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SWEENEY TODD with Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton
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Author:  Hans [ Thu Apr 05, 2012 1:10 am ]
Post subject:  Re: SWEENEY TODD with Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton

I disagree with about everything you're saying, and I can't come up with more explanations why, except that I don't think they make sense in relation to the text.

For example, The Worst Pies in London is explicitly written to illustrate Lovett's wandering mind. I don't have The Hat here so I can't quote it, but the intention of the song is to demonstrate the unpredictability of her character through an unpredictable melody and scattered phrases.

Of course the unpredictability of her character is written in an extremely controlled manner, but that is something else.

I also think the obsessions of Sally and Lovett are very different. Sally isn't a amoral, evil person. She is just very, very disappointed.

I don't understand how you can argue that Lovett cares about the murders when the text all the time demontrates how little she is concerned about the moral implications of murdering

Felix Felicis wrote:
I don't think what he's gone through makes him less morally culpable for what he does.


It doesn't make him less morally culpable. It offers a background for his actions that makes sense. But unlike Lovett he is (or at least was) able to choose, because he has a feeling of moral, which makes him able to go against it. It makes him more less pure evil. Lovett just isn't aware of moral aspects as all, which makes her more evil.

Felix Felicis wrote:
How does she push it further? It's Sweeney's idea to keep killing people, and it's her idea to put them in pies afterwards. She never says, "we need meat, so kill more people please." It's Sweeney's decision to kill and she picks up the pieces in the most efficient way. I'm not saying she's blameless or doing a good thing by being an accomplice, of course not. What I'm saying is that her going along with it for Sweeney's sake is comprehensible for reasons outside of amorality. I think the perfect proof for this is when she finds the first body: she is horrified and repulsed by what Sweeney did, she can't understand it. Then he explains that Pirelli was trying to blackmail him, and for Lovett, that's justification enough - this man was trying to harm Sweeney, so Sweeney got rid of him. The murder was awful, but it had to be done for Sweeney's benefit. That is how she judges the acceptability of behaviour.


And that's also exactly why I think she's amoral. It just takes a really think excuse to make her accept murder, because she doesn't care. She is slightly concerned initially, but changes her mind completely after not as much as an effort to persuade her. It's the perfect proof of unpredicatbility and doing things on a whim Then she gleefully "justifies" the continuation of the killings, not because she agrees with Sweeney in his hate towards humanity, just because it's convenient and makes her happy.

Felix Felicis wrote:
Sweeney doesn't care about her, and she can't accept this because if it's true, it's the end of her world. She out and out asks him, "You do love me, don't you?" She absolutely needs to be certain of his love in order to carry on doing what she's doing. I don't know how you can say his feelings are irrelevant to her....


Yet, when he answers he does, he is obviously lying, but she doesn't understand he's lying. In the context of the piece I think it makes most sense that it is because she is oblivious to the emotion of other people. If he says he loves her, she just accepts that he does, and continues living in her own little bubble.

Author:  Felix Felicis [ Thu Apr 05, 2012 1:34 am ]
Post subject:  Re: SWEENEY TODD with Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton

Oh I agree that she's scatty and flakey and a bit all over the place (you're right the fitful rhyme scheme and varying rhythm in that song are used to demonstrate this), but that doesn't mean there isn't reasoning behind her actions. I would find it deeply unsatisfying to have a character who acts randomly and aimlessly the entire time. That would just be irritating and distracting. I've shown that I think all of Lovett's actions have one aim and one underpinning: love for Sweeney.

I see really interesting similarities between Lovett and Sally actually. Both lose the man they love and both seize the chance to get him back. Neither can see beyond the self-delusion they have nurtured over the intervening years and both predicate their future happiness on their feelings being reciprocated.

You're mis-stating what I'm saying about the murders. I'm not saying that she is constantly racked with guilt every time she turns the handle of the mincing machine. What I mean is that she knows the killing is wrong but she is able to justify it to herself from the start. The fact that Sweeney has to explain why he did it surely shows that she recognises it as wrong. Once the justification is provided for her, she clings to it in the deluded way she clings to Sweeney.

Compare Lovett to Madame Rose - Rose really does do it all for herself as you claim Nelly does. She says it's for the love and benefit of her children, but her breakdown shows this not to be true. Lovett says it's for the love of Sweeney and that makes total sense to me. Maybe a better comparison would be with the Witch. She does 'harm' because she loves her child. I don't think you could question that, misguided as she may be, she does what she does because she thinks it will promote Rapunzel's well-being. Lovett is the same - the wrongs she does are not ultimately to benefit herself (though that is obviously a corollary) but for Sweeney.

