What is a Scaramouch? The Meaning Behind Bohemian Rhapsody from Queen

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

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?


The RunPee app tells you the best times to run & pee during a movie so you don't miss the best scenes.

Download the RunPee app for free:
Android | iPhone
Read more about the RunPee app.

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... [emphasis ours]

“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

39 Replies to “What is a Scaramouch? The Meaning Behind Bohemian Rhapsody from Queen”

    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. Hi Lee! Someone in the public eye like Freddie was had a lot of power and opportunity to commit evil deeds in the heat of the moment, and enough money to ‘bury’ the details. And sometimes people get away with it…but the secrets still eat them up alive.

        It’s a chilling theory and I hope untrue. It’s so much fun to sing along with the song, and I don’t want to think it might be something that darkly biographical.

        You have a nice touch in your worksmithing. I like your “grey death…in one swift delicious moment of cruelty.”

        1. Bohemian Rhapsody was done way earlier than when he had achieved great fame. Earilier than that he’d had success, but if you remember in the film (though that’s not 100 per cent the way it happened, changed to make the film transistion easier) the producer (played by Mike Meyers) gives them grief for wanting an overly long song for their single. Bohemian Rhapsody, though they’d had success before, was somewhat of a ‘breakout’ song. That producer wouldn’t have hassled the band if they’d had that pinnacle of success that freed them creatively, I’m guessing.

          1. So your guess of a “dark secret”, is just a guess.
            Back then just coming out was groundbreaking, and somewhat of a “dark secret”. To make Mr. Mercury out to be a possible killer, is a disservice to what the film shows to be a gentle genius with flaws. Who doesn’t have flaws?

  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.

    1. I believe you are correct Freddie was talking about basically coming out of the closet about homosexuality in those days it was not excepted like it is today. I believe he came to terms with his life that he faught so hard to keep hidden . I loved freddie mercury and his music will live forever.

  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!

    1. Demetria, I hope not about his demise, as that’s incredibly sad. He seemed so full of lust for life, as you said.

      I love all these interpretations!

      I kind of want to think it’s just a fantasy song about a boy who killed a man and worries he’s about to go to hell, rather than it directly alluding to his own inner demons and fears. I love this song too much to want to cry not every time I hear it.

    2. I believe Bohemian Rhapsody was about Freddie’s coming to terms with his sexuality and the importance of his Zoroastrian faith colliding with his “sins”. In many cultures “sinful” lifestyles lead to shortened life spans. It almost like the story of Icarus in acient Greek. He flies to close to heavens and it will lead to tragedy. The song could also relate to his name change. His name was not Freddie or Mercury.

  7. In my opinion… The part “mama, I killed a man” refers to him killing his old self, the one that his family know. So…its him killing his “good and obedient” character… as he explore his sex preference, no more Farrokh Bulsara… There’s only Freddie Mercury with his guilts…

    I could really imagine the opera stage, lights, scene and all of it just by hearing this song… Epic

    1. Riri, that’s a different take on it for sure. And that works as well as any other. Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy….that seems to be the big question. Is this a biographical song about himself (either literally or figuratively), a made up bit of operatic fun, or some combination of different elements?

      I wish we could ask him, or get the word from someone who knew him. Anyone friendly with Brian May? He’s in his 70s and might know. 😉

  8. In my opinion, the only person who would be able to answer (or at least to give some suggestions) our questions regarding the Bohemian Rhapsody song is Mary Austin. She really knew him, she saw him changing inside, she accepted this his change with love, she was there while he was writing the song. They fully trusted each other and loved each other till the end (here I mean the love feeling which goes much beyond any romantic relationship). But I think she will never do it, and I’d fully support her in this. I also think the Bohemian Rhapsody is an autobiographic song; by “killing the man” Freddie, to my mind, meant killing himself old to become a new person. For sure this transformation inside him was not at all easy. A great song, for all the times. Great Freddie, God bless him. A very bright, immensely talented and beautiful person who will always remain an enigma.

    1. Jill Florio, sorry, forgot to mention in my previous message. Thanks a lot for your research!!! I’ve read it with great interest. Many things in the song became more understandable for me… thanks!!!

    2. Angelique, I think you are right. Brian May reportedly would not comment on the meaning in this for Freddie. That is the right of an artist. But Mary Austin would have insights no one else could be privy to and loved him for who and what he was, with all her being.

      It seems almost like a Novel in song form. I’d like to think it’s more creative than biographical…but I am sure his own life bled into the work, regardless of intent.

