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The musical My Fair Lady is based on a play by Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw. The title of his play is Pygmalion.

The character of Eliza Doolittle was based on a popular actress known as Mrs. Patrick Campbell.

Mrs. Pat, as she was called, was born Beatrice Stella Tanner. She took her name from her first husband, Patrick Campbell. Mrs. Pat grew up in the London suburb of Kensington. This is where Shaw’s inspiration began. Apparently Mrs. Pat’s stage diction was affected to the extreme. Both Shaw and Oscar Wilde recognized in her accent a suburban, social climber.

While watching Mrs. Pat in 1897, Shaw completely forgot the show he was attending as Pygmalion began to develop in his mind.

Shaw addresses class distinction via accent and manners. With Eliza Doolittle, phonetics professor Henry Higgins changes her form, not her content.

Shaw is demonstrating that even a cockney, flower girl can pass for royalty if she has the correct manners and patterns of speech.

What does this say about society and class distinction? Is it all just smoke and mirrors?

How we speak does tell others something of who we are, or at least who we want to be. The manner in which we speak can enhance or diminish the content of our words which is to say the thoughts that we verbalize.

This aspect of Pygmalion, the aspect of accent and class, is only the tip of the iceberg.

In America, we run into the distinction of race and speech patterns. We also have the relatively new development of the sound bite in politics.

Shaw’s play is brilliant and the themes go beyond class and accent but there isn’t enough room for all of it here.

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