Bluebeard…

I saw Bluebeard’s Castle a while back and thinking about what a modern version might be like – the old vampiric-technology vibe came to mind… If you wrote it now, all aspects of love would be mediated through several screens of different kinds…

Bartok’s opera, if you haven’t seen it – tells the story of a man returning to his castle for the first time with his new wife, Judith. The castle is dark, gloomy and imposing and he’s continually telling Judith she doesn’t have to stay, giving her chances to escape. But in love, she has that indomitable determination to know and accept Bluebeard, frightening or otherwise. Once inside the dingy interior, she notices the outline of seven doors – so in an attempt to bring light into to the place, she asks if she can open them – obvsos.

Bluebeard is reluctant – “Can’t you just love me as you see me, luv?” he kind of says to her – and we realise the doors are doors into his actual being. And apparently she can’t – she needs to see into all of him, so she starts throwing them open optimistically…

Behind the first is a torture chamber, with bloodied instruments (the pain he’s caused to himself and others) – and she’s shocked and afraid… but then brightens when she sees a shaft of light piercing the window of the room and somewhat illuminating the castle. Behind the second door is Bluebeard’s arsenal of weapons – and armour (his need to protect himself and his reputation). Again, they’re covered in blood… it’s a bit of a theme… (My mother: Why can’t you have NICE friends).

Behind the third, we see gold light flooding the stage as Bluebeard’s treasure is revealed. And the motifs here are almost like those of some kind of flasher – “This is everything good I have, take what you want!” Sadly, the riches too, become dulled with the appearance of blood… um… and you’re starting to feel uneasy at this point… Behind the fourth door is a beautiful garden – perhaps the domestic comfort he could create for Judith… unfortunately… it soon becomes bloodied because… well he appears to have some unresolved issues by the looks of things… The fifth door opens out to the vast panorama of Bluebeard’s personal horizons – a grand vista of beauty… though slowly they’re sullied by… blood…

So when the sixth door is opened, you’re expecting more of the same aren’t you – but what you get is a silvery lake of… water? No, it turns out, these are all tears. And this is what you don’t see on Facebook, THE REALITY of people… Anyway, Judith’s getting apprehensive – and she’s demanding to see what’s behind the seventh door – but Bluebeard’s begging her to go no further. “Where are your previous wives – you killed them didn’t you? These are their tears! The rumours are true!” And at this, he gives her the final key…

Behind the seventh door, are all three of his wives – still living, but silent as though behind glass… He becomes highly emotional as they emerge – and prostrates himself before them, revering each in turn. First is his wife of the dawn, followed then by his wife of the midday sun, and after her, the wife he married in twilight… At which point he turns to Judith, and starts to worship her too, as his wife of the night… She seems horrified and yet puts up no fight, as she’s weighed down by the crown he places on her head… and saddened by her fate, she joins the other three, behind the closing door… And Bluebeard is left alone in the darkness… this time forever.

What to make of this ending? Is it that Bartok, for this is surely about him, felt that no woman who knew him completely, could love him completely? Or is it that love to Bela, is like a piece of cake – where the act of owning it, destroys it? Or is it just lamenting the sexual mismatch between men and women, where if the female knew of the male’s romantic interior, she’d have to leave him? I’m not sure about the latter, Bluebeard’s older than Judith so may have matured out of the GSI indignities (Generalised Sexual Incontinence).

I think there’s a theme in the story-world about women’s nosiness getting them into trouble – Pandora’s Box, Eve eating the apple… To a man, spreading his seed is important to ensure genetic success – to a woman, securing “a rock” who will remain faithful, and unmoving against her shifting tides of insanity – that’s the dream. So if you were a standard crazy cave woman, intent on making sure that your partner wasn’t cheating on his days out “gathering fruit”… yeah… you’d probably have a hell of a lot of questions for him all the time. You’d be more keen to know him, than he you… because why should he care who you really are – what are your chances of an affair in the full light of the homestead? Then again, the female menstrual cycle is possibly in tune with the phases of the moon, to synchronise fertility with the cover of darkness… That way, those women in long term relationships, who felt compelled by a primitive instinct to have a second batch of children… this time with someone new… would be somewhat protected… Maybe that trick flew unnoticed below the Darwinian radar…

I love that Bartok, a hugely private person, spilled his guts right out onto the floor of the theatre. What a wonderful insight into the emotional interior of men… I was in tears by the end though my friend remained unmoved by all but the lazy stage-micing… she does work in the theatre though, so how’s a person to fully appreciate a lake of tears if the lighting’s done badly…

The erosion of communal life, and descent from the safety of the trees – has possibly sharpened sexual relations into the monogamy we’re drawn to today… We ask too much of the other person and can’t help but jealously guard them, but we have to because the communities in which bonobos frolic without predators – are all gone… All the love and security a human needs, has to come from a small family, enjoined by their struggle to survive. And all romantic love really has to come from one person – because if anything were to happen to you, the community would leave you to die – on the street or in hospital… If you recognise modern relationships as an imperfect state, somewhat different to our original carefree promiscuity – you may be able to live more comfortably within them – I’m not talking about sex as the difficulty – rather that we’re pushed into something of an emotional monogamy, because it seems as though people have less and less ability as the decades pass – to treat non family as important…

I can’t help but wonder – if Bluebeard had visited Judith’s caravan, or wherever she’d been living before, would he still have had to lock her in the cupboard and take his supper in darkness? I mean… is there really no way of knowing and being known – if he knew her complexity, perhaps he’d be less bored or less afraid of rejection… whichever thing it is that draws the door closed behind her… Don’t you just get to an age where things work, not because they’re perfect but because you make them work? That’s how we learn to live with ourselves, after all, it’s near impossible in youth before you start the old improv technique of just – “working with what you have”…

I like Joyce Carol Oates’ take on it, where the wife knows Bluebeard’s a murderer, but chooses not to open the final door and lives quite happily with him, in safety. I think there’s a lot of that in the successful relationships I see – you have to accept people’s chosen facade as what’s real since that is, after all, all they actually get to curate about themselves – so in some sense it’s more them than they are. Men are savages whose hormones ensure a life of mistakes – women are emotionally hilarious and our hormones ensure a life of bizarre behaviour… But whatever weirdness is going on indoors – a lot of us would prefer to find all that than what we’ve found in past relationships – a couple of flat-screens and a football table… As if I’m some kind of expert… 🙂

I’d like to work on a modern version where of course Bluebeard would now be a woman, taking a man to her apartment… 7 TV screens in 7 different rooms… on the first, normal advertising – her dreams and her pain spliced together… On the second, shopping channels of all sorts – her defence against life… On the third, interactive social media – the full bounty of her love, communicated in pre-planned, ineffective and insincere passages of affectless text… On the fourth… a screen in her kitchen, on which she can program all of the automated household tasks – that leave her feeling a strange rudderless redundancy… On the fifth… her website and online personal brand – all fake and overblown… On the sixth… infomercials for Citalopram, because no human should ever have to cry… and on the seventh… mmm… that could go either way… Would it be pornography – an invitation for the man to treat her with brutal indifference, thus destroying the dynamic of partnership for them both… or would it be a Hollywood film about romance – that treats his needs with contempt – as he’s pacified with beer, hooked up to the grid so to power the house, and then gagged with a dishcloth labelled “Narcissist”… I don’t know… it’d be interesting…