Quote:
It doesn't make him less morally culpable. It offers a background for his actions that makes sense. But unlike Lovett he is (or at least was) able to choose, because he has a feeling of moral, which makes him able to go against it. It makes him more less pure evil. Lovett just isn't aware of moral aspects as all, which makes her more evil.

Hang on now - surely knowing you're doing something wrong and doing it anyway is far worse than not knowing something's wrong and then doing it? That is the essence of moral culpability and how criminal law works. Knowing that you are doing wrong is fundamentally more reprehensible than not knowing.

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And that's also exactly why I think she's amoral. It just takes a really think excuse to make her accept murder, because she doesn't care. She is slightly concerned initially, but changes her mind completely after not as much as an effort to persuade her. It's the perfect proof of unpredicatbility and doing things on a whim Then she gleefully "justifies" the continuation of the killings, not because she agrees with Sweeney in his hate towards humanity, just because it's convenient and makes her happy.

I think that's ignoring the text completely. She does care - she sees the body and is horrified. The fact that she needs an excuse, however thin, shows that she has some kind of moral response. And is her "justification" of the killings worse than the killings themselves? They're going to happen and she finds a way of interpreting them that means she doesn't have to leave Sweeney. It isn't about making her happy, it's about keeping him happy.

Quote:
Yet, when he answers he does, he is obviously lying, but she doesn't understand he's lying. In the context of the piece I think it makes most sense that it is because she is oblivious to the emotion of other people. If he says he loves her, she just accepts that he does, and continues living in her own little bubble.

Then why would she ask? If she doesn't care about the answer, why not just assume he loves her and carry on? It's like Sally again - it's painfully clear to the audience that Ben has no real feelings for her, but she is so obsessed with him that she has to believe he loves her back. It's not that she has no sense of other people's emotions, it's that she can't afford for him not to love her. Lovett needs confirmation because what's happening is so out of control. As long as Sweeney loves her, it's worth it, and she'll cling on to whatever indication of that she can get.


Maybe I can compromise: if Mrs. Lovett is the true villain of the piece, that is only revealed in the final scene when we discover that she has concealed the truth about Lucy. That is the moment where sympathy with her might end. Everything she has done throughout can be justified (I think convincingly) as making Sweeney happy and bringing about the relationship she dreamed about for years. However, the deception about Lucy is much harder to see as being in Sweeney's best interests. Even if it was mostly about her love for him, there is undeniably an element of jealousy and a desire to keep Sweeney wholly for herself. This is what is villainous about Mrs. Lovett, this is what is calculating and manipulative. It is not her acquiescence to the scheme but her lie Unfortunately, this one mistake or error of judgment is catastrophic.
This interpretation hinges on believing what she says in the final scene, which I do. If you don't, then obviously this is all sorts of wrong.

Author:  Hans [ Thu Apr 05, 2012 3:31 am ]
Post subject:  Re: SWEENEY TODD with Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton

Felix Felicis wrote:
Then why would she ask? If she doesn't care about the answer, why not just assume he loves her and carry on?


That is in practivcal terms exactly what she does. Since she has no empathy, she isn't able to detect the actual meaning of what Sweeney says, she's just satisfied with the superficial, literal meaning, which is exactly what she dooes in any other situation.

Felix Felicis wrote:
Maybe a better comparison would be with the Witch. She does 'harm' because she loves her child. I don't think you could question that, misguided as she may be, she does what she does because she thinks it will promote Rapunzel's well-being. Lovett is the same - the wrongs she does are not ultimately to benefit herself (though that is obviously a corollary) but for Sweeney.


I think that the Witch is the complete opposite of Lovett. The Witch knows that nice is different than good, and acts from it, despite knowing that people will think she's not nice. She reflects on her own moral choices. Lovett is all about being nice. For her, being good is at best a consequence of being nice, if it at all is something she's reflected over.

Felix Felicis wrote:
Hang on now - surely knowing you're doing something wrong and doing it anyway is far worse than not knowing something's wrong and then doing it? That is the essence of moral culpability and how criminal law works. Knowing that you are doing wrong is fundamentally more reprehensible than not knowing.


