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the educational theory of Professor Higgins and Governor Phillip

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Nicola Barratt 16th December, 2004. GCSE English Literature Post-1914 Drama G.B. Shaw (1856 - 1950) PYGMALION (1916) Timberlake Wertenbaker (1951 - ) OUR COUNTRY'S GOOD (1988) 'Fine language, sentiment': the educational theory of Professor Higgins and Governor Phillip In this essay, I would like to examine the respective educational theories of the two men: Professor Higgins Pygmalion and Governor Phillip Our Country's Good. Both men believe in the process of amelioration: that is, both believe in the redemptive power of 'fine language'; if people speak fine language, they will find themselves morally or socially improved. Both believe that people, who are born into the lower classes, are not doomed to live their lives at a disadvantage. Moreover, if given the opportunity to use the 'divine gift of articulate speech', then they can achieve a degree of upward mobility. I should like to look first at the relationship between Professor Higgins and Eliza in Pygmalion, which is set in an era of social mobility and depends for its effect upon the English class system. In particular, I would like to examine the idea that a person's position in society can be accurately measured by her speech-style. Henry Higgins, a professor of linguistics, believes that Eliza Doolittle ('draggletailed guttersnipe') can be transformed into a 'duchess.' Higgins is a scientist conducting an experiment. He wants Eliza to talk genteelly. His precise ambition is to 'pass that girl off as a duchess at an ambassador's garden party'. Higgins is extremely selfish ('What does it matter what becomes of you') and professes not to be interested in Eliza's personal progress at all, in fact only teaching her to win a bet between Pickering and himself: THE NOTE-TAKER (HIGGINS): Well, sir, in three months I could pass that girl off as a duchess at an ambassador's garden party. PICKERING: I'll say youre the greatest teacher alive if you make that good. ...read more.


The only play they have is George Farquhar's The Recruiting Officer (1706), which is a Restoration comedy. In Act One Scene Five, Phillip asks Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark to organise the play. He doesn't really want to do it and to begin with is not very enthusiastic, but he is hopeful of promotion and so does it to please the Governor. He hears that a convict called Mary Brenham can read and write, so he roots her out. She is with her friend, Dabby Bryant, when he comes to talk to her. When he asks her questions to discover if she can read and write, Dabby interrupts and tells him: 'She used to read to us on the ship. We loved it.' This disclosure reveals Mary's human potential; it reveals also that some convicts are sensitive to those who have been desensitised through brutal treatment. When Dabby says, 'Mary wants to be in your play', she is telling us that Mary wants something to look forward to, something to anticipate. When Ralph Clark starts reading some lines with her from the play, she reads the line: 'Whilst there is life, there is hope' This is a perfect example of a syntactically balanced 'sentiment'. This proverbial saying comments exquisitely on their situation within the colony. In Act One Scene Six, 'The Authorities Discuss the Merits of the Theatre', Major Robbie Ross shows his contempt for the play ('we'll all be struck with stricturing starvation - and you - you - a play!') Ross is a reactionary figure; he adopts a hostile manner towards the idea that the convicts may be capable of 'sentiment' and rehabilitation. He believes that they are incorrigible, beyond redemption; he has no confidence in the redemptive power of Farquhar's language. Ross wastes no opportunity to vituperate against the convicts ('vice ridden vermin!'), especially the women, whom he considers lower forms of life ('Filthy, thieving, lying whores'). ...read more.


In Act Two Scene Seven, 'The Meaning of Plays', John Wisehammer kisses Mary Brenham. Ralph Clark is angry and jealous because a convict has access to Mary. Wisehammer defends his kiss by passing literary judgement: ' It's right for the character of Brazen'. The play has educated him. Just as when Mary says: 'I like playing Silvia. She's bold, she breaks the rules out of love for her captain and she is not ashamed'. She sees a role model in Silvia, just as Arscott sees an escape from himself in playing Sergeant Kite: 'When I speak Kite's lines, I don't hate anymore'. In the same scene, when Dabby asks 'Why can't I play Kite?' we see her great expectations. She wants to better herself, just like Eliza, in her role as an actress, let alone as a human being. She also examines the role of Melinda ('All she does is marry Sideway, that's not interesting') and in doing so persuades Dabby to look at her own identity. She has decided that she does not like Melinda because she is content to marry a man and sacrifice her identity to become a trophy wife. In Act Two Scene Ten, 'The Question of Liz', we hear Phillip state that 'the play seems to be having a miraculous effect'. He wants Liz to speak up for herself and for 'the good of the colony' against the allegations that she stole food from the colony stores. When she finally speaks, she becomes involved in the process of justice. It is also in this scene that Liz utters an equivalent to Eliza's 'How do you do?' in Pygmalion: 'Your Excellency, I will endeavour to speak Mr Farquhar's lines with the elegance and clarity their own worth commands'. Now we can hear that the process of amelioration is complete and that the educational theory of Governor Phillip has been proved in practice. I believe that this is where Higgins went wrong, for central to any educational theory is the giving of 'confidence' and 'encouragement' which the Professor, unlike the Governor, makes no effort to give. ...read more.

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