassy Ball, at which ambassadors, lords, and the Queen and Prince of Transylvania will be present. The ball, despite the presence of the venal language expert Zoltan Karpathy, goes incredibly well; Eliza dances with the prince and many at the ball believe Karpathy's identification of Eliza as a Hungarian princess(!).

Then the relationship between Eliza and Higgins, which had been steadily improving, takes a huge blow when Higgins takes all the credit for Eliza's success. Eliza is understandably saddened and enraged and she leaves the house after an outburst that leaves Higgins angry and confused; the rest of the play involves them figuring out their relationship in their own way, though if it works out in the end is left to the viewers' interpretations.


In 1964, Warner Bros. released a movie adaptation, which starred Audrey Hepburn as Eliza.

This work provides examples of:

  • Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole: In the first act of Pygmalion, Henry Higgins brings Eliza to a tea party at his mother's house. Lerner and Loewe dropped that scene and replaced it with the scene at the Ascot races (presumably to give the chorus something to do). They left unexplained how Eliza knows where Mrs. Higgins lives in order to visit her in the second act, as in this version of events she has never been there before.
    • Unless Freddy, who was with her in the cab, had been to Mrs. Higgins' house.
  • Adorkable: Freddy gets positively randy over Eliza's bad social graces.
  • Alliterative Name: Henry Higgins. Eliza, a Cockney girl, struggles with dropping H's and calls him 'Enry 'Iggins.
  • Anti-Love Song: "Just You Wait" and "Without You".
  • Bathe Her and Bring Her to Me: Higgins said this out loud, and Eliza certainly thought he meant it in the trope sense, too. He didn't.
  • "Blackmail" Is Such an Ugly Word: Enforced when Higgins asks Alfie point-blank how much he wants. Alfie insists on beating around the bush, seemingly on principle.
  • Blessed with Suck: Alfred's windfall is a double-edged sword, as he's now forced to enter into legal marriage with "Mrs." Dolittle. As if 'avin' to act like a bloomin' gentleman weren't enough already.
  • Bowdlerise: The name of the oily language expert was changed from Nepomuk to Zoltan Karpathy, because St. John Nepomuk (as Shaw was well aware) was a Catholic saint and patron of the confessional.
  • Break the Haughty: Mrs. Higgins' favorite sport with her son, and she delights in Eliza putting him in his place in front of her.
  • British Stuffiness: "The Ascot Gavotte." The English sure know how to party.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: He may be lord of the manor, but Higgins' weirdness is very apparent in public.
  • Can't Live With Them, Can't Live Without Them: Eliza and Henry, to each other.
  • Catchphrase: Pickering's "I'm dashed." Eventually lampshaded by Higgins:
    Higgins: Oh, Pickering, for God's sake stop being dashed and do something!
  • Costume Porn: Eliza's gorgeous dresses after her transformation.
  • Curse Cut Short: While singing "Without You", Eliza nearly tells Higgins he can go to Hell — but replaces it with "Hertford, Hereford, and Hampshire" (echoing Higgins' speech exercise from earlier).
    • Freddy of all people does it during his first song when he is just about to quote Eliza's Precision F-Strike in song when Mrs Pearce opens the door.
  • Dances and Balls: The Embassy Ball.
  • Dark(er) Reprise: "Just You Wait" gets a reprise shortly after "You Did It". This time, It's Personal.
  • Deconfirmed Bachelor: Henry Higgins embodies this trope, having said 'So here I am, a confirmed old bachelor and likely to remain so' and so much more. The only hang-up is whether he can actually be considered deconfirmed by the end—though most people agree he had at least befriended and come to care about Eliza by the end—and since he is such an extreme case that he'd never even had a female friend before, by his own admission, this could still be enough of an about-face to qualify him.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: “Just You Wait”, in which Eliza wishes death on Professor Higgins in return for his rudeness.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Freddy, in what would be considered stalking by today's terms.
  • Dr. Jerk: Henry Higgins himself, though he's technically a professor of linguistics and not a doctor per se.
  • Dresses the Same: In the Ascot scene in the film.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Higgins mercilessly drills Eliza day and night. Meanwhile, his servant staff fawns over his ordeal.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: Eliza is extremely angry over how Higgins gets all the praise for fooling everyone at the Embassy ball.
    "Yoooooooooooooooooooooouuuuuuuuuuu did it! ♫"
  • The Edwardian Era: 1912, to be precise. (Makes one rather wonder about Freddy's fate.) In a flash of Fridge Brilliance, this may imply a case of Death of the Hypotenuse.
