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  • From Stage Play to Hybrid: Shaw’s Three Editions of Pygmalion
  • Derek McGovern (bio)

In August 1939, Shaw completed what Dan H. Laurence describes as “one of his most significant revisions” in the form of a new ending to the stage edition of Pygmalion.1 This marked the first occasion on which Shaw had modified the published version of the play since its appearance in book form twenty-three years earlier. In this new edition—henceforth referred to as the 1939 version—the play no longer ends with Higgins confidently declaring that Eliza will do his shopping for him, but instead with the former declaring to his mother that Eliza will marry Freddy.

Shaw’s decision to revise his text suggests that he was anxious to refute the popular misconception that he had either written or authorized the final scene of the British film version of Pygmalion, which had been released the previous year. In defiance of Shaw’s screenplay, which concludes with an amused Higgins envisioning Eliza’s future married life with Freddy, the 1938 Pygmalion film—like the German (1935) and Dutch (1937) screen adaptations that preceded it—had ended with Eliza returning to Higgins. Presumably concerned that this implicitly romantic resolution might influence future stage interpretations of his play, Shaw acted in haste, and, for good measure, instructed his Edinburgh printers, R. & R. Clark Limited, to provide him with “a dozen pulls of the corrected page to send to the [British] acting companies.”2 Outside the United Kingdom, however, acting companies and, indeed, the general public remained unaware of Shaw’s new ending. Possibly because of the outbreak of World War II in September of that same year, the 1939 version of Pygmalion was published only in the United Kingdom.3 The combination of a limited print run4 and the fact that the 1939 version was never reprinted has ensured that this version remains the least remarked of Shaw’s published editions of his play. [End Page 9]

Moreover, the 1939 version was swiftly displaced by the so-called screen edition of Pygmalion, which Shaw completed in November 1939, only three months after its predecessor. As L. W. Conolly observes, this latter version—which comprised a revised edition of the play, a modified Preface, and selected scenes from Shaw’s 1934–38 Pygmalion screenplay—“represent[s] Shaw’s [final] wishes about how the [1938] film should have ended, and how productions of the play should end.”5 Henceforth referred to as the 1941 version, this edition was apparently created at the instigation of Allen Lane,6 founder of Penguin Books, and was first published in the United Kingdom in January 1941 in the Standard Edition of Shaw’s works by Constable and Company,7 and in September of that year as a Penguin paperback.8 American and Canadian (Penguin) printings followed in 1942.

Because of its status as Shaw’s final stage version of Pygmalion, the 1941 version is generally regarded as the definitive edition of the play, and it remains the only version of this work that the Shaw Estate has permitted to be reprinted in the United Kingdom in the six decades since its author’s death. Consequently, for many years the 1941 version was the only commercially available edition of Pygmalion. Writing in 1967, Diderik Roll-Hansen noted the difficulty in obtaining copies of the original play9—a point also made thirty-eight years later by A. M. Gibbs.10 The 1916 text was last reprinted in the United Kingdom in the 1936 Standard Edition of Shaw’s works. More recently, this text has become available in the United States with the passing of the (American) Copyright Act of 1976, under which all books published in that country before 1 January 1923 have entered the public domain. In the United Kingdom, however, The Duration of Copyright and Rights in Performances Regulations 1995 protects published works for a period of seventy years from the date of the author’s death. In Shaw’s case, this term will end in 2020.

In this article I begin by examining the extent to which the revised ending in Shaw’s 1939 version of Pygmalion succeeds in...


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