Summary of Act Four
It is midnight after the embassy party in the Wimpole Street laboratory of Professor Higgins. Pickering and Higgins are speaking on the stairs closing up the house for the night as they get ready for bed. Eliza comes into the lab in all her finery and switches on the light. She sits silent and brooding as Higgins comes into the room and throws off his cloak and top hat and puts on his smoking jacket to sit by the hearth. Pickering and Higgins chat about mundane matters and ignore Eliza. Higgins looks for his slippers. Eliza does not say a word but goes to another room to find the slippers and puts them in front of Higgins. He suddenly notices they are found. Higgins and Pickering chat about the evening, and Higgins finally says, “Thank God it's over!” (p. 98). He talks about how boring the party was and how he will never do this kind of experiment again. Pickering admits he was scared at first, but when he saw Eliza doing it so well, he was even more scared, because the real people could not do it half as well as she could. Higgins says at least he will go to bed without dreading tomorrow. As he leaves the room, he asks Eliza to tell Mrs. Pearce he wants tea, not coffee in the morning. This is the last straw. She takes Higgins's slippers and throws them at him. Higgins comes back and asks her what is the matter.
She says now that she has won his bet for him, everything is fine. He says she is a “presumptuous insect,” for he won the bet. (p. 100). She asks why he did not leave her in the gutter? What is to become of her? He asks if anyone has treated her badly. She admits no. He pats her on the shoulder and offers her champagne, thinking she is just tired.
Eliza says she wishes she were dead. Finally, Higgins understands that she does not know where she will live or what she will do now. With a strange look, he says he had not realized she would be leaving. He mentions she could marry. She is attractive to men, though he is not in the marrying line himself. He adds his mother might be able to find a husband for her. Liza explodes that she was above that when she was in the street, but now that she is a lady, she is only fit to sell herself. He says maybe Pickering would set her up in a flower shop of her own.
Liza asks if her clothes belong to her or to Colonel Pickering? She does not want to be accused of stealing. Maybe they will be needed for the next experimental girl? Higgins is hurt by this remark. She wants to know what to take with her, for there can be nothing personal between a gentleman and a flower girl. Higgins says she has wounded him, and Eliza is glad. She tells him to leave the note for Mrs. Pearce himself. She goes to her room to pack and takes very few things.
Outside the house, Freddy Eynsford-Hill is waiting where he does every night, saying it is the only place he is happy. They kiss until a constable comes along and makes them move along. A taxi comes, and Eliza hires it because Freddy has no money. She decides they will drive around all night, and then in the morning, she will go to Mrs. Higgins to ask her advice.
Commentary on Act IV
The scene between Higgins and Eliza is quite dramatic because it pits their worldviews against each other. Higgins is astounded at Eliza's emotional response to the embassy party. She is depressed and combative instead of happy. When she says she won the bet for him, he is even more astounded, as he clearly believes he did this tremendous thing by himself. He never understands how he is hurting someone else's feelings, so when he says thank God, it's over, he does not consider how it sounds to Liza, as though she has been a burden to him.
It is interesting to contrast this scene to the one at the end of Act II when Higgins and Pickering are praising Eliza to the skies for being so clever. This feeling of theirs has not been conveyed to her apparently. Higgins's attitude of relief and boredom, compounded by his ignoring Eliza's presence, makes her feel like a common girl again, like Cinderella after the ball. Once she had been one of them, as though they were a team, and now she is invisible again when the experiment is over. Higgins is so blind and shortsighted about human feelings, he keeps making things worse with everything he utters. He does however register his reaction of alarm at the thought Eliza would be leaving. Apparently, he assumes she will be his secretary. From his point of view, she is part of the household furniture.
Eliza realizes that she has not really made it out of the gutter, even with her genteel manners and accent, for Higgins is still treating her as a lower-class person, as though she does not count. There is no equality between them, even though he promised her she could raise her class status. It is good drama because the audience can see both sides of it. They come from two different classes, two different sexes, two different ways of life. If Eliza stays with Higgins in the undefined way he assumes, she will have no place in society, neither as a wife nor as a servant.
Higgins makes it clear that he is not interested in a romantic relationship, but when he tells Eliza she can be fixed up with a husband, Eliza points out that that is only high class prostitution. This is where Eliza's character becomes very interesting because she is starting to think for herself now. Freddy is waiting for her, though, and that seems to offer Liza an honorable way out of the situation, for at least, he loves and appreciates her as a woman. She would have a life of her own and have made a move to a higher class.
Summary of Act V
Higgins and Pickering arrive at Mrs. Higgins's flat. They are downstairs phoning the police and are in a state of panic. Mrs. Higgins tells the maid to tell Eliza to wait upstairs until she calls for her.
