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Into the Woods as a feminist play - somestraymutt

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December 30th, 2011

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03:13 am - Into the Woods as a feminist play
Often as I listen to my soundtrack(s) of several productions of one of my favorite musicals, Into the Woods, I'm quite convinced that whoever wrote it - and possibly Sondheim, who wrote the songs - had feminist sentiments behind it.

The story is a very convoluted one, so would be best summed up simply as, 'various fairy tales meet together and chaos ensues in a comedic, although increasingly dark, story.' A number of observations I would make about the story, especially the characters - (I'll probably order them in order of how interesting I find them, from least to most.)

The baker and his wife. While initially set up in that way, the baker being an individual and his wife being, well, his wife, as a fairy tale would normally present it, the moral of their story ends up telling of the importance of equality in a relationship. She is discontent to simply stay home and be the passive one in the relationship, and her husband eventually finds that he is unable to progress without working with her as a team.

Little Red Riding Hood learns a different lesson, and not the one we're used to hearing from her story - two different lessons, actually. From her words, "nice is different than good," referring to the wolf's initial charm (elaborated on later with the two princes) meaning nothing of his motivations. Then, in her grandmother's words, "the jaws of a wolf aren't the end of the world." I'm quite fond of this phrase - while both Little Red and her grandmother suffered from the wolf's attack, neither of them allows it to destroy their lives, and Little Red's song "I Know Things Now" elaborates on both lessons, asserting that she's only more prepared for the world.

Rapunzel's relationship with her emotionally abusive 'mother,' the witch, is very rooted in expectations of a woman to remain a child as she grows up - and it is eventually what leads to her death. The witch teachers her, particularly in the number "Stay With Me," that the world is evil and far too wicked for her even though she is a young woman - "stay a child while you can be a child." Rapunzel's sheltered life, not her supposed inherent delicate nature, is what makes her unable to face the violent world outside, and her falling is when she relies on a man, her Prince, to save her life.

Cinderella is introduced not as an innocent little victim, but as a victim who is rightfully angry at her expected place in her family. While dutifully tending to them, she bitterly sings:
"Be nice, Cinderella, good Cinderella nice, good, good, nice! What's the good in being good if they're always blind and you're only left behind? Never mind, Cinderella, kind, Cinderella, nice, good, kind, nice..."
Furthermore, when she finally attends the ball, she actually finds the prince's aggressive nature to be very off-putting, and rejects him, and leaves him behind, to his confusion.

My personal favorite, which admittedly always makes me laugh, are the Two Princes, who are the ultimate Nice Guys.
Their personalities are defined in their first song, "Agony."
Rapunzel's prince is determined to help her escape from the tower, while Cinderella's prince is baffled as to why Cinderella would reject a man so perfect as himself - as surely, she should be honored. He lists many reasons why he 'deserves' her-
"Did I abuse her, or show her disdain, why does she run from me?"
He asks his brother,
"Am I not well-mannered, considerate, passionate, charming, as kind as I'm handsome and heir to a throne?"
His brother exclaims, "You are everything maidens could wish for!"
"Then why no?!"
"Do I know?!"
"The girl must be mad!"
Rapunzel's prince proceeds to bitterly mock her as his frustration towards her unobtainability grows.
Later, in "Agony: Reprise," the two are married, Rapunzel obedient and childish as ever, Cinderella only having agreed so that she may escape her family - and is continuing to find herself discontent with her overbearing husband, and ready to leave him to live a life less luxurious, but free. The two men, meanwhile, are now bored with their wives, and singing a song about their new interests, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, who they once again feel they inherently deserve - so the cycle continues.

Interestingly enough, Cinderella's prince traditionally also plays the role of Little Red's predatory Wolf, emphasizing his true nature, as well as the lesson 'nice is different than good.'
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