  • Entertainingly Wrong:
    And although she may have studied with an expert dialectitian and grammarian,
    I can tell that she was born — Hungarian!
    ...Not only Hungarian, but of royal blood.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Higgins might experiment on the desperate and vulnerable for the sake of his own amusement, but Zoltan — a hatchet man who likes to mix with socialites and extort money out of them by covering up for their poor English — is low even for him.
  • Fanfare: "The Transylvanian March".
  • Fee Fi Faux Pas: Eliza's outburst at the races, to her (and Henry's) embarrassment.
  • Fictional Holiday: In Eliza's dream ("Just You Wait"), the King is so enraptured by her voice that he declares Eliza Dolittle Day.
  • Flat Joy: Those prim-and-proper racetrack patrons sure are excited to be there. Can't you tell?
  • Gem-Encrusted: The embassy dress is loaded with jewels.
  • Gentleman Snarker: Professor Higgins is impeccably polite in the rudest way possible.
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: Pickering and Higgins.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: One of its Oscars was for Costume Design.
  • Got Me Doing It: The voice exercises start getting to poor Pickering after awhile. "'Ave you troid the ploin cayke?"
  • Grief Song: "I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face" arguably, since it's a combination of grief and anger. Doubles as Love Epiphany.
  • Hates Everyone Equally: Higgins' defense to Eliza's charge that he still treats her like rubbish. In point of fact, he treats everyone like that — and he's proud of it, too.
    Higgins: The question is not whether I treat you rudely, but whether you've ever heard me treat anyone else better.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: Henry is very misogynistic, though he insists he's not. In fact, he's got a whole song dedicated to whining about how much he dislikes women ("An Ordinary Man"). The end of the play may have helped him get over it, but again, it's up to viewer interpretation.
    • Two whole songs — there's also "A Hymn to Him" (a.k.a. "Why Can't a Woman Be More Like a Man?").
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Both Higgins and Pickering have that "confirmed bachelor" vibe thing going for them.
    • Higgins even uses that exact phrase, then shudders at the idea of marriage. He also has a hard time admitting Eliza "might" be attractive when he suggests she marry herself off (cue flamboyant flourish), laments that women aren't more like men, and while all this might have been intended as Belligerent Sexual Tension it's taken so far that the idea of a sexual/romantic relationship between him and Eliza becomes ... a stretch.
    • Higgins asks Pickering where one can find a Ladies' Dress Shop. Pickering replies so quickly, Higgins asks how he would know. Pickering clears his throat and says "Common knowledge" (despite having just arrived in London from years living in India).
    • If you insist, you can interpret Higgins' "Why Can't A Woman Be More Like A Man" number as evidence.
  • Hypocritical Humor: As they prepare for the ball, Pickering downs a glass of port and curses Higgins for his constant serenity. Before they leave, however, Higgins peeks over his shoulder and quaffs some alcohol, too.
  • "I Am" Song: "With a Little Bit of Luck" and "An Ordinary Man".
  • I Love You Because I Can't Control You: There's more than a hint of No Challenge Equals No Satisfaction in Eliza's relationship with Henry. Pickering is a gentle teacher, ready to call off a session when he can see Eliza is tired. In contrast, Eliza wants the approval of the never-satisfied Higgins. Later in the play, once Eliza grows independent of Higgins, is when he really becomes enamored of her.
  • I Meant to Do That: In the midst of being thoroughly castigated by Eliza, Higgins springs up from his chair and claims credit for her self-confidence. What a chode.
  • "I Want" Song: Eliza's "Wouldn't It Be Loverly?": she wants a cosy warm room, a comfy chair, and lots of chocolate.
  • I "Uh" You, Too: Higgins finally confesses to Eliza that he's going to miss her... then quickly follows it up by saying Pickering misses her, too.
  • Innocent Flower Girl: Eliza at the start of the story. The later battle to get her bathed kind of proves her innocence.
  • Innocent Innuendo: She sent the boy for her belongings, but she said she won't need her clothes *wink*
    • Pickering also accidentally manages to convince Scotland Yard Eliza is not just sleeping with Higgins but also with him.
  • Insufferable Genius: Even Higgins' own mother can't stand him.
  • It's All About Me: "You Did It".
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Henry. Maybe there's some gold in there somewhere, but you'd be hard pressed to find it. Not quite Jerk with a Heart of Jerk territory, but YMMV.