  9. Read ‘The Stranger,’ by Albert Camus… My thoughts on Freddie Mercury writing ‘Bohemian Rhapsody, is that Camus’ story Is a backdrop to this song and perhaps an allegory to his own life.

    1. Dorinda, tell me more about The Stranger. That sounds fascinating! I like allegory, even though it makes me sad that Freddie felt his life was resting on the edge of a knife. How freaking sad. So creative and full of life he was…but I guess also so depressed and lost.

      So what is The Stranger? Novel? Essay? Treatise?

  10. My vision.
    A kind of a demonic pact giving him success in return of an early and painful death that he knew would take him.
    He’s talking about he’s own death and how he did it to himself and the possibility to be saved of this terrible destiny ” I’m just a poor boy and nobody loves me” and then a kind of a lawer whos appears in other parts, tries to help him out “He’s just a poor boy from a poor family Spare him his life from this monstrosity”
    And how close to his own death was this? “Too late, my time has come Sends shivers down my spine Body’s aching all the time Goodbye everybody I’ve got to go Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth Mama, oh oh I don’t want to die Sometimes wish I’d never been born at all”
    How to explain “Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me”
    I love him and I don’t want that freak opinion to be true

    1. Ollaya, great insights, and very epic in terms of storytelling. Which is why, I guess, the song is so beloved and enigmatic. Shivers. And I really doubt Freddie could predict his own demise, but perhaps he felt a connection to this narrative he created in his head.

      Hindsight makes this all the more painful, doesn’t it?

  11. I think the song is much a combination of your ideas (which I truly enjoyed reading FYI). My theory is that the song is about Freddie making a conscious decision to kill his old self and take on the persona Freddie Mercury. Due to his upbringing he knew that that it was sinful but is willing to accept the consequences of his action, knowing his mom will cry and so forth. The second half of the song is because he has been brought up to believe that he will have to answer for his decision and relizes the possibility that if hell is real, he will have to plead. He is frightened of this possibility. Then the song snaps back to the present as he is writing it. At this time he feels nothing really matters or at least the (consequences) and will deal with that when the time comes. As for that moment when he dies he is ready to go anywhere the wind blows, real or not .

  12. Freddie was the most sensitive and caring person in the world. As the 70’s became more and more difficult to deal with coming out and dealing with AIDS had to be the most trying error of the 20th century.
    Freddie took the world by the ——- and made history. His voice was as of an angel. He left behind many loved ones who cared and loved him more than anyone could know.
    Freddie you were the greatest. I listen to your songs word for word and have a great respect for you. I know you are singing in Heaven and you have all the angels learning from you. God Bless you. Bismillah!!!!!!

    1. Matteo – good points and thank you for the nice eulogy for Freddie. . And he really did sing like an angel. Queen is one of the most singular bands in our history. They’ve taken me out of some pretty dark places, and also lifted me to the heights.

  13. My try!
    Well I recently watched the movie and now I feel that I totally understand this masterpiece!
    I enjoyd your theory so much but let’s think about mine for a moment…
    *SPOILER ALERT*
    (If you did not watch the movie and don’t like spoilers, please stop here.)
    When I watched his story I realized he first discovered his disease, talked to the doctor, then told the band he was sick already.
    Then it’s time for the African Aid concert…
    (Obs. Before that he visited his parents, and told his mother: “Watch the concert, I’ll send you a kiss” (Later I saw the original concert and he actually sent a kiss to the cam).)
    After all that, his ex manager made an interview and told everybody about Freddie’s affairs, romances and also told he had lots of men.
    Let’s go back to the concert
    He knew.
    I think that when he says: ” Just killed a man, put a gun against his head, pulled the trigger now he’s dead” he’s speaking about him and his choices, what his relations did. He was about to die!
    “Goodbye everybody I’ve got to go..”
    Does it not make sense?

    Now a quick study:

    “Is this the real life?
    Is this just fantasy? (>>> Is this really happening? Am I dying? <<>> I can’t escape from reality, from facing the truth: I’m gonna die very soon <<>> He used to drink a lot and also drugs were part of his life <<>> He killed himself <<>> He couldn’t feel alive, he was dying!!!! <<>> Queen was about to be famous! He was excited with his new life of opportunities, they were on radios, also went to the US for a tour! <<>> He screwed all up <<>> He could die anytime, he was weak, in pain… <<>> In other words: Be brave, mom! – He was her only son. <<>> Could not be symptoms caused by his disease? <<>> That I’m sick, dying <<>> !!! <<>> He was scared <<>> Now in this part I think he was talking about the place he believed he would go after life: <<>> Here he was just accepting his destiny. <<>> Well I don’t know if I’m right or wrong…is that that just felt so right you know? After watching the movie I understood him better. Even his long relation with Mary Austin.
    I never understood this music! And Freddie was so intelligent he wouldn’t put random words into a so important thing. He wrote it himself!
    I’m glad the recent experience with the movie opened my eyes and everytime I listen to Bohemian Rhapsody I feel the wheigt of Freddie’s pain, his sadness and his fear.