Higgins rushes into his mother's drawing room and tells her that Eliza left, and they do not know where she is. He complains he cannot find anything at home now. When they told the police to look for Eliza, they made trouble about it as if it were some improper arrangement in Wimpole Street with the two bachelors and Liza living there.
Just then, there is another visitor announced. Alfred Doolittle has come dressed as a gentleman and looking for Higgins. He is dressed formally in a top hat and wedding clothes. He complains to Higgins that he was the one who made this change in him, turning him into a middle-class gentleman when he was a happy dustman. Higgins ruined him by writing to an American millionaire, Ezra D. Wannafeller who was giving five million dollars to found Moral Reform Societies in the world. Higgins told Wannafeller that Doolittle was the most original moralist in England. When Wannafeller died, he left Doolittle three thousand a year on condition that he lecture for the Society. Doolittle does not mind lecturing, but he minds becoming the slave of middle-class morality. Now that he has money, he has to marry his missis and give money to people in need. Now he will need Higgins to teach him proper English.
Mrs. Higgins tells him he can refuse the bequest. Doolittle replies that he is intimidated because he fears the workhouse in his old age. Mrs. Higgins says that now that Doolittle is rich, he can provide for Eliza, but Henry objects. He claims he paid five pounds for Eliza; she does not belong to Doolittle.
Mrs. Higgins says that Eliza is upstairs and explains to the men why Eliza is upset. She had become attached to Pickering and Higgins. She worked very hard to please them. She did this wonderful thing for them without making a mistake, and the two of them never acknowledged her or thanked her. They took the credit and said how glad they were it was over. Liza does not want to go back to Wimpole Street but is willing to be friends with them. Doolittle does not really cherish the idea of supporting his daughter, so he steps out on the balcony until things can be smoothed over.
Eliza enters, completely self-possessed, like a lady. She makes small talk with Pickering and Higgins, but Higgins tells her not to play the game with him; he taught her how to do it. He tells her to get up and come home: there is not one idea in her head he has not put there.
Eliza speaks only to Colonel Pickering, asking if he will drop her now the experiment is over. He objects to her idea that it was an experiment. She thanks him for what he did for her. It was not that he bought her clothes; it was from him she learned manners. Pickering replies that it was Higgins who taught her to speak. She says, of course, it is his profession. Her remarks wound Higgins's self-esteem because they undermine his idea that he has completely created her as a lady. She claims Pickering taught her self-respect by calling her “Miss Doolittle” when she arrived.
Pickering asks won't Eliza forgive and come back to Wimpole Street? Higgins predicts she will lapse into the gutter within three weeks. As her father comes up and touches her on the shoulder, Liza utters one of her cockney sounds, and Higgins is triumphant. Doolittle tells his daughter he is getting married today because her stepmother insists and asks if she will come to the church. Mrs. Higgins and Pickering volunteer to come too.
Eliza and Higgins are left alone for a few moments. Higgins says if she comes back, she will be treated as she always has been. She says she does not want to fetch his slippers for him. Colonel Pickering, on the other hand, treats a flower girl as if she is a duchess. Higgins replies he treats a duchess as a flower girl; he is the same to everybody. Eliza says she does not mind his manners; her real complaint is that he does not notice her. He ignores her, passes over her, as if she did not exist.
Higgins and Eliza argue over their relationship. Higgins insists he will miss her and has learned from her. He has her voice on his machine, but he cannot turn her soul on. Liza does not fall for this sentiment, because Mrs. Pearce has warned her that Higgins can be charming when he wants something. Higgins claims he cares about Eliza as part of humanity. Eliza, however, wants personal regard from Higgins.
Liza does not want Higgins and Pickering for her boyfriends. She has lots of men who want her, like Freddy Eynsford-Hill. She had come to care for Higgins as a friend. Higgins tells her to come back for the fellowship of it then. It would be an open arrangement where either one could call it off at any time. He is annoyed about Freddy, though. Higgins paints a satirical portrait of love and marriage for her.
Liza denounces him as nothing but a bully and claims she will marry Freddy. Higgins explodes. Eliza finally feels his equal because she can get to him, and Higgins recognizes this new status, saying he likes her like this, independent instead of weak. He decides he and Eliza and Pickering will live together as three bachelors. Eliza does not respond to this. Instead, she says good by, she will not see him again. As she goes out the door to her father's wedding, Higgins starts giving her orders as if nothing has changed: order a ham and some number 8 gloves etc. Liza replies number 8 gloves are too small for him. She walks out. Higgins repeats to himself that Eliza is going to marry Freddy, and then roars with laughter as the play ends, and he is alone on the stage.