Uncover the story of Pygmalion

Mrs Pat Campbell portrait

Pygmalion is Bernard Shaw’s most famous play, delighting audiences for over a century. Explore the stories of love and betrayal that lay behind Shaw's most successful work.

The story of Pygmalion

Pygmalion tells the story of Edwardian flower girl Eliza Doolittle who is transformed into a Duchess by Professor Henry Higgins. Shaw reworks the classical myth of the sculptor Pygmalion who falls in love with a female statue he has brought to life.

Mrs Pat in the starring role

On the surface Shaw’s play was a comedy about social mobility, but it concealed a sensational personal secret mirroring the Pygmalion story: Shaw had fallen in love with the famous actress Mrs Patrick Campbell (‘Mrs Pat’) who played the part of Eliza in the first London production in 1914. Having created the role for her, Shaw fell in love when he read the play to her in the summer of 1912. Mrs Pat, however, eventually spurned him, and married another man just five days before the opening.

Pygmalion achieved great success both in Britain and America, and during the 1920s there was talk about turning the play into a film. Shaw wrote the film scenario for Pygmalion in 1934, and Gabriel Pascal’s production was released in 1938 starring Wendy Hiller and Leslie Howard. The film was a critical success and won the Academy Award for Writing (Adapted Screenplay) at the Oscars ceremony in February 1939. The Oscar statue is on display in the study. The play was also adapted into the famous musical My Fair Lady in 1964 staring Audrey Hepburn and won eight Oscars at the Academy Awards in 1965.

The collection contains photographs from the first London staging of the play in 1914 revealing further parallels to Shaw’s own life - the stage set he created for Mrs Higgins’s drawing room in Act III used William Morris fabrics similar to the ones the Shaws furnished their own homes with.