Yes, Sweeney is morally culpable, because he has moral. But not being aware of what is wrong and what is right, or not being able to reflect over it and choose between good or bad is much more scary, and in my opinion worse, because such a person isn't able to choose good either, because it's not relevant to that person's choice. That's why I think Lovett is the villain. And also why I think the play is about more complicated things than doing good or bad.

Felix Felicis wrote:
I think that's ignoring the text completely. She does care - she sees the body and is horrified. The fact that she needs an excuse, however thin, shows that she has some kind of moral response.


I think we're interpreting this part totally different. Of course Lovett reacts to the kiling, after all it isn't nice. The fact that the explanation is so extremely thin (it's one sentence!) makes it apparent that she's not concerned wether it's bad or good, and (I think) this is hilarious to the audience because they get the difference.

Felix Felicis wrote:
And is her "justification" of the killings worse than the killings themselves?


Those are two separate things. Killing is in my opinion always wrong. But justification of killing can nevertheless be taken into consideration depending on the ability of the killer to reflect upon his or her decision. Being able to reflect over killing doesn't make killing less bad. But not being able to reflect is in itself terrible.

I'm for example sure that Lovett would be perfectly able to go through life without harming a fly. But with her personality that would not be because she were conscious about the ethic implications of harming a fly. It would be because she just happened to not harm a fly.

I sort of agree that her actions aren't unpredictable or unmotivated, but they are uniformly motivated by shallow, pragmatic reasons, not ethic or moral reflections.

Felix Felicis wrote:
This is what is villainous about Mrs. Lovett, this is what is calculating and manipulative. It is not her acquiescence to the scheme but her lie Unfortunately, this one mistake or error of judgment is catastrophic.
This interpretation hinges on believing what she says in the final scene, which I do. If you don't, then obviously this is all sorts of wrong.


I Don't think Lovett is stupid or dull, so I definately agree that she is calculating and maipulative, and that is part of what makes her villainous. I'n not sure if she actually lies, I think she may actually believe what she says herslef. It's just that a person with the ability to recognise the difference between bad and good (as well as bewteen good and nice) would have known it is a lie.

Author:  Felix Felicis [ Thu Apr 05, 2012 4:37 am ]
Post subject:  Re: SWEENEY TODD with Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton

This is what I fundamentally don't understand: what evidence is there that Mrs. Lovett is amoral, rather than immoral? Why do you assume she has no notion of right and wrong - is it not possible she knows that everything they do is wrong and chooses to do it anyway, as Sweeney does?

I think you're also confusing lack of empathy (from which I don't think Lovett suffers) and self-delusion (which she definitely does). It's not that she can't tell what Sweeney really feels, it's that she can't bring herself to apprehend it. To stay aflot, she has to convince herself that he loves her. That has nothing to do with empathy.

Another moment that you would probably interpret as being 'not nice' whereas I read it as 'not good' is where Sweeney tells Anthony that the wigmakers get the hair from Bedlam. Lovett is disgusted that the 'patients' are often killed for their hair and walks away from the men discussing it. I think she is morally repelled by it (I suppose in interesting juxtaposition with her acceptance of Sweeney's killings) but you might say she just hates the nasty idea of scalping.

And surely it isn't Mrs. Lovett's fault if she cannot tell the difference between good and bad? She isn't suffering this affliction of amorality deliberately, so any consequence of it is similarly non-attributable to her. It's just how she is. And yet Sweeney chooses to be immoral. Even if that's not scarier, it has to be morally more reprehensible.

The distinction between self-delusion and supposed amorality is vital. You can't say that if someone can convince themselves of something, they are amoral. Rose can make herself believe whatever she wants (as June points out), but I don't think there's any evidence to suggest that Rose is amoral.

I suppose ultimately I must be trying to justify the fact that I sympathise far more with Mrs. Lovett than with anyone else in the play (save maybe Toby) - my reading of it and the subtext I interpret is what leads me to this emotional response, I suppose.

Author:  Mungojerrie_rt [ Thu Apr 05, 2012 4:50 am ]
Post subject:  Re: SWEENEY TODD with Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton

Felix Felicis wrote:
This interpretation hinges on believing what she says in the final scene, which I do. If you don't, then obviously this is all sorts of wrong.


I think it isn't so much if one believes what she says in the final scene, but if she does. Does she truly believe that it was all for the best for Sweeney? I think that is the crux. I think she does, for much of the reasons that have already been stated.

