What is a Scaramouch? The Meaning Behind Bohemian Rhapsody

Or is it just fantasy?
Is this the real life?

I love the song Bohemian Rhapsody, and sing it out loud with glee every time I go backpacking (in the woods, no one can hear you sing). But, I have to admit: I don’t understand a lot of the bizarre words in the song. With the new film about Queen, fittingly titled Bohemian Rhapsody, I decided to use the interwebz for a long look at the meaning of this iconic song.

According to the Wikipedia, Bohemian Rhapsody was written by Freddie Mercury for the band’s 1975 album A Night at the Opera. It’s a six-minute suite, consisting of several sections without a chorus: an intro, a ballad segment, an operatic passage, a hard rock part, and a reflective coda.

Somehow, this random assortment of music genres works brilliantly. But what’s the story about?

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Let’s start with the obvious aspects: a young man killed someone, and he’s apparently about to pay for it with death. That’s plain. He’s telling his mother goodbye, and feeling like the devil is waiting for him. (Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me…for me…FOR MEEEEEE!!!)

  • Right then. We’ll start here. Who exactly is Beelzebub? It’s something to do with the devil, sure, but what’s the exact story?

Here’s what Dictionary.com has to say:

Old English Belzebub, Philistine god worshipped at Ekron (2 Kings i:2), from Latin, used in Vulgate for New Testament Greek beelzeboub, from Hebrew ba’al-z’bub “lord of the flies,” from ba’al “lord” + z’bhubh “fly.”

Apparently Freddy Mercury is using this name to signify Lucifer himself, or his demonic equivalent.

  • How about Scaramouch? (Scaramouch, scaramouch, will you do the fandango?)

SongFacts says the word “Scaramouch” means “A stock character that appears as a boastful coward.”

The Wikipedia goes on to say a bit more: Scaramouche (from Italian scaramuccia, literally “little skirmisher”), also known as scaramouch, is a stock clown character of the commedia dell’arte (comic theatrical arts of Italian literature).

  • The Fandango is not just an online movie ticket outlet. The meaning here is that Fandango is a fast Spanish dance. In the song, it’s probably referring to “the hemp fandango,” a delightfully ghastly euphemism for being hanged.

 

  • Next, what’s with Galileo? Does this refer the the early astronomer?  Or is a Galileo Figaro Magnifico something else entirely?

The best explanation I’ve seen is in this music forum, by a poster called, fittingly, Galileo:

“I’ve read somewhere that the line “Gallileo figaro magnifico” in the middle of the “operatic” section of the song, actually, is a slightly corrupted Latin phrase, “Galileo figuro magnifico”, translated as “Magnify the Galilean’s image“.

“It’s a key phrase, which reveals the entire meaning of the song, and usually it isn’t translated by the researchers.

“In fact, “Galileo” was the name of Jesus Christ in the ancient Rome. In other words, the only way to get out of the demonic nightmare of the song is to magnify Jesus Christ and ask Him for help. But the boy can’t believe that God is concerned about him, and refuses the salvation (“Nobody loves me”).”

“But why “Galileo” is repeated five times? In The Barber of Seville by Gioachino Rossini the crowd calls to the town barber five times: Figaro, Figaro, Figaro, Figaro, Figaro! So it’s not difficult to see the analogy.

“Plus, as everybody knows, Galileo is the name of the an Italian physicist and astronomer, who made in the early 17th century the first telescopic observations of the planet Mercury…

“If this is true, what kind of GENIUS Freddie was?”

  • Bismillah….okay: the Wikipedia reports that this is a phrase in Arabic meaning “In the name of God”, and is the first word in the Qur’an,  referring to the Qur’an’s opening phrase (named the basmala).

Let’s back up a little bit and see the entire picture Mercury was trying to evoke.

Quora says this about the song’s title:

It is called “Bohemian Rhapsody” because it depicts the life of a ‘bohemian‘, whose original meaning is ‘artist’ while ‘Rhapsody‘ is a fantasy (literally, it could play in his head) or a vision; within this song Freddie Mercury foresees his life in a symbolic way.

Below are the lyrics for the operatic section of the song — the part that trips everyone up. You can look at it now and understand a little better what Mercury was going for. I think he used macabre themes from old plays and operas to cast an image that was delightfully off-kilter and evocative. He’s talking about death, mostly. Isn’t it strange that so…well…FUN a song is so wrapped up in death and killing? Perhaps in a weird way, Mercury is singing about himself and his own life through this narrative metaphor.