  • Kavorka Man: Alfie. There's a reason he departs for his wedding as if it were his own funeral.
  • Last-Second Word Swap:
    You, dear friend, who talk so well
    You can go to...Hertford, Hereford and Hampshire!
  • Lessons in Sophistication: Eliza Doolittle receives such lessons from Professor Higgins after he made a bet with Colonel Pickering.
  • Licensed Pinball Tables: Played with; there are actually two Pinball games based on My Fair Lady, though both of them were unofficial Spiritual Licensees.
    • Gottlieb released Fair Lady in 1956, capitalizing on the success of the Broadway play, with illustrations of the masked women from the embassy ball.
    • Then in 1966, Gottlieb released Mayfair, riding the coattails of the film adaptation.
  • Lighter and Softer: Much more so than the original Shaw play.
  • Location Song: "On The Street Where You Live", is a love song from the perspective of love interest Freddy. The song is about how wonderful the street seems due to Eliza living on it.
  • Love Epiphany: "Damn damn damn damn! I've grown accustomed to her face!"
  • Lyrical Dissonance: "Ascot Gavotte," wherein upper-class gents and ladies sing about "a ripping, absolutely gripping moment" with all the enthusiasm of a funeral host.
  • Maybe Ever After: Eliza and Henry are reconciled at the end, but are they a romantic couple now, or what? The answer is only hinted.
  • May–December Romance: What may have happened between the 21-year-old Eliza and the much older Higgins, who is at least twice her age.
  • Meaningful Name: A name like Doolittle totally makes sense for someone like Eliza's father. Eliza herself, on the other hand...
  • Men Are Uncultured: Henry Higgins believes in the inversion of this trope, that it's the hysterical women who ruin discussions of classical literature by wanting to talk about love and that if a man wants to see a play or ballet and a woman accompanies him, he'll inevitably spend it searching for her glove.
  • Misogyny Song: "An Ordinary Man" and "A Hymn to Him".
  • Missing Mom: Seeing as Eliza's father remarries, and his side comments about his old wife are along the lines of "You look just like her, Eliza" and "Just like her, you never give me money!" it can be safely assumed Eliza's mother is dead.
    • He didn't "re" marry, actually...
    Pickering: ...marriage isn't so frightening; you married Eliza's Mother.
    Doolittle: Who told ya that, guv'ner? [Gives Pickering a headshake and a slightly leering wink.]
  • The Musical
  • Mysterious Middle Initial: Alfred P. Dolittle.
  • Nice Hat: The racetrack scene goes crazy with this. Every lady has a hat nicer than the previous one. Eliza's hat is just massive, including the loads of feathers on the side.
    • Honorable mention goes to Henry's teacup and saucer.
  • No Sympathy: The servants express more compassion for Higgins than his hapless student (Doesn't rest / Doesn't eat / Doesn't touch a crumb!) Cut to Higgins munching on cakes while Eliza is wasting away.
    • Also, while trying to practice with marbles in her mouth, Eliza accidentally swallows one, but Higgins simply replies "Doesn't matter, I've got more", and puts more into her mouth.
  • Nursery Rhyme: The title, of course, comes from "London Bridge is falling down", a snatch of whose melody is heard at the beginning of "Get Me To The Church On Time".
  • Obsession Song: "On the Street Where You Live". Considering that Freddy continues to wait outside for several days: possibly weeks — this song can get creepy for some viewers.
    • One really should consider that he has no other polite way of contacting her, due to Higgins. It's not as if he could just text her.
    • The text of the musical says that he arrives at the house after Ascot. Six weeks later is the Transylvanian Embassy Ball, and the day after that is the first time we see Freddy again. He's been on that street for SIX WEEKS.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Henry Higgins’ speech about “the majesty and grandeur of the English language” that he gives to Eliza just before “The Rain In Spain.” After months of treating Eliza as though she were an experiment, and torturing her relentlessly, it’s pleasantly surprising to see him, in that one moment, act towards her with tenderness and encouragement (“and conquer it you will”). And even she seems to realize it, as well, as immediately after this speech, she has her first big breakthrough in RP, leading directly into “The Rain In Spain.”
  • Parasol of Prettiness: Eliza takes one to the races.
  • Parental Abandonment: Eliza's father pushes this into borderline abuse levels as he not only leaves all of his children to fend for themselves, he takes their hard-earned money for himself to waste on alcohol. (And he brags about this, no less!)
    • The line immediately following his proud description of his parenting style? "You've got a good heart, Alfie..."
