The Mask of Love
The Phantom of the Opera, the interactions and attitudes of the characters, and the language used, I will show how the Phantom’s obsession over Christine, although at times destructive, leads to his change from an evil and selfish villain, to a remorseful and compassionate hero. To understand the psyche of the Phantom, one must first have a brief overview of the play. In 1984 Andrew Lloyd Webber, transformed the original The Phantom of the Opera novel (written in 1911 by Gaston Leroux) into a dialogic, emotional masterpiece.
The prologue starts at the end of the story, in an auction in the Paris Opera House, in 1905. Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny is buying a papier-mache music box, which Christine, his love and Fiancee of his youth had described to him. The auction then transforms back in time twenty-four years and recounts the story of the Phantom of the Opera. A seeming ghost, this disfigured man lived in the dungeons of the opera house. Although he was a musical genius, a scholar, a composer and an architect, his deformities forced him to live in the shadows.
The protagonist, Christine, a young ballerina, whose late father had recounted her stories of this angel of music, is taught to sing, by the Phantom. Through music the Phantom wins the admiration of Christine. Trusted as her guardian angel, he tutors her at night, through two-way mirrors in her room. As the play progresses, with the help of the Phantom, Christine secures a leading role in an opera, and becomes a huge success. In hearing Christine, Raoul recognizes his childhood friend and pursues her.
Christine’s singing lessons come with strict rules, and in breaking them by seeing Raoul, the Phantom’s demeanour turns from firm to deadly. Act two is six months later, where at a masqued party, it is revealed to us that Christine and Raoul are secretly engaged to be married, which enrages the Phantom. He shows up at the masquerade, and presents an opera he had written and demands it be performed, with Christine as the lead. The opera staff decided that if they put on the Phantom’s opera then they might have a chance to capture and destroy him.
Christine is uncertain whether or not to betray her Angel of Music. The Play ends in an odd love triangle; the Phantom has taken Christine to his lair, five stories below the opera, where Raoul has followed. The Phantom catches Raoul in a noose, and forces Christine to choose to either live with him in his lair to free Raoul, or go free condemning Raoul to his death. Christine decides to free her fiance by spending the rest of her life with the Phantom, and with a sudden change of heart, the Phantom releases them both and disappears.
The character of the Phantom of the Opera is a mysterious one. Haunted by a deformed face, he was forced to live in the shadows. Having a great hostility towards the human race in general, his release was in music. He falls in love with Christine, as she has been the only one who’s trusted him at all. Although her feelings of admiration for him are genuine, she sees the Phantom as a guardian, not a love interest. When Christine falls in love with Raoul, it obviously hurts the Phantom. His love and care towards her become obsession.
Ultimately the Phantom wants to marry and spend the rest of his life with Christine. The wax bride of her that he keeps in his lair makes this very apparent. It is clear throughout the play that the Phantom would never hurt Christine, but his obsession over her drives him to unruly lengths. He engages in a swordfight with Raoul, while Raoul and Christine are visiting her fathers grave, he kills numerous stagehands who mocked him or defied his orders and ends up forcing Christine to make an appalling life choice. The Phantom feels that Christine would be better off with him, than with Raoul.
Even though the Phantom refers to himself as “this loathsome gargoyle, who burns in hell, but secretly yearns for heaven, secretly…”(The Phantom of the Opera, 1. 6), he tries to convince Christine that a life with him would not be so horrible; “fear can turn to love, you’ll learn to see, to find the man behind the monster: this repulsive carcass, who seems a beast but secretly dreams of beauty” (1. 6). With Christine having fallen in love with Raoul in the beginning of the play, the majority of the Phantom’s actions are out of jealousy.
Actions such as taking her to his lair for what the stage notes indicate to be at least two nights, or “condemning” her to be enslaved to him, although cruel and unusual, these acts are solely out of love and desperation. Only after Raoul comes into Christine’s life again, does she start to “betray” the Phantom. Christine’s attitude towards the Phantom changes from fascination and admiration, to fear, and then to disgust towards the end. This coincides with the change in the Phantom’s attitude towards her, which goes from love, to jealousy and then to obsession. At the beginning the Phantom’s language is serene.
He sings to Christine of bettering her life; “Close your eyes, let your spirit start to soar! And you’ll live as you’ve never lived before…” and he tries to entice Christine to think of him as more than just a tutor; “Touch me, trust me, savour each sensation! ” (1. 5). His words are gentle and caring. In act 1, scene 2 Christine calls the Phantom out, asking “Angel of Music! Hide no longer! Secret and strange angel. ” Christine uses docile language when referring to him, as when she explains to her colleague Meg that he “calls her softly, somewhere inside, hiding. ” (1. 2).
When the Phantom initially criticizes her judgement for being tempted by Raoul, she apologizes saying “Angel! I hear you! Speak – I listen… stay by my side, guide me! Angel, my soul was weak – forgive me… enter at last, Master! ” (1. 3). Her words do not have any underlying fear or distress. She’s asking for his forgiveness, and looking to please her mentor. The Phantom loves her and she sees him as a caring, fatherly figure. After Raoul wins over Christine’s heart, the Phantom becomes jealous. He mimics Christine and Raoul’s love song to each other: I gave you my music, made your song take wing…
And now, how you’ve repaid me: denied me and betrayed me… He was bound to love you when he heard you sing… You will curse the day you did not do all that the Phantom asked of you… (1. 10) Becoming more threatening to Christine, the Phantom makes her fearful of him. After he lashes out at her for removing his mask, saying “You little demon, is this what you wanted to see? […] now you cannot ever be free” (1. 6), Christine runs to Raoul and tells him that they will be “safe on the roof” and that “his eyes will find [her] there” (1. 10).
