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Eoin de Leastar

Pygmalion
23 x 28, Oil on Canvas, 2000

To see more of Eoin de Leastar's work, visit his online gallery: www.eoindel.com

Back to Methuselah by G B Shaw

commentary by Robert G. Everding

Shaw wrote five linked plays under the collective title BACK TO METHUSELAH. They expound his philosophy of creative evolution in an extended dramatic parable that progresses through time from the Garden of Eden to AD 31,920.

Pygmalion appears in Bernard Shaw’s BACK TO METHUSELAH (1918-1920) in its final part “As Far as the Eye Can See.” Living in the year 31,920 AD, Pygmalion is a young, loquacious scientist who seeks to create an improved human and who publicly displays for the first time a synthetic man and woman created in his laboratory. He concedes they are not living creatures but revels in his creation of automata limited to reflex reactions and programmed behaviors.

The test does not go well. The couple’s dancing, romancing, and questioning soon devolve into a jealous dispute and an attempted murder. Pygmalion is killed by the female when he intervenes; the observers are repulsed and seek a way to eliminate the automata without making a horrible mess. The He-Ancient convinces the couple that life is too heavy a burden for them, and the two obediently will their own demise in the exaggerated style of heroic tragedy that underscores the absurdity of Pygmalion’s creation.

In PYGMALION (1913) Shaw uses the myth to show Socialist truths about the artificiality of the class structure as the phonetic sciences change the social and economic well being of a Cockney flower seller. In BACK TO METHUSELAH, the playwright employs the same myth to demonstrate the folly of human engineering as a world seeks a higher form of evolutionary advancement. This later Pygmalion is not the successful Socialist but the failed scientist who misguidedly seeks a better world by creating an eternal human machine. As Lilith suggests at plays end, the answer lies not in physical perfection but in leaving the body behind; she yearns for the future day when finally the human species will “have forded this last stream that lies between flesh and spirit, and distentangled their life from the matter.

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