It is oft said that Sweeney goes insane because of what was done to him, and it was said that Mrs. Lovett is "scatter-brained", but why not insane herself? Just because she does not have a visible mental breakdown during the show, does not mean she hasn't long lost the plot. She, much like Sweeney, had the one she cared about more than anyone else ripped away. She never really gets a back story, but it seems to me that the years she has spent seeing the good suffer at the hands of the wicked (not to mention the pure toxicity of the environment in which she lived) it is quite reasonable to say that she had had a more drawn out version of Sweeney's "snap" long ago. Much like Sweeney being left with his quest for the Judge's throat, she is only left with the thought of Sweeney. Even for a sane person, her omission of the fate of Lucy is reasonable. Lucy as she was is long dead, and the shell that exists now is in no way Sweeney's beloved. Taking into account her insane obsession, one can easily interpret all of her actions as being purely for him, even if it is in a selfish light of keeping him happy in order to keep him with her.

This entire discussion is, I think, the point of the story. Who is the evil one? The Judge is the antagonist of the story, but the protagonist cannot be said to be the "good guy" at all. Where do right and wrong mix and change, and to what point are actions justified?

Author:  Hans [ Thu Apr 05, 2012 5:02 am ]
Post subject:  Re: SWEENEY TODD with Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton

Felix Felicis wrote:
This is what I fundamentally don't understand: what evidence is there that Mrs. Lovett is amoral, rather than immoral? Why do you assume she has no notion of right and wrong - is it not possible she knows that everything they do is wrong and chooses to do it anyway, as Sweeney does?


In my opinion, the entire text is evidence of that. I think Lovett may be an extremely shallow person, but she is far from shallowly written. Everything, from the melodies of her songs to her lines ti her actions demonstrates that she is not afflicted with the moral aspects of anything, only how it may or may not suit her (admittedly gaudy) taste.

It is first suggested in The Worst Pies: actually using cats for pie meat is not really what she objects to in Mrs Mooney's pies. It's only that the running after them exhausts her. All such small details reveil her character. She is constantly deeply concerned about nice and cozy things, but the moral implications of all the atrocities only concerns her briefly, if at all, and it's usually concentrated on some small pragmatic detail or evaluation of something being umpleasant.

I think it's difficult to answer your question, because I think the answer is so obvious, and I can't really compprehend how you can interpret it differently as it is so self evident to me.

Felix Felicis wrote:
And surely it isn't Mrs. Lovett's fault if she cannot tell the difference between good and bad? She isn't suffering this affliction of amorality deliberately, so any consequence of it is similarly non-attributable to her. It's just how she is. And yet Sweeney chooses to be immoral. Even if that's not scarier, it has to be morally more reprehensible.


I think this is an important question. I'm not sure if it is her fault or not, and that, I think, is one of the great question of the play and in general. I'm not sure if the point of the play is to suggest an answer. I think at least one point is more to offer a warning of the consequences of not evaluating the ethic and moral aspects of one's actions.

You may be right that Sweeney is morally more reprehensible. But I think that is a different question that I maybe think is less interresting than what one should think of a person without moral at all. My personal idea is that in most cases it's some sort of ethical lazyness. I may be very judgemental, but I honestly believe a lot of people (possibly including Lovett) are perfectly able to learn to consider moral and ethical questions, but they are too lazy and/or too concentrated on what is nice and cosy to bother to aquire that ability.

If that is so, then, yes, they have a moral responsibility to aquire that ability. If it's just the way they are (as may be the case in some instances), I think that is a very, very scary idea, much more scary than the idea of a person capable of making choices between bad and good who chooses the bad because of some or other background.

Author:  Felix Felicis [ Thu Apr 05, 2012 5:19 am ]
Post subject:  Re: SWEENEY TODD with Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton

I suppose I feel the same - it's so clear to me that she is in love and obsessed with Sweeney to such a degree that it has distorted her morals and, to a degree, her sanity.

Almost every song she sings (with the exception of the pie songs) is ultimately about Sweeney and her love for him:

Poor Thing - sung to get him to reveal himself to her and to show her sympathy for him ("you poor thing" at the end)
My Friends - simply her unrequited feelings for him and how his return completes her like the razors complete Sweeney
Wait - she wants to postpone the completion of his revenge because she fears he might leave her afterwards
A Little Priest - she sees that she can use the situation to tie them together in conspiracy
By the Sea - the heart of Lovett's story. She dreams of life with her lover by the seaside - it's the reason she does it all
Not While I'm Around - when she tries to convince Toby that Sweeney is not a threat, this is the beginning of the choice she has to make, wherein she ultimately chooses the latter
Final Sequence - "I lied because I love you"

That last line sums up her motivation throughout the play.


