Friday, January 30, 2015

Prologue: Into the Woods - A Musical Number using Modern Rhetoric

Greens, greens, nothing but greens
Parsley, peppers, cabbages and celery,
Asparagus and watercress and
Fiddleferns and lettuce-!
He said, "All right,"
But it wasn't, quite,'
Cause I caught him in the autumn
In my garden one night!
He was robbing me,
Raping me,
Rooting through my rutabaga,
Raiding my arugula and
Ripping up the rampion
My champion! My favorite!-
I should have laid a spell on him
Right there, I could have turned him into stone
Or a dog...
Or a chair...
But I let him have the rampion-
I'd lots to spare.
In return, however,
I said, "Fair is fair:
You can let me have the baby
That your wife will bear.
And we'll call it square."
The recent Disney musical film, Into the Woods, gave audiences, including me, great entertainment with the songs written by the famous Broadway composer and lyricist, Stephen Sondheim. This film was adapted by Sondheim’s original musical in 1987, which featured songs such as “Giants in the Sky”, “Agony” and “Last Midnight”. Many of these songs had one thing in common: They used rhetorical figures and tropes. However, I would like to focus on the very first musical number, which is the “Prologue: Into the Woods”.

“Prologue” is about 13 minutes long, but the part which I believe is very eloquent and used many rhetorical figures and tropes is at 7:23 to 8:07, where fans affectionately called it the Witch’s Rap, done by Meryl Streep. One of the rhetorical figures and tropes was alliteration. This was evident at the part “Parsleys, peppers, cabbages and celery”, where the first part had a focus on the letter “P” and the second on the letter “C”. In my opinion, I believe alliteration was used in here to let audiences understand the varieties of vegetables being grown by the Witch and these vegetables were stolen by the Baker’s father. However, this was not the only part where alliteration was used. In fact, alliteration was used throughout the rap.

Besides, rhyme was also used in the Witch’s Rap. For example, “He said ‘All right!’, but it wasn’t, quite, ‘cause I caught him in the autumn, in the garden one night!”, used rhyme, where “right”, “quite” and “night” were rhymes at the end of the sentence. In this example, rhyme was used to stress out the point that the Witch has seen the Baker’s father sneaking into the garden that night. Furthermore, assonance was another rhetorical figure used in the Witch’s Rap. As an example, “Rooting through my rutabaga, raiding through my arugula” had assonance with an emphasis on the vowel “u”. This proved to be effective, in my opinion, because assonance gave audiences a chance to understand the actions done by the Baker’s father in more detail, but also it made audiences understood the process of stealing the vegetables with catchy lyrics. Parallelism was also used in this part of the “Prologue”. An example would be “I could have turned him into stone, or a dog, or a chair” had parallelism in terms of using nouns. In this case, parallelism was used to show the capabilities of the Witch’s powers, where she probably could have turned the Baker’s father into anything, ranging from a non-moving object to a living animal.

But, the most eloquent part of all, in my opinion, was the part where Sondheim intended the use of “Robbing me, raping me” in his lyrics. I was immediately shocked when I heard the lyrics, but then after some research, I finally understood what the Witch was singing about. In this case, “raping” did not mean the act of committing a rape, but actually meant the act of stealing, or seizing. This meant that the Baker’s father was not raping the Witch, but only meant that he was seizing the vegetables from her garden.

Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods was not only an excellent musical film, but it also was a clear example where rhetorical figures and tropes were explicitly and effectively used. I would suggest everyone to watch this film, because it is entertaining with the multiple musical numbers, and it is a good example of the modern rhetoric in terms of word choices in songs.

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