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A paper I wrote on some of the lyrics from My Fair Lady 
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Broadway Legend
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Post A paper I wrote on some of the lyrics from My Fair Lady
I just got back my English Finals today, and one of the texts I wrote was a comparison of "Why Can't the English?", "I Could Have Danced All Night" and "A Hymn to Him". Don't be too excited, because many of you may know about the things I've written or disagree with them. The task was as follows:

Write a text where you present and discuss some songs and/or poems that you feel have an important message. Feel free to use examples from other relevant English-language literary texts to support your arguments.
In your text you should include the following:

• An introduction where you present the songs and/or poems
• An explanation of their message
• A comparison of the poems and/or songs
• A conclusion where you give your own views

I got a 6 on my paper which is the best grade one can give in Norway, so at least my teachers were pleased. The text:

Would You Like to Dance?

“Why Can’t the English”
Why can’t the English teach their children how to speak?
This verbal class distinction by now should be antique.
If you spoke as she does, Sir, instead of the way you do,
Why, you might be selling flowers too.

An Englishman’s way of speaking absolutely classifies him.
The moment he talks he makes some other Englishman despise him.

One common language I’m afraid we’ll never get.
Oh, why can’t the English learn to
Set a good example to people whose English is painful to your ears?
The Scotch and the Irish leaves you close to tears.
There even are places where English completely disappears.
In America they haven’t used it for years.

“I Could Have Danced All Night”
Bed! Bed! I couldn’t go to bed!
My head’s too light to try to set it down!
Sleep! Sleep! I couldn’t sleep tonight!
Not for all the jewels in the crown!

I could have danced all night!
I could have danced all night!
And still have begged for more.
I could have spread my wings
And done a thousand things
I’ve never done before.
I’ll never know what made it so exciting;
Why all at once my heart took flight.
I only know when he
Began to dance with me,
I could have danced, danced, danced
All night

“A Hymn to Him”
Why can’t a woman be more like a man?
Men are so honest, so thoroughly square;
Eternally noble, historic’ly fair;
Who, when you win, will always give your back a pat.
Why can’t a woman be like that?

Why can’t a woman be more like a man?
Men are so decent, such regular chaps.
Ready to help you through any mishaps.
Ready to buck you up whenever you are glum.
Why can’t a woman be a chum?

Why can’t a woman be more like a man?
If I were a woman who’d been to a ball,
Been hailed as princess by one and by all;
Would I start weeping like a bathtub overflowing?
And carry on as if my home were in a tree?
Would I run off and never tell me where I’m going?
Why can’t a woman be like me?

Alan J. Lerner wrote these three excerptions. He is a lyricist who wrote together with composer Fredrick Loewe. These lyrics excerptions are from a satire called “My Fair Lady”. I chose these three lyrics because they were written by the same man and have very different messages. This makes it easier to compare them and discuss their qualities and Lerner’s intentions without getting redundant.

“Why Can’t the English” is the opening number of the play and it is clearly satirical. The lyrics express a patriotic feeling towards the language, but that is not the part I wish to discuss. I would rather like to point out the social facts that can be extracted from this lyric. The bold lyrics are one of these facts. 100 years ago, when this play was set, people generalized each other by the way they spoke. Both pronunciation and language structure was important when one searched for a proper job and people did judge you for the way you spoke. And today we still do. Can anyone with their hands on their heart swear that they have never generalized someone because of their speaking patterns?

The next excerption is from the song “I Could Have Danced All Night” where a flower girl has fallen in love with the professor who taught her to speak proper English. After dancing with him casually in his office in a moment of triumph she quickly falls in love. The feeling gets expressed through this lyric. The message is very clear, because what do one feel after falling in love with someone who just had a dance with you?

The last excerption is the extraordinary “A Hymn to Him” which in fact is a hymn to him. On the surface the lyrics express the feeling that man is the greater sex and that women should crave to be more like men. But underneath the surface the message is entirely different. The lyrics are not only praising men, it is also ridiculing them. How stereotypical they seam through this lyric. He paints a rather funny image of an extraordinary selfish and arrogant man. Especially through the last few verses where he ends the lyric praising himself. The message of the song is that we should praise each other for our differences. It is also a condemnation of a society built by classes, which is hard to understand when you read only “A Hymn to Him”, but if you read through “Why Can’t the English” it gets clear. Because these two songs function together to create a larger aspect, which is a theme throughout the satire they were written for.

These lyrics are quite similar in structure. In all of them Lerner uses repetition to get the main point across. “Why can’t the English teach their children how to speak?”, “I could have danced all night” and “Why can’t a woman by more like a man?” are the three repeating verses that repeats themselves so much that a person hearing them will get the feeling, or perhaps sense is a better word, that the lyrics try to create. He also colors the lyrics wonderfully by using metaphors such as the italic words in the lyrics show. One can also notice for whom the lyrics are written. The first and third lyrics are quite similar in the language and speak patterns, while the second lyric has another “sound” to it. This is because the same man is supposed to perform the lyrics, and that a woman is supposed to sing the second. One can also tell by the direct language that the lyrics ought to be sung by a man. The lyrics are more down-earth than “I Could Have Danced All Night”. There the lyrics are more fairy-tale like, which is more typical for a woman in love than a man.

I chose these lyrics not only for the convenience, but also because of the messages and the simple language. Lerner is a man who creates fine images without overdoing it. I personally struggle with all these modern rock and pop songs which usually has lyrics like: “Oh, baby, I love you so / You are the only thing I need / Without you I feel torn apart / etc.” I can’t stand the shallow sentiment put into the lyrics! If you are in love someone you wouldn’t run around singing to yourself that “you are the only thing I need, etc.”, to be frank one wouldn’t really sing at all, but Lerner’s way of expressing the feeling of being in love is much purer and it stays true to what you do feel when you are in love. Also his comedic talents far exceed the work of others who work with the same genre. It is hard to make a song funny and still get a point through, but Lerner does this in a blissful way. His pen is always sharp and he won’t hesitate to attack the wrongs of our society. I am truly grateful that I took my time to sit down and actually analyze the sentiments of Lerner’s work. And I believe that anyone who loves English could get a thrill from reading some of his work!


I hope this can be interesting reading for some of you, and please feel free to post your views. Do not repost this text or claim it as your own.

Thu May 20, 2010 10:02 am
Broadway Legend
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I wrote a short essay on Pygmalion for an English class. I got an 8 out of a possible 9 points. If you'd like to read it, I'd be happy to post it for you.

Don't mean to hijack your thread, though! I'd like to read your essay when I have some free time.

"Ms. Darbus" in Disney's High School Musical, "Margot Frank" in The Diary of Anne Frank, "Princess Number Twelve" in Once Upon a Mattress, ensembles of Cinderella, The Music Man, and Sweeney Todd

Thu May 20, 2010 1:28 pm
Broadway Legend
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Joined: Sun Jul 22, 2007 4:21 pm
Posts: 1146
Location: Norway
Main Role: Performer
I would love to read it! I think these forums in general needs more discussion, that is why I posted my text in the first place! I would love to read everyones thoughts!

Thu May 20, 2010 1:33 pm
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