Mungo put it very nicely, as ever.

Author:  Hans [ Thu Apr 05, 2012 5:21 am ]
Post subject:  Re: SWEENEY TODD with Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton

Mungojerrie_rt wrote:
Taking into account her insane obsession, one can easily interpret all of her actions as being purely for him, even if it is in a selfish light of keeping him happy in order to keep him with her.


I agree with this, as it includes the motivation for Lovett acting in the interest of Sweeney: even then it's on the deepest level for herself.

Author:  Felix Felicis [ Thu Apr 05, 2012 5:34 am ]
Post subject:  Re: SWEENEY TODD with Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton

Hans wrote:
Mungojerrie_rt wrote:
Taking into account her insane obsession, one can easily interpret all of her actions as being purely for him, even if it is in a selfish light of keeping him happy in order to keep him with her.


I agree with this, as it includes the motivation for Lovett acting in the interest of Sweeney: even then it's on the deepest level for herself.

Haha, see I reach the opposite conclusion. I think she thinks being with her is what will make Sweeney happiest. She knows how to handle him, how to calm him, how to control him. Without her care, who knows what he might do? So by keeping him close to her, she is keeping him safe and loved.

I guess I go one step further back. You say everything Mrs. Lovett does is to get what she wants. She wants Sweeney, so she (selfishly) does everything to keep him.

I say that she wants him because she genuinely loves him deeply. A life with him is the only thing she truly wants, and that desire is what drives her. It isn't like avarice for an object - Sweeney isn't just something else she wants to acquire. He is her end.

Author:  Hans [ Thu Apr 05, 2012 6:11 am ]
Post subject:  Re: SWEENEY TODD with Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton

Felix Felicis wrote:
She knows how to handle him, how to calm him, how to control him. Without her care, who knows what he might do? So by keeping him close to her, she is keeping him safe and loved.


I think your interpretation requires a concern on Lovett's part of protecting other people, which she obviously doesn't have. I also think your interpretation transforms her into Julie Jordan. Which in my opinion is so weird that I don't know really how to convince you otherwise, haha :D

Author:  Felix Felicis [ Thu Apr 05, 2012 6:38 am ]
Post subject:  Re: SWEENEY TODD with Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton

Hans wrote:
Felix Felicis wrote:
She knows how to handle him, how to calm him, how to control him. Without her care, who knows what he might do? So by keeping him close to her, she is keeping him safe and loved.


I think your interpretation requires a concern on Lovett's part of protecting other people, which she obviously doesn't have. I also think your interpretation transforms her into Julie Jordan. Which in my opinion is so weird that I don't know really how to convince you otherwise, haha :D

No, there are clear examples of it: her erstwhile nurturing of Toby, her keeping an eye on Lucy after the poisoning, her desire for a child and her willingness to take in Sweeney and belief that she is protecting him from heartbreak by concealing Lucy. All those instances of her wanting to look after others. This is obviously an important part of who she is.

And how am I making her like Julie Jordan? They are both white women, that's about the extent of the similarity.

Author:  Hans [ Thu Apr 05, 2012 7:20 am ]
Post subject:  Re: SWEENEY TODD with Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton

Felix Felicis wrote:
No, there are clear examples of it: her erstwhile nurturing of Toby, her keeping an eye on Lucy after the poisoning, her desire for a child and her willingness to take in Sweeney and belief that she is protecting him from heartbreak by concealing Lucy. All those instances of her wanting to look after others. This is obviously an important part of who she is.


I think those things are, like everything else she does, just whims. They do not represent real affections. Like having flowers and a musical instrument, having a child to care for is cosy to her.

Felix Felicis wrote:
And how am I making her like Julie Jordan? They are both white women, that's about the extent of the similarity.


She is the character that stands by her man no matter how badly he behaves, because she really loves him unconditionally, because her sort of love is focused on him and she erases her own wellbeing. Lovett's affection is unconcerned with Sweeney's feelings, because it is focused on her own wellbeing. It's as if she doesn't register his grief for his lost wife, and to the extent she does, it's mostly an annoying detail, since she wants him no matter what.

I don't think we can agree on this, because our reading of the play is so fundamentally different. But I really enjoy the argument.

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