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Additional example 3: Queen's "The Show Must Go On"

1 The poem

Queen’s “The Show Must Go On” is a good example to show how the four dimensions constitute a complete fictional world (never mind that the song has been shown to be intimately related to the life of the singer - which makes it even more pungent - the moment it becomes a text it becomes a constructed world).

Click HERE to access the poem.

2 Society and individuality

We may start with the refrain:

The Show must go on!
The Show must go on!
Inside my heart is breaking,
My make-up may be flaking,
But my smile, still, stays on! (9-13)

The refrain presents an outside and an inside. The outside is “the show”, the “make-up [which is] flaking” and “my smile [which] stays on”. This is Freddy Mercury’s façade in front of his audience and throughout his life. That outside is easily recognisable as the social dimension in the song, the make-up we put on hen we face other human beings. The inside, on the other hand, is the heart of Freddy, which is breaking. It is easily recognisable as his individuality (my heart is my innermost self). There is thus an opposition in this song of society on the one hand, and individuality on the other.

This opposition is strengthened in lines like “Outside the dawn is breaking, / But inside in the dark I'm aching to be free!” (21-22), where the reference to aching (feelings) and freedom definitely defines the I as individual and natural. Part of this opposition also appears in the split references to only society and only individuality:

only society
only individuality

Behind the curtain, in the pantomime
Hold the line, does anybody want to take it anymore
The show must go on,
The show must go on (5-8)

I’ll face it with a grin
I’m never giving in
On - with the show – (29-31)


3 Metaphysics

These are, however, not the only dimensions present in the song. Metaphysics also figures prominently, here first of all as death. The imprisonment of the I which yearns for freedom behind the social façade is so unbearable that that I is constantly threatened with extinction: “Does anybody want to take it anymore” (8), and the final stanza, with references to both overdoing – “I’ll top the bill! I’ll overkill!” (37-38) - and utter exhaustion – “I have to find the way to carry on! / On with the, / On with the show” (38-41) – suggests the proximity of the annihilation of that I.

There are also other ways in which metaphysics makes itself noticeable. The lines “Does anybody know what we are living for?” (17) express the existential doubts of the singer, the ultimate mystery of existence.  Metaphysical are also the following lines:

My soul is painted like the wings of butterflies,
Fairy tales of yesterday, will grow but never die,
I can fly, my friends! (29-31)

We are talking here initially about the individual I of the singer, but the reference to the “soul”, to “fairy tales” and to immortality – “never die” – adds a metaphysical touch to the whole. The other metaphysics generated here is the probable illusion of the I being able to fly. The whole song presents the I as imprisoned in society, so the sudden freedom of the I, especially taking into account the harrowing ending of the song, is most plausibly interpreted as an illusion, a lie.

4 Nature

And finally, nature. Of the four dimensions, nature is probably the least present in this text. This has an easy explanation. Nature is usually defined as that which is, and that usually means [1] outside nature, nature with a capital “N”, i.e. forests, deserts, the sea, or [2] inside nature, our own nature, our drives and feelings. Now both these spaces, the outside and the inside, have been taken by society and individuality. To a very great extent, that leaves nature out of the picture. Still,

  1. the poem talks about “empty” and “abandoned spaces” (1-2), and space is a basic natural because physical category, it's outside nature. At the same time, the poem also refers to “Whatever happens” as the product of “chance” (14). The vision of a mindless universe governed by chance is part of our Darwinian vision of nature, but the element of eternity which is suggested by this vast and empty mindlessness redirects that nature towards metaphysics
  2. in general, the individuality of the singer is made out of feelings – the heart breaking, the heartache, the feeling of warmth, - and feelings are one important way in which our nature expresses itself
  3. the poem highlights the “will” of the singer to “never give in” and “carry on” (35, 39) in spite of the odds, and again such a will can be interpreted in Darwinian terms as an inborn survival of the species, which overcomes the meaninglessness of life

Examples 1 and 2 are of course close to the social dimension of the poem. Examples 3 and 4 are on the other hand close to the individual dimension, and that means that here the dimensions meet. Even so, nature is, even though only residually, yet definitely present in the poem.

5 Conclusion

The world of the poem is articulated in the following way:

  • the (natural) individuality of the singer is trapped inside social masks and conventions
  • the social masks push the individual towards metaphysics, articulated above all as a destruction of the I, or an illusive fulfilment of the I's freedom
  • the tension between the I and society takes place within the framework of an eternally meaningless universe, which leads to nature, and through nature back to metaphysics

This can be visualised in the following diagram:


daniel.candel@uah.es | ©2008 Daniel Candel Bormann