It’s possible that Mercury’s songs Somebody to Love and Under Pressure are also about his inner demons. I’m not the only one thinking along these lines.

Tim Rice, co-creator of Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita, as well as a collaborator of Mercury’s, once said, “It’s fairly obvious to me that [‘Bohemian Rhapsody’] was Freddie’s coming-out song.” (From Into.)

Making a bit more sense, now? 

I see a little silhouetto of a man
Scaramouch, scaramouch, will you do the fandango
Thunderbolt and lightning, very very frightening me
Galileo, Galileo,
Galileo, Galileo,
Galileo Figaro – magnifico
But I’m just a poor boy and nobody loves me
He’s just a poor boy from a poor family
Spare him his life from this monstrosity
Easy come easy go, will you let me go
Bismillah! No, we will not let you go – let him go
Bismillah! We will not let you go – let him go
Bismillah! We will not let you go – let me go
Will not let you go – let me go (never)
Never let you go – let me go
Never let me go ooo
No, no, no, no, no, no, no
Oh mama mia, mama mia, mama mia, let me go
Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me, for me, for me…

Lyrics to Bohemian Rhapsody

Queen at Live Aid

Movie Review – Bohemian Rhapsody

10 Replies to “What is a Scaramouch? The Meaning Behind Bohemian Rhapsody”

    1. Hi Jill o/
      I was only half awake when it came to me .. & perhaps it was a secret Freddy took to the grave with him, one that haunted him perhaps his whole life after one act of cruelty that he regretted perhaps to his deathbed, I feel the poem was a whisper of regret of his actions and about bereaving him of the happiness, his ability to feel alive, his grey death brought upon himself in one swift delicious moment of cruelty. He felt like the devils pawn, he felt unworthy of peoples love.
      Wowo.. when I was a teenager, I heard that he was actually jailed & assumed he composed the piece regarding his depressed state while incarcerated & wrote from the perspective of the actual killer blah blah blah, now I know there is so much more to the true reason and meaning of Bohemian Rhapsody.

  1. Your explanation was very convincing, but would another theory work?(That was an actual question) My theory, (I haven’t put nearly as much work into this as you have yours) is that Freddy, or the man that held the gun, actually killed himself. And when the choir was chanting ‘we will not let you go’ was when his life flashed before his eyes, and he saw all his deppressions.
    In this theory, I think that those voices were also regrets, and we all know the iconic ‘for me’ when a male’s voice gets incredibly high. I think that voice was a scream, but in song form.
    At the end, Mr Mercury goes on to the next life. In some cultures they believe that ghosts go with the wind. That makes sense for the ‘any way the wind blows’ at the end.
    It may also be the same at the begining when Mercury sings ‘any way the wind blows, doesn’t really matter to me’ stating that that it doesn’t matter if he goes to heaven or hell.
    Most Christians believe that suicide is a sin, and people may go to hell for it.
    My theory has alot of ‘holes’ for I haven’t, like I said, done as much research as you. But, could there be a possibility that my theory was correct?
    If not, that’s okay, but nice explanation of the song!

  2. Alice, I LOVE it! What a great theory, and it holds as much water as any other. In particular, I like the last For Meeeeeee, being a scream as he kills himself, and the “any way the wind blows” being about not caring if his soul moves on to heaven or hell. Brilliant thoughts.

    Nothing really matters…for meeeeee……

    It’s certainly a sad song when you stop and think about it, but it’s still so darn fun to sing along to!

  3. This is my take on the song.

    The first part of the song is abt committing suicide, the 2nd part of the song where the Galileo was sang was the dialog between him and satan. Try and go through the lyrics again with my theory if that make sense.

  4. This is why music is a beautiful part of art. I love different interpretations. Did you read Alice’s comment above? It’s a lot like hers. It’s all great stuff!

    Thank you for your insights!

    “any way the wind blows…”

  5. I believe Freddy Mercury was referring to himself when he said he killed a man. “Put a gun against his head , pulled my trigger now he’s dead. He needed to kill the “man” in order to be able to live his new life. He didn’t mean to make his mother cry and even sometimes wished he’d never been born at all. He obviously struggled to accept his homosexuality so symbolically he did kill a man.

  6. You guys make me so happy. I love all the interpretations of this magical ballad. You’re all smart people and I treasure every thoughtful comment.

    I wish we could ask Freddie himself.

    Your interpretation is very much in line with mine.

    Thank you again!

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