From the Stage to the Screen: The Dancing Body in the 1938 Film Adaptation of Shaw’s Pygmalion


In his 1913 play, Pygmalion, George Bernard Shaw underlines the transformation of the heroine through changes in her English speech. To highlight the metamorphosis of the flower girl, however, most of the later adaptations of the play also pay attention to changes in her manners and movements, particularly by adding the ballroom scene. Moreover, when Shaw wrote the screen play for the 1938 film adaptation, he reluctantly agreed to include the last scene in which Eliza returns to Higgins. Audiences familiar with the film adaptations often questioned the ambiguous ending in Shaw's 1913 play as printed in the Literary Touchstone edition. Exploring the female dancing body in the 1938 film adaptation of Pygmalion, this article argues for the connections between the ballroom dancing and the altered ending by reading gender and class meanings into the dance. A dance associated with the bourgeois and aristocratic classes, the waltz was nevertheless given gendered and sexual significance because of its corporeal impulses. By bringing to the fore the socio-political significance of the dance, this essay seeks to demonstrate the ballroom scene in the 1938 film as a narrative embedded in the politicized discourse of gender relations and social hierarchy, reminiscent of Shaw's interrogation of lower-class women's social mobility in the denouement of his 1913 play.

Author Information
Hsin-yun Ou, National University of Kaohsiung, Taiwan

Paper Information
Conference: EuroMedia2022
Stream: Film and Literature: Artistic Correspondence

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Posted by James Alexander Gordon