In The Song Bohemian Rhapsody, “Scaramouche” Is a…?


Answer: Clown

Queen’s iconic masterpiece “Bohemian Rhapsody”, composed by lead singer Freddie Mercury and released in the autumn of 1975, is just shy of six minutes long but has several distinct musical segments. The song starts with an intro, moves into a ballad, shifts to an operatic passage, then to a hard rock riff, and finally shifts the tempo down to a sad and reflective coda (a musical passage that brings the piece to an end, often called an “outro”).

Of all the passages in the song, the operatic passage is perhaps the most enigmatic when compared to the ballad and rock sections since it includes numerous references that aren’t well known among modern listeners. At the beginning of the energetic operatic passage, for example, Mercury belt outs (soon to be joined by the rest of the band) “I see a little silhouetto of a man / Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the fandango?”

While we’ll leave extensive interpretation of the complex lyrics up to you, we can provide a little additional information that may make your next listen of the song more interesting. Scaramouche isn’t just a silly name, but the name of a specific stock clown character found in “commedia dell’arte”, an early form of professional theater found in Italy starting back in the 16th century. The fandango, for the curious, is a high-energy flamenco dance, usually performed in triple meter.

Though Scaramouche’s character has evolved over the centuries of theater, as a general rule, he is a boastful fool who is quite skilled at getting himself out of trouble—perhaps, since the narrator in the song begins the first verse by lamenting that he’s killed a man, so he could use a little of that get-out-of-trouble magic. The fandango, while literally a dance, is also used colloquially in countries where it is popular (such as Spain and Portugal), due to the intensity of the dance, to also mean “a quarrel”, “a big fuss”, or a “brilliant exploit”. The kind of brilliant exploit, perhaps, that gets one out of a murder charge.

Image courtesy of Charles Chabot/Wikimedia Commons.

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