  • Pass Fail: The plot is driven by Higgins' bet that he can train a rough, low-class flower girl into passing as a member of the aristocracy.
  • Pet the Dog: After a full day of nonstop, grueling exercises, an exhausted Higgins finally offers Eliza a few soft words of encouragement. At this, her voice instantly transforms into an impeccable upper class accent.
    • Alfie gets one when he cajoles Eliza to be self-reliant, as "she's a lady now."
  • Pimped-Out Dress: See the photo; also, her gown for the Embassy ball.
  • Plank Gag: Happens during the "With A Little Bit Of Luck" song, since Alfie Doolittle is singing in what seems to be a construction area and there is inevitably someone who swings a plank around and someone else gets hit by it.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: Eliza and Henry. Maybe.
  • Princess for a Day: Well, for several months. Eliza's training is to help her pass as a "lady."
  • A Pupil of Mine, Until He Turned to Evil: It seems Higgin's contempt for his pupil lies in the fact that he abandoned academia; Zoltan uses his linguistics abilities "more to blackmail and swindle than teach."
  • Pygmalion Snap Back: Eliza has one at the Ascot Gavotte. She later returns to the flower garden and is not recognized, despite using Cockney. She spends most of Act II speaking in some sort of British/Cockney hybrid, so it's not clear if she wants the Pygmalion results to stick.
  • Rags to Royalty: Well, upper middle class. And she was able to be taken for nobility.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Both Eliza and Henry deliver these to each other. Several times. Henry even gets a Reason Your Speech Sucks Speech.
    • Eliza even gets a Reason You Suck Song ("Just You Wait").
  • Right Behind Me: At the end of "Just You Wait", Eliza realizes that Higgins was standing behind her, watching her singing about his death. Awkward...
  • Romantic False Lead: Either Freddy or Higgins. It's left very ambiguous.
  • The Scapegoat: Following Eliza's spat with Higgins, Freddy gets chewed out for the high crime of being the first man who crosses her path.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: See the image; when first introduced Eliza's very dirty and wearing torn-up, worn clothing. The exact words of the trope are used by her father on first seeing her as a 'lady'.
  • Shot at Dawn: Eliza gleefully fantasizes about this happening to Higgins, who is very casual about the whole business before keeling over.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Eliza and Henry's relationship...and if the play is to be believed, no doubt this would have carried on.
  • Smug Snake: Higgins throughout most of the musical.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: What happens when you combine Eliza's blue language with a posh accent.
  • Spot of Tea: It is set in England, after all!
  • Springtime for Hitler: Higgins sarcastically writing a letter of recommendation for Alfred Dolittle, calling him "one of the most original moralists in England." An American philanthropist dies and bequeaths a fortune to Alfie.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Oh, Freddy. By today's standards, anyway.
  • Stalking Is Love: Freddy.
  • Stealth Insult: Eliza gets Higgins with a few. Higgins isn't so good at being stealthy with insults, but doesn't understand why he has to be.
    • Which is about the best you can hope for from Higgins. "I've learned something from your idiotic notions."
  • Stranger in a Familiar Land: Fed up with her keeper, Eliza returns to the old neighborhood after her blossoming into a lady, but no one recognizes her.
  • Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion/Last-Second Word Swap: In "Without You"
    You, dear friend, who talk so well,
    You can go to — Hertford, Hereford, and Hampshire!
  • Talk About the Weather: While in public, Higgins advises Eliza to stick to mundane topics: the weather, and everyone's health. It backfires.
    • Mrs. Higgins, disgusted with every word that comes out of her son's mouth, echoes this advice in the end.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Sandwich: Higgins and Pickering are too stuffed to finish the last cake tart. Not to worry, says Higgins; he knows somebody who loves these. He marches right past a famished Eliza to feed it to a parrot.
  • Those Two Guys: Harry and Jamie, Alfred Doolittle's friends and fellow dustmen.
  • Training from Hell: Linguistics training from hell, although not as over-the-top as some examples.
  • Tsundere:
    • Eliza is Type A, though this largely comes through from being around Higgins; when left with her Cockney friends, she's more Type B.
    • Higgins himself is a type A, notably when he meets Eliza at his mother's. He'll get close to being kind to Eliza, realise what he just said and promptly insult her.
  • "The Villain Sucks" Song: "Without You" is this, as well as being a bit of a Anti-Love Song. Also "Just You Wait".
  • Westminster Chimes: A modified version begins every iteration of "Poor Professor Higgins".