My introduction to George Bernard Shaw was in 10th grade, when we read Pygmalion in English class. After studying the play, we were treated to a student matinee performance at the roundabout Theatre in New York city. When Higgins exploded with "Liza, you impudent slut!" a good friend of mine with overlarge eyeballs and a frightening smile cackled madly with a demonic guffaw.
The theater company was not amused. After the performance, the actors lectured my class on the appropriate decorum of a theater audience. Clearly they had mistaken Pygmalion for some other, much more serious, play, No Exit perhaps.
I have to confess that I love the play, despite its somewhat saccharine rags-to-riches plot. I love the way Henry Higgins bombards Liza with continuously more inventive insults, to which she can only respond "coo" and look offended. I still think that "bedraggled guttersnipe" is the height of wit. Henry Higgins has that I'm-too-slick-for-words-but-I-fall-for-women-from- the-underclass kind of style that I find admirable in middle-aged linguists.
Having a soft spot for Mr. Shaw, I was thrilled to find a letter from him in the shelf lists of the Harvard University Archives. Luckily, he didn't let me down: 23rd November 1935
I have to thank you for you proposal to present me as a candidate for an honorary degree of D.L. of Harvard University at its tri-centenary celebration. But I cannot pretend that it would be fair for me to accept university degrees when every public reference of mine to our educational system, and especially to the influence of the universities on it, is fiercely hostile. If Harvard would celebrate its 300th anniversary by burning itself to the ground and sowing its site with salt, the ceremony would give me the liveliest satisfaction as an example to all the other famous corrupters of youth, including Yale, Oxford, Cambridge, the Sorbonne etc. etc. etc.
Under these circumstances I should let you down very heavily if you undertook to sponsor me, A move was made at Edinburgh University to confer on me the degree of Doctor of Laws (for which I have no qualification) but I discouraged it so uncompromisingly that it was dropped and is not likely to be renewed. Faithfully, G. Bernard shaw
I appreciate the friendliness of your attitude.
Noah's never ending findings courtesy of the Harvard University Archives, FM, and Our Lord.