“Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” is a well known play and musical capturing the audience’s attention as to what can happen behind closed doors. I will be reporting the background context of the musical and how Victorian life could influence the storyline and characters. I will cover historical, social, political, economical, cultural and technical aspects of the musical. “Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” (which I will now refer to as “Sweeney Todd”) originated from a play by Christopher Bond, then a musical with a book. The music and lyrics for the musical was written by Stephen Sondheim and was first performed in 1979. The book was written by Hugh Wheeler. “Sweeney Todd” is set in Victorian London, primarily Fleet Street. The main characters are; Sweeney Todd, Mrs. Nellie Lovett, Judge Turpin, Beadle Bamford, Johanna, Anthony and Tobias (Toby). The themes of “Sweeney Todd” are mainly love and revenge but other themes are underlying throughout the story. To start reporting my research I will discuss the historical findings and its origins in greater depth. Historical
The first stimulus for the story of “Sweeney Todd” was thought to be based around the 14th century French ballad. It was based on a tale that crossed the English Channel and back again of a barber would kill his customers and feed them to the local pastry merchant. The story of the Sawney Bean family is one of the most gruesome Scottish legends and dates back to the 1600’s. Alexander Sawney Bean was the head of a family of cannibals, who oversaw a 25-year reign of murder from a hidden sea cave on the Ayrshire/Galloway coast in the 15th century. There are numerous written sources detailing the account of Sawney and his family, and it has been suggested that the legend has its roots in real events. This could be a contributing factor to the story of “Sweeney Todd”. Joseph Fouche served as Minister of Police in Paris from 1799 to 1815. He documented a series of murders committed in 1800 by a Parisian barber. Fouche wrote that the barber was in league with a neighbouring pastry cook, who made pies out of the victims and sold them for human consumption. While there were rumours about the accuracy of this account, the story was republished in 1824 under the headline "A Terrific Story of the Rue de Le Harpe, Paris" in The Tell Tale, a London magazine. Perhaps this was an issue resulting in the play being written. For three months in 1888 fear and panic spread the streets of London's East End. During these months five women were murdered and horribly mutilated by a man who became known as 'Jack the Ripper', although some believe the true number to have been eleven. Whitechapel in the East End was the rotten end of London in the late 19th century. The overcrowded population lived in hovels, the streets stank of filth and refuse and the only way to earn a living was by criminal means, and for many women, prostitution. For a hundred years, various names have been suggested as the killer of these women. Two convicted murderers claimed to be the 'Ripper' but both were proved to have been elsewhere at the time. Even a member of the Royal family was named! The Duke of Clarence, the eldest son of Edward, Prince of Wales and Alexandra, was viewed with a certain amount of suspicion but he was cleared when it was found that he had been on other engagements at the crucial times. He disappeared after the last murder and his body was found floating in the Thames on December 31st 1888. The Victorian era was a time of change. There were more machines built so people were out of jobs and therefore moved to the city. This made the cities more congested and polluted, therefore concern of peoples health. Among the changes taking place was a great development: the Industrial Revolution, the beginnings of which trace back to the late eighteenth century, around 1780. Exporting had always been important in Europe, and the business classes...
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