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M. Butterfly


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A: David Henry Hwang Pf: 1988, New York Pb: 1986 G: Trag. in 3 acts S: Aix-en-Provence, 1947; Beijing, 1960–6; Paris, 1968–70, 1986 C: 8m, 8fRené Gallimard, in his prison cell in 1986, looks back at the events that ended his marriage and diplomatic career. He remembers his adolescent youth and his search for the ideal woman. In 1960, he was posted with his wife Helga to the French embassy in Beijing, where at a reception he meets the beautiful and sensitive performer Song Liling singing an aria from Puccini's Madame Butterfly, expressing the Western view of the ultimate devotion of the oriental woman. After meeting her again at the Chinese Opera, Gallimard and Song become lovers. Her modesty will not allow him to see her naked, but she teaches him the ancient ways of making love. He is promoted to vice-consul and charged with gathering information for the Americans. Gallimard assures the Ambassador that the Chinese will accept a US invasion of North Vietnam: ‘Orientals will always submit to a greater force.’ Meanwhile Song passes on military secrets to Comrade Chin, and when she pretends to be pregnant, asks Chin to provide a baby. In 1966, Mao's Cultural Revolution begins, the Chinese Opera is closed, and Gallimard is sent back to Paris for his wrong prognosis about Vietnam. His marriage has collapsed and his career is on hold, when Song appears in Paris. He takes a job as courier for sensitive documents and is arrested with Song for spying. At the trial, it emerges that Song is a man (hence M[onsieur]. Butterfly), and the court cannot believe that Gallimard lived with him for years without knowing. Gallimard, feeling betrayed by Song, creates his ‘feminine ideal’ by committing suicide to the music of Puccini.

A: David Henry Hwang Pf: 1988, New York Pb: 1986 G: Trag. in 3 acts S: Aix-en-Provence, 1947; Beijing, 1960–6; Paris, 1968–70, 1986 C: 8m, 8f

Based on a true story, Hwang's play embraces the improbability that Gallimard did not know that his ideal woman was male by suggesting that ‘only a man knows how a woman is supposed to act’. In fact, male fantasy and Western arrogance combine to project an image of self-effacing devotion, which Gallimard can achieve only through his final pathetic masquerade.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights) — Theatre.


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