    1. Hi Becca. You put a lot of thought into your comments, and thank you! It could well be something along these lines, and might explain why Freddie was so determined to push his opus forward, with no cutting of the length, or compromising with the very unusual words.

      It also seemed like the whole band was solidly behind Freddie for this one, so probably knew exactly what the song meant to him. They didn’t agree on much, at least from we saw in the movie, but this one. It could have gone on to be a long, long b-side track, but we all knew what really happened.

      And how funny is it that Ray Foster, the album producer who turned the song down, was played by an unrecognizable Mike Meyers?

      … And if you’ve never seen Wayne’s World, watch the video we embedded in this article: http://runpee.com/a-most-excellent-cameo-eh/

      1. Hey, sorry! Something went wrong with the structure of my comment when I sent it. Luckily you seemed to understand!
        As soon as I can I’ll come back and rewrite it. Lol And give you properly attention. Thanks!

  14. I just wanna say thank you for your effort. I’m a new generation Queen fan. I heard this song when I was in elementary. My used to play this song every morning. I thought it was weird at first but the more you listen to it the weirdness just grabs you. After I watched the movie, I felt like. Wow Queen is really a legendary group. Now I should search more things about Queen. They make me wanna live my best life. Just sharing bc I can’t get over their story.

  15. How lovely the analyses of the song it gives great insight and explanation en definition of words and phrases, thank you, I do feel you went s bit casual about the opening of the song.

    Personally I believe that the opening verse of the song is most important for what follows a metaphor for ‘killing off himself’ in a very mysterious dramatic and theatrical wat…saying goodbye to his old self and face the truth of his true of his inner demon in fact coming to terms with his true (sexual) identity around 1975.

    I love how everyone is elaborating on this unequivocal masterpiece

  16. I cannot edit my text not delete it I noticed
    I meant the second verse , to my it isn’t necessarily about a young man killing another but (metaphorically) killing himself. When he kills off his heterosexual self In pulled my trigger now he’s dead…He sing explicitly pulled MY trigger instead of pulled THE trigger he doesn’t take distance but owns it, since the saying ‘pull the trigger’ actually means making an decision …I’m puzzled maybe I’m reading too much into this

  17. FREDDIE MERCURY’S BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY

    Nicolaus Copernicus was the first noted scientist who theorized that the Sun, and not the Earth, was at the center of our universe {i.e. our solar system}. He also held a church office in Bohemia with the duty of saving souls. Johannes Kepler, who lived in Bohemia, used mathematics to confirm the Copernican theory. Their work inspired Galileo to prove them right. He tried to justify the theory by comparing high and low tides, and winds, without success. He then improved the telescope and saw five moons orbiting Jupiter and not the earth, which conclusively proved the theory.

    This was heresy according the Catholic Church, and most everyone else, and Galileo was tried by the Inquisition. Freddie Mercury preferred to describe it as a murder trial for killing the man who stood at the center of the universe [i.e. on Earth], which Galileo did by showing he never existed. Freddie described the man as a “little silhouette of a Man” dancing like a clown [Scaramouche/fandango]. Galileo was convicted for telling the truth and sentenced to life in prison or death. But it didn’t matter to Galileo if he was condemned, or could only save himself by falsely swearing that he was wrong so help him God [i.e. to the Lord of the Flies, aka BiSmillah], or forced to live the remainder of his life under house arrest in obscurity. It didn’t matter because “anyone can see” he was right by simply “open[ing] your eyes and look[ing] up to the sky” through his gun shaped telescope.

    This was Galileo’s passion, his Bohemian Rhapsody, and although the Church tried to shut him up, Freddie Mercury sought to lend his voice and create his own “Magnifico” in honor of a great man who stood up against everyone who were living a fantasy about the relationship of mankind to the rest of the universe.

    1. This is a gorgeous interpretation of the song I guess we have to wait for a queen outing of the meaning of the song it’s particular left blank in the movie other than that it’s a poetic and the grave passion for the masterpiece

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.