Lecture 9 Clements 1
School of Arts and Letters, Atkinson Faculty of Liberal and Professional Studies
AK/HUMA 1780 6.0A Stories in Diverse Media
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There are a lot of questions posed for discussion in todays lecture and lecture
summary. As usual you do not need to answer all of them. Choose the ones that
interest you the most and make comments to which your classmates can respond
and engage in discussion.
Next Monday is the midterm test. For more information please see the Midterm
Test Format outline in the Exam Information folder. Lecture 9 Clements 2
Art Objects and their Makers: The Pygmalion Myth Transformed
Last week I talked about Ovid's and Shaw's versions of the Pygmalion story.
Today, we'll start by looking at a series of paintings by the pre-Raphaelite painter,
Edward Burne-Jones. You will also need to view a few scenes from Alan Jay Lerner and
Frederick Loewe's musical My Fair Lady. On Thursday you will need to watch Deepa
Mehta's Bollywood/Hollywood. Both the films should be available at your local video
store; the Sound and Moving Image Library (SMIL) at York's Scott Library also has
copies of both films.
We established a few things about Ovid's original last week. The story
foregrounds a number of ideas and themes. The first would be the theme of
transformation (from something unformed or inanimate into a living being). As I
mentioned, this is a larger theme that runs throughout Ovid's Metamorphoses, hence the
title. Coming out of this theme is the issue of the process of artistic creation: the artist and
his art object. Thirdly, the myth explores the themes of perfection and idealization. The
creation (the sculpture) is so perfect that it comes alive. The story also implicitly asks,
what is the ideal woman? It then proceeds to give us one answer in the form of the
bejeweled Galatea. What it means to be female is set up right at the start as the story
begins with Pygmalion's rejection of the women of Cyprus whom he describes as
"whores." They are his reason for swearing off women altogether. Shaw also picks up on
this misogyny with Higgins' treatment of Eliza Doolittle and Lerner and Loewe capitalize
on it in one of their songs titled "With a Little Bit of Luck." In the myth it is Pygmalion's
dislike of these women that gives him the inspiration to create his ideal image of a
woman as a sculpture. Lecture 9 Clements 3
Another theme we could add to our list would be obsession, similar to what we
encountered with the character, Salome, but this time it is the male figure who is
obsessed with his own art object. Ovid's Pygmalion, like Salome and her obsession with
John the Baptist's head in later versions, actually dresses his sculpture up and sleeps with
the statue in his bed: "yet greater beauty/ Shone from her nakedness in bed; he called her/
His bride, his wife, the fair white creature sleeping/ On cloth of purple, as if she shared
his dreams" (Ovid 281) and this is all before she's even alive! But you'll notice this
isn't the moment that is emphasized in the play, the musical, or, as you will see, in the
paintings by Burne-Jones. Typically, it is the male figure's artistry that becomes central to
the story and the moment when his art comes to life.
Similarly, as we saw with Salome, some aspects from the source text carry over to
the various adaptations, but many elements do not. In Shaw's version several of the same
themes persistart and artistry, the love story, and the theme of transformationbut the
obsession element seems to be less prevalent. So in this lecture we're going to look at two
more versions to see what happens to those themes, as well as the various permutations of
the characters. We'll start by looking at another pre-Raphaelite: Edward Burne-Jones
We learned several things about the Pre-Raphaelite painters from the nineteenth
century in our third class in which we examined visual representations of The Odyssey.
You'll remember that there are two groups and that the first one was characterized by
seriousness of purpose
a desire to see things with fresh eyes
intensity of expressionchallenged academic good manners