The use of the words safe and find, indicate that she no longer wants to be near the Phantom. Christine begs Raoul to help her get away from him; Raoul, it scares me – don’t put me through this ordeal by fire… he’ll take me, I know… we’ll be parted forever, he won’t let me go… what I once dreamed I now dread, if he finds me, it won’t ever end… and he’ll always be there, singing songs in my head… (2. 3) The Phantom becomes physically threatening as well, when he find out Christine and Raoul are engaged he rips the ring off Christine’s necklace, saying “Your chains are still mine, you will sing for me! (2. 1). This is another act towards Christine in which the Phantom is trying to force her to reciprocate his love. The way Christine sings to Raoul, when she is uncertain whether or not to betray her Angel of Music, is indicative of the loss of feeling of admiration. Twisted every way, what answer can I give? Am I to risk my life, to win the chance to live? Can I betray the man, who once inspired my voice? Do I become his prey? Do I have any choice? He kills without a thought, he murders all that’s good… I know I can’t refuse, and yet, I wish I could…
Oh God – if I agree, what horrors wait for me, In this, the Phantom’s Opera? (2. 3) Finally towards the end of the play, the Phantom’s obsession has taken over any sense of reason or logic. He no longer is asking for the love of Christine, but threatening her. When Christine denies him, out of fear, the Phantom brings Christine back down into his lair, and sings; “Pity comes too late – turn around and face your fate: and eternity of this before your eyes” (2. 9), as he thrusts his deformed face in front of her. Christine replies to this saying “This haunted face holds no horror for me now, it’s n your soul where the true distortion lies” (2. 9). Christine is no longer being polite, or soft-hearted towards her once-mentor. Knowing that his physical appearance is his biggest vulnerability she takes that shortcoming and turns it inwards on to his soul. At the culmination of the Phantom’s twisted logic, when he makes Christine choose her freedom or Raoul’s, Christine’s language becomes very harsh. She says, “The tears I might have shed for your dark fate grow cold, and turn to tears of hate… Farewell, my fallen idol and false friend…” (2. 9).
The fact that she verbalized the feeling of hatred, along with calling him a false friend and fallen idol, attest to her true judgment of the Phantom of the Opera. She sings to him “you deceived me – I gave my mind blindly” (2. 9). Any feelings of admiration or respect she once had for him have disappeared completely. The Phantom, although undoubtedly hurt that the women he loves does not reciprocate any feelings for him, has taken his obsession for Christine too far. His words are crude and stark; “Refuse me, and send your lover to his death! This is the choice – This is the point of no return! (2. 9). The final words of the play are extremely significant. Both the Phantom and Christine change their attitudes towards each other drastically. Christine, although indignant of the situation decides to free her fiance by giving herself to this monster, saying “Pitiful creature of darkness… what kind of life have you known? God give me the courage to show you, you are not alone” (2. 9). Her plea for courage, shows her altruism, and how much she loves Raoul. Her words illustrate her frustration and surrender to the damning ultimatum of the Phantom.
This response to the Phantom’s threat is what triggers the unexpected change in him; from malicious to benevolent. In seeing Christine give up her entire life to set her true love free, the Phantom realises that he too must be selfless. His obsession for Christine had forced her to make a horrid decision, one that would lead to her ultimate misery either way. In realizing that his obsession had taken him too far and that the women he loves no longer respects or admires him, the Phantom makes a choice to let both Christine and Raoul go, losing his prodigy, his love, and his passion.
Christine comes back to him, only to calmly put his ring back on his finger, in a way of thanking him for his compassion. The Phantom’s last words are “Christine, I love you. You alone can make my song take flight – it’s over now, the music of the night…” (2. 9). The Phantom of the Opera wraps himself in his cloak and disappears leaving only his mask behind. This ending is very satisfying, because the transformation of the Phantom of the Opera over the course of the play was upsetting. This musical genius with a grotesque disfiguration, who finds love, is a classic Jungian archetype.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Beauty and the Beast are just two other well-known similar situations. The Phantom is a transcendent hero who eventually does the right. Although the Phantom did cause fear and pain with his tormenting of the staff of the Paris Opera House, his intentions with Christine were always based on love. He cared for her, tutored her, and comforted her at night when she missed her late father. His jealousy over another man in her life twisted the love for her into an obsession that leads him to threaten her and ultimately push her away.
The love he had for Christine changed the way he viewed music, his true passion, and as a result of his actions towards her, that passion and outlet for his music was taken away, leading to his ultimate demise. His realization of the absurdity and ghastliness of the situation he had put Christine in, is refreshing and conclusive. Love can lead people to act in ways they otherwise never would, the Phantom of the Opera was no exception to this. The mask, the only thing left behind when he disappears in the end, is the one thing that was true the whole time.
He was hiding his appearance, to allow others to see who he was on the inside. He let the deformities of his body seep into his head, and let the obsession over his lover take him to unruly lengths. In leaving the mask, he is saying that he’d rather Christine be happy without him, than miserable with him. The Phantom no longer had a need for the mask, as he was nothing without Christine.