LEARNING GUIDE TO:
MY FAIR LADY
SUBJECTS — Drama/Musicals; World/England;Age: 6+; MPAA Rating -- G; Musical; 1964; 170 minutes; Color; Available from Amazon.com.
Description: Professor Henry Higgins, an expert in phonetics and the dialects of England, brags that within six months he can take a street girl with a strong Cockney accent and pass her off as a duchess. Eliza Doolittle, the flower girl whose accent spawned this boast, wants to "speak like a lady" and Higgins' takes on the challenge to make Eliza acceptable to upper class society in six months. The musical is based on the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw.
Rationale for Using the Movie: Musical theater is one of the great genres of Western Art, particularly in the U.S. My Fair Lady with its wonderful songs and captivating story is an excellent choice for introducing musicals to students of any age. The film also illuminates how manners of speech determine class and standing as well as economic opportunity.
Objectives/Student Outcomes Using this Learning Guide: Students will be provided with an excellent example of musical theater transposed to film. In elementary grades, just showing the movie may be sufficient. In secondary school, the film provides opportunities for oral and writing projects that can sharpen research and writing skills.
Possible Problems: Alcohol use and abuse is shown.
LEARNING GUIDE MENU
SUGGESTIONS FOR USING MY FAIR LADY IN THE CLASSROOM
Introduction to the Movie:
After the film has been watched, engage the class in a discussion about the movie.
1. Speaking patterns today, just as in the days represented in My Fair Lady, tell much about an individual. What accents or speaking styles do you hear today that might be subject to the kinds of lessons Elisa experienced in the film? Suggested Response: Answers will vary. Today we hear accents specifying national origin, region within the U.S., culture such as hip-hop, vernacular associated with age and life style as well as generally accepted malapropisms. You may want to point out presidential examples: Lyndon Johnson would say, I want to get this job done "rat" (right) now before the "all" (meaning "oil") wells run dry; John Kennedy would say that "Cuber" (meaning "Cuba") had become a problem; George Bush was concerned about "nukler" (meaning "nuclear") weapons in the hands of enemies.
2. What in the film justifies the reasoning behind the requirement that students look up, learn to pronounce and use new words throughout their schooling? Suggested Response: Answers will vary. Students should note that Eliza was trapped in the lower classes in terms of employment because of the way she spoke. She was judged and disdained. None of this would have occurred had she been "well spoken." Success in the job market requires quality speaking skills.
3. What kinds of problems associated with membership in the lower classes are indicated through the character of Eliza's father? Suggested Response: Answers will vary: Students should refer to the fact that he tries to wrangle money out of Mr. Higgins and that his life changes unhappily after he acquires it.
For an additional seven discussion questions, click here.
Any of the discussion questions can serve as a writing prompt. Additional assignments include:
1. Some viewers assert that Eliza should have gone off with Freddie rather than returning to Mr. Higgins. Write a new ending to the film that would be more satisfying to an audience with a more modern attitude toward relationships between men and women.
Note to teachers. George Bernard Shaw, the author of the play, Pygmalion, had much the same idea and wrote a new ending to his play. See Sequel: What Happened Afterwards. It might be fun and educational for students who are given this assignment, to compare their work to that of Mr. Shaw.2. Research the golden age of Hollywood musicals and create a power point presentation for the class. Show snippets of the most famous musicals set to film and play some of the music. Conclude your presentation with the most recent musicals.
3. Determine the nature of the accents you hear in your family, neighborhood and school. Compile a list of what you hear and from what country or part of the U.S. from which these accents arise. Write an expository essay in which you reveal your results. Try to describe the sounds you have heard in the many voices you are writing about. Determine if there is any class or economic factors apparent in the various accents.
4. Define the term "broadcast English" and discuss how it has affected speech patterns in the U.S.
5. Compare the story of My Fair Lady to the Greek myth of "Pygmalion."
See additional Assignments for use with any Film that is a Work of Fiction.
See Learning Guide to Pygmalion.
Last updated February 12, 2013.
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