19th Annual Signet Classics Student Scholarship Essay Contest

Essays must be postmarked by April 14, 2016 and received on or by April 21, 2016.
Maximum Award: 
Other, see comments
Open to 11th and 12th grade students between the ages of 16-18 who are residents of the fifty United States and the District of Columbia

Read Beowulf and select one of the following six topics to write about to enter the Signet Classics Student Essay Contest.

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You must be in 11th or 12th grade and a full-time matriculated student who is attending a high school located in the fifty United States and the District of Columbia, or home-schooled and between the ages of 16-18 you are a resident of the fifty United States and the District of Columbia.


Essays must be at least two and no more than three double-spaced pages, computer or typewritten.

Five (5) winners each will be awarded a check in the amount of one thousand dollars ($1,000.00) to be used toward tuition and/or expenses related to their higher education. Each winner will also receive a Signet Classics Library for their school library, or public library in the case of a home-schooled winner.

Select one of the following six topics:

Select one of the following six topics:

  1. Henry Higgins, the leading man in Pygmalion and My Fair Lady, may be considered an anti-hero, a character who acts in ways contrary to conventional literary representations of heroism. What qualities mark him as an anti-hero?
  2. When Eliza threatens to leave Henry in Act 5 of Pygmalion, Henry defends himself, saying, “I care for life, for humanity….What more can you or anyone ask?” In light of Henry’s behavior throughout the play, does this self-justification seem satisfactory? What are the pitfalls of caring for life and humanity in general, as Henry does, but neglecting to consider the needs of individuals?
  3. At the end of Pygmalion, Henry is amused when Eliza goes off to marry Freddy. In My Fair Lady, Eliza returns in a scene that suggests she and Henry have a future together. Given your understanding of Eliza and Henry, do you think one ending fits better than the other? Would it work to switch conclusions—end Pygmalion with Eliza’s return and My Fair Lady with Eliza’s departure? Why or why not? What changes did Lerner make to Shaw’s play to make his new ending plausible?
  4. At the beginning of Pygmalion, we are introduced to Alfred Doolittle, Eliza’s father. Alfred reappears—surprisingly, almost as an afterthought—toward the conclusion of the play. In My Fair Lady, by contrast, his role is greatly expanded in additional scenes and songs. How do these additions affect your view of Alfred’s character and his life philosophy?
  5. Both plays poke fun at the middle class, most notably its emphasis on proper speech and appearance. In what other ways does the play satirize middle class values? What middle class preoccupations and interests are undermined? Do you believe members of the middle class today share attitudes illustrated in the plays? Use examples to illustrate your point.
  6. In Act 5 of Pygmalion and almost verbatim in Act 2, Scene 5 of My Fair Lady, Eliza claims Col. Pickering showed her how to act like a lady by behaving well himself: “I shall always be a flower girl to Professor Higgins because he always treats me like a flower girl, and always will; but I know I can be a lady to you, because you always treat me as a lady, and always will.” Do you agree with Eliza’s assessment of Col. Pickering as a true gentleman? Illustrate your answer with references to his behavior throughout the play.

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