Monday, January 28, 2008

A Suggested Reworking of the Magic Flute so not to Offend Feminist Ears (Part II)

(This concludes an earlier post. See here.)

Despite the Magic Flute's Enlightenment sentiments, it does not take a great leap of the imagination to see certain highly patriarchal themes within the story. The world of the Queen of the Night, consisting of women, is the evil side, while the very masculine side of Sarastro is considered to be good. In fact the librettist, Emanuel Schikaneder, was actually quite explicit on this issue. Sarastro, numerous times, declares that the darkness represented by the Queen of the Night is the result of allowing a woman to rule without the oversight of a man. Having a woman rule is against nature and results in chaos and obscuration. What is needed is for a man to rule. Only then can law and reason be maintained.

The fact that such an Enlightenment piece could build itself around the concept that women need to be kept under the authority of men, should not be a shock to any reader of Rousseau. According to Rousseau, democratic rule necessitated that women be kept out of power. Women represent autocracy and the rule of the passions. Men represent democracy and the rule of reason. (See Sarah Maza, Private Lives and Public Affairs: The Causes Celebres in Pre-Revolutionary France.)

Considering all this I was thinking that we can redeem this “sexist” play simply by understanding it as a tragedy. Here is the real story that Mozart and his sexist cronies wanted to hide from us. The Queen of the Night rules over a happy feminist kingdom, in which men are not needed and are not allowed. Sarastro, though, tricks her daughter, Pamina to abandon her mother’s feminist paradise for his so called Temple of Light, which is a seminary devoted to advancing the cause of patriarchal tyranny. He fills her head with thoughts of marriage and religion. He tells her that, by submitting to the patriarchal institution of marriage, she can find completion in this life. Also he initiates her into the service of Isis and Osiris, which obviously represent the veneration of Mary and Jesus. Pamina learns that a woman should be like the Virgin Mary; she should submit herself to the whims of a patriarchal god and help bring forth the embodiment of patriarchal authority into the world. Next she must stand ideally by as the patriarchal values of blood, sacrifice and suffering are enshrined as unchallengeable religious dogmas.

The Queen of the Night, desperate to save her daughter, enlists the help of a Tamino, who, despite the fact that he is a man, seems to be an open minded individual. He does not seek patriarchal rule but romantic love. Neither Tamino nor the Queen of the Night realize that romantic love is merely a cover for patriarchy; this is their tragic flaw. The audience is shown early on, through the character of Papageno, that romantic love necessarily leads to patriarchy. Papageno also sings of romantic love, but his idea of romance is catching women and putting them in cages.

Meanwhile Sarastro’s Moorish servant, Monostatos, having rejected the patriarchal values of his master, who had enslaved him, and embraced the tolerance of Islam that he practiced in his youth, tries to open up Pamina’s eyes to the true nature of Sarastro’s patriarchy, but she will not listen. He tries to get her to love him, but, having absorbed racism as well as sexism from Sarastro, she turns him down.

When Tamino comes to rescue Pamina, he is caught by Sarastro. Sarastro reveals to him the true patriarchal foundations of romantic love. Tamino cannot resist the allure of patriarchy and submits himself to Sarastro’s teaching, much like Anakin Skywalker, in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, submits himself to the teachings of Chancellor Palpatine. The Queen of the Night makes one desperate last attempt to ward off the forces of patriarchy. Even though Monostatos comes to her aid, her forces prove unable to overcome the full force of Sarastro’s patriarchy once it is unleashed and all is lost. As the opera ends, Pamina believes that she is going to enter wedded bliss. The audience is shown, though, throw the use of Papageno and Papageno what fate really awaits her; a life of putting out babies without the barest hint of family planning.

There is a serious issue to be confronted here. I once went to a production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing and the program explained that Shakespeare used this play to attack traditional concepts of hierarchy and gender roles. While I do believe that much of Shakespeare’s work is quite subversive and that Shakespeare had a keen understanding as to the role of hierarchy and gender in society, his work is hardly twenty-first century college campus liberalism. This is particularly ridiculous as, unlike plays such as Twelfth Night and Merchant of Venice, Much Ado about Nothing has nothing directly to do with gender; the play has no women dressing up as men or vice versa. The implication of this is that the only way Shakespeare can be performed is if we pretend that all the politically incorrect material is not there. If political correctness has come to this than the arts are in serious trouble.

While Ohio State’s production of Magic Flute changed Monostatos from a Moor to a white man in Gothic clothing (Why is there no Gothic Anti-Defamation League to sue people for this?), the production still kept Mozart’s sexism and allowed us to see it in all of its glory. I congratulate them for doing something honestly controversial. They are truly standing in the frontlines of artistic freedom.

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