Two of the play's main characters—Higgins and Pickering—are academics. Shaw in some sense pits their intellectual intelligence against the wits of others, like Eliza. Early in the play, Eliza is intimidated and confused by Higgins' academic language. However, while characters like Eliza, Mrs. Higgins, and Mr. Doolittle lack the kind of education that Higgins and Pickering have had, the play reveals them to be smart in their own ways. Eliza, for example, turns out to be a quick learner and a very good pupil, easily winning Higgins' bet for him. And although Mrs. Higgins is confined in the play to her own home, she displays a kind of social savvy in integrating Eliza with her other guests in Act Three and in helping to resolve things (to the extent that they can be resolved) at the play's conclusion. Finally, Higgins may scoff at the lowly Mr. Doolittle early in the play, but he is the only character who voices criticisms of "middle class morality" and articulates some of the problems with the Victorian social hierarchy. Thus, while Higgins and Pickering might appear to be the play's two educated, intelligent characters, different characters exemplify different forms of intelligence and cleverness.
Moreover, the play shows some of the downsides of Higgins' overly intellectual learning. Higgins approaches other people with a kind of academic detachment. He sees everyone as subjects for his linguistic studies, rather than as people with feelings of their own. One sees this especially with how he treats Eliza: he hurtfully neglects her as a person and sees her merely as an experiment. Higgins lacks basic sympathy and empathy, what might be called emotional intelligence. The play's most intelligent character is thus, in another sense, its least learned.
Education and Intelligence ThemeTracker
Education and Intelligence Quotes in Pygmalion
A woman who utters such depressing and disgusting sounds has no right to be anywhere—no right to live. Remember that you are a human being with a soul and the divine gift of articulate speech: that your native language is the language of Shakespeare and Milton and The Bible; and don't sit there crooning like a bilious pigeon.
You know, Pickering, if you consider a shilling, not as a simple shilling, but as a percentage of this girl's income, it works out as fully equivalent to sixty or seventy guineas from a millionaire.
Well, the matter is, sir, that you can't take a girl up like that as if you were picking up a pebble on the beach.
Then might I ask you not to come down to breakfast in your dressing-gown, or at any rate not to use it as a napkin to the extent you do, sir. And if you would be so good as not to eat everything off the same plate, and to remember not to put the porridge saucepan out of your hand on the clean tablecloth, it would be a better example to the girl.
I shall never get into the way of seriously liking young women: some habits lie too deep to be changed. [Rising abruptly and walking about, jingling his money and his keys in his trouser pockets] Besides, they're all idiots.
Well, I feel a bit tired. It's been a long day. The garden party, a dinner party, and the opera! Rather too much of a good thing. But you've won your bet, Higgins. Eliza did the trick, and something to spare, eh?
Thank God it's over!
It was interesting enough at first, while we were at the phonetics; but after that I got deadly sick of it. If I hadn't backed myself to do it I should have chucked the whole thing up two months ago. It was a silly notion: the whole thing has been a bore.
I'd like to kill you, you selfish brute. Why didn't you leave me where you picked me out of—in the gutter? You thank God it's all over, and that now you can throw me back again there, do you?
Who asked him to make a gentleman of me? I was happy. I was free. I touched pretty nigh everybody for money when I wanted it, same as I touched you, Henry Higgins. Now I am worrited; tied neck and heels; and everybody touches me for money. It's a fine thing for you, says my solicitor. Is it? says I. ...A year ago I hadn't a relative in the world except two or three that wouldn't speak to me. Now I've fifty, and not a decent week's wages among the lot of them. I have to live for others and not for myself: that's middle class morality.
Nonsense! He can't provide for her. He shan't provide for her. She doesn't belong to him. I paid him five pounds for her.
She had become attached to you both. She worked very hard for you, Henry! I don't think you quite realize what anything in the nature of brain work means to a girl like that. Well, it seems that when the great day of trial came, and she did this wonderful thing for you without making a single mistake, you two sat there and never said a word to her, but talked together of how glad you were that it was all over and how you had been bored with the whole thing. And then you were surprised because she threw your slippers at you!