March 11, 2020

From Gerald R. Lucas

I Am Henry Higgins

Henry Higgins, the problematic antagonist of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, speaks to me. He is the Pygmalion of Pygmalion, the modern sculptor who creates a modern Galatea. I wouldn’t call him heroic, nor would I say that he is malicious. He is flawed, but he is also the idealized center of the play. To Eliza, he plays both the fairy godfather and the wicked step-father. He is moody; he loses his temper easily, and he is not afraid to express capricious emotional states. He is no fan of decorum, so while he has his groups of intimates (OK, maybe just his mom and Pickering), he is generally disliked by polite society. Shaw describes him as a “robust, vital, appetizing sort of man [. . .] rather like an impetuous baby ‘taking notice,” and is therefore “careless about himself and other people, including their feelings.”[1] Higgins seems like an eccentric genius that people tolerate, but don’t go out of their way to interact with. While he is not Ovid’s Pygmalion, he might be equally as troubled.

While the allusion to Ovid is important, it remains only in the play’s title. Ovid’s Pygmalion is a creep of a man: a . . .

. . .


  1. Shaw 2017, p. 419.

Work Cited

  • Shaw, Georg Bernard (2017) [1913]. "Pygmalion". In Gainor, J. Ellen; Garner Jr., Stanton B.; Puchner, Martin. The Norton Anthology of Drama. Volume 2. Translated by Schmidt, Paul (Third ed.). New York: W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 411–65.