Sunday, March 24, 2013

Act IV, Scenes 1-3 - French Rock Opera

Strangely out of place on Disc 1 of the Johnny Hallyday's double-album, between Ophélie! Ô Folie! (Ophelia! Oh Madness!) and Je lis (I Read), is a song about the transmigration of kings through the guts of beggars. Its position seems to relate far more to Hamlet Sr. than it does Claudius, which isn't inappropriate, and resonates with the fishmonger and carrion references in the play as they relate to the song I Read, i.e. Hamlet's confrontation with Polonius. In any case, I held off discussing it until we reached the proper speech in the play. The tune itself is unremarkable, though as usual, Hallyday's songwriters have gone beyond Shakespeare's own metaphors and introduced their own images. We'll discuss them in due course, but first, the original French lyrics, and an ugly little English translation so we can all be on the same page. The song uses a lot of colloquial French, which, as a French-Canadian, aren't in my vernacular, so hopefully I did right by them.

(Refrain:) Un roi tombe en asticot
La cause n’est pas entendue
L’asticot devient le roi
Et la danse continue

La charogne est bon fumier
Elle devient vite moissons
Et elle nourrit la nation
Les hommes, les veaux, les poissons
La charogne redevient roi

Le croquant, le va-nu-pieds
Le croqué claquant du bec
Qui fait des rêves de bifteck
Mais qui mange du pain sec
Fait pourtant festin de roi


Quand le lion, roi des félins
Partage avec sa féline
Une gazelle, sa voisine
Pas un des deux n’imagine
Que le roi bouffe du roi

Quand un gros roi dit «j’ai faim»
Pas un cuisinier ne bouffe
Et le roi boit, le roi bouffe
Mais l’arête qui l’étouffe
Est aussi morceau de roi

(Refrain x2)

The Worm King
(Refrain:) A king becomes a worm
The cause is not heard
The worm becomes the king
And the dance continues

Carrion makes good compost
It soon becomes the harvest
And it feeds the nation
Men, calves, fish
The carrion becomes the king again

The yokel, the tramp
The chewed-up man with chattering teeth
Who dreams of beefsteaks
But eats dry bread
Still eats a king's feast


When the lion, king of felines
Shares with its female
A gazelle, their neighbor
Neither of them imagines
That the king eats king

When a fat king says "I'm hungry"
Not a single cook eats
And the king drinks, the king eats
But the fishbone he chokes on
Is also a piece of king

(Refrain x2)

The song uses a number of eating-related words in some figurative sense, not all of which I was able to translate. For example, "yokel" is "croquant", which literally means "crunchy" or "biting". But you can see how the lyrics take the concept of a beggar eating the fish that ate the worm that fed of a king's rotting corpse and widens it. Hallyday links it to Denmark entire by having carrion enrich the soil that feeds the country and the next king. He also creates the image of a kingly lion devouring its "neighbor" (with its queen), unknowingly eating of its own kind. As with the image of the king's cooks going hungry while he chokes on food, we are presented with the king as parasite. Is this part of the original image? Not entirely, though the very idea of a nobleman (Hamlet) even mentioning his country's poor is a subtle indictment of the king's rule, a dramatic representation of the gap between Denmark's classes. Finally, we have the king choking on king, restoring the veiled threat Hamlet makes. Claudius will die because he committed regicide.

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