Pirates, Con-men, Wizards, and Colonialists

I was thinking about a fun piece that I could show off my skills. In doing this, I knew that I needed to know the pieces inside and out. This lead me to analyzing these different musicals. During the past four years, I had been a part of all four of the musicals. I will be using Michael Ryan’s Literary Theory: A Practical Introduction (Second Edition) for all of the musicals. If anyone is unfamiliar with the musicals, the link leads to Wikipedia. Depending on the user’s viewpoint, a work can be interpreted in different ways to allow support to an argument. Before I analyze the text, I will point out the at least two other schools that could be used to analyze a piece.

1. Pirates of Penzance– Marxist

Though there is plenty of material for a potential feminist perspective or rhetoric, the main criticism revolves around the Marxism. Marxism, though thought to be mainly a financially perspective, is also influenced by the social order. According to Marx, the financial and social situations were intertwined into the core of society. Those with control of the market are also in control of the social structure. Ryan says in his book, “Because material inequality is difficult to justify in itself, ideas and cultural values have become increasingly important for maintaining the unequal distribution of wealth” (115). The Major General is not so much concerned in the marriage of his daughters. Most of the conflict comes from the socio-economic background of the pirates. He needs some way to justify his disgust of the pirates. He assumes, as many people would, that the pirates are poor and have no background in the elite world. The Major General even has a song about how smart and educated he is. In addition to that, the police officers are of a social class comparatively lower than the pirates. The daughters do not even think of the police as potential suitors. The daughters basically tell the police officers to die and asking the pirates mercy is vain. The end result has the Major General letting his daughters marrying the pirates only after evidence is presented that most, if not all, of the pirates are of noble birth. Only then, the pirates are socio-economically equal to the girls. Therefore, it is right for them to marry.

2. The Music Man– Historical

This musical has plenty of material for examining the rhetoric and marxist, yet to get the full effect, the historical must be examined. For the Historical perspective, the history of the play must be examined. Ryan opens his chapter on History with “Arguments about the meaning of a literary text are often easily settled by turning to history” (159). The Music Man was premiered in 1957. Though the US was in the middle of the Cold War, it was a simpler time. There was no longer the threat of being in an active war situation. These were the new good times. The musical takes place in 1912. This is the time before the threat of Communism from Russia, the world wars, and the bomb. The innocence of the young boys is vital for the community. Harold Hill comes into town to make money. Without any material, he cannot earn the trust of the people he is trying to swindle. During “Ya Got Trouble,” Hill uses the fear of boys growing up too fast to make money. These boys however would be going to war in a few years. This war would ruin the innocence that Hill was going to exploit. In “Ya Got Trouble,” the greatest fear of the townspeople was that of the boys being immoral. This is while the World War I was a little more than two years away. World War I was the war that devastated Europe and set the wheels in motion for the Second World War.

3. The Wizard of Oz– Rhetoric

The feminist and psychological perspectives would both be good places to start, yet the rhetoric of The Wizard of Oz defines what this play is. The title character is not even seen until the second act. Even still, he is lost in a cloud of literal smoke and mirrors. “The field of rhetoric also encompasses the procedures and techniques one can use in working language to produce effects or make points” (48). The Wizards uses rhetoric to his advantage in the land of Oz. The Wizard does not even exist outside the limits that he sets. Everyone in the land believes that the Wizard is all-powerful. When the three characters ask for three abstract things, the Wizard gives them literal objects with a speech explaining why. Instead of a brain, the Scarecrow is given a diploma; the Tin Man is given a clock with ticking to resemble a heartbeat; the Lion is given a medal. Yet with a speech accompanying each, the characters are satisfied. Also with a speech, the Wizard hands control of the country to the Scarecrow without a single contention from anyone in the crowd.  His rhetoric bedazzles the people. Compare this to the Winkies. They are glad and supposedly set up a different government after the Wicked Witch is dead. She does not rule by rhetoric but instead uses fear tactics to keep the Winkies under her command.

4. Jesus Christ Superstar– Post-colonialism

Jesus Christ Superstar shows strong indications of post-modernism and historical. Yet, the school of post-colonialism is a fascinating criticism. It is the study of countries that were or are under colonialism. During the musical, Israel is under the control of the Roman empire. Ryan states, “Once injected into the local cultures, it is combined with nationalist yearning for independence that proved potently combustible” (195). Though Ryan is talking about modern European nations, this is also true in Israel. Ironically, Sir Webber is from England one of the world’s most aggressive imperialist until the Empire fell apart. Judas starts the musical thinking about how the ministry is becoming too large. It is so large that the Romans might find it a threat. On the other hand, another of the disciples thinks that the ministry could be used to take down the Romans. This would force the Romans to leave Israel for the Romans. The priest use the Roman occupation to their advantage. Judas comes to them with the intentions of just stopping the ministry not knowing the priest’s plans. He realizes later that he would be blamed for Jesus’ death. The high priest stands next to the Roman counting the number of lashes.

Now that you have read that lengthy piece, here are a couple of Things Musical Taught Me. All four of this come from this Tumblr. There are also lessons from other musicals.


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