Themes & Symbols

Themes

Fidelity & infidelity

According to Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte, the issue of fidelity is depicted to be an ideal that is never achieved. Since ‘women are like that’ – the interpretation of ‘così fan tutte', Mozart encouraged the belief that men should simply accept women are indeed disloyal in relationships. Nowra illustrates this same idea about women and infidelity through Lewis and Lucy’s relationship. While Lucy is ‘sleeping’ with Lewis, she is also triflingly ‘having sex’ with Nick. When Lewis discovers Lucy’s betrayal, she waves aside his shock, defending that ‘it is not as if we’re married.’ The revelation does indeed prove that Così Fan Tutte is correct in stating that, ‘woman’s constancy is like the Arabian Phoenix. Everyone swears it exists, but no one has seen it.’

Although the women in both Così Fan Tutte and Così are shown to be unfaithful, so are the men. While the men in Così Fan Tutte do not actively participate in adultery, they do fabricate their departure to the war and also disguise themselves as ‘Albanians.’ Their deception is also a betrayal to their wives. Meanwhile, Don Alfonso manipulates everyone. As seen in Così, Lewis is unfaithful to Lucy as he kisses Julie during rehearsals. Julie later reveals that she has a girlfriend who she would prefer to be with, confirming that both men and women are unfaithful in relationships.

Sanity & insanity

The line between sanity and insanity is explored through the juxtaposition of the patients and society.  In the 1970s, those who behaved abnormally were declared to be ‘insane’ and placed in mental institutions that were shunned by society. As we now know with scientific developments, these environments often failed to assist their patients. The use of electric shock therapy for example, frequently lead to severe, long term negative effects upon patients.

While the patients were viewed as ‘madmen’ from outsiders, Lewis soon discovers that they are in many ways, ordinary people. Although each patient has a mental flaw, all possess interesting opinions and beliefs on different matters. It was perhaps society’s abandonment of these people that so few were able to appreciate them as ordinary humans. Instead, many adopted a sense of fear and patronisation towards the ‘insane.’

Reality & illusion

The question of what is real or an illusion is weaved through the patients' state of mentality. As shown through Ruth who struggles to pretend having real coffee on stage, it is difficult for some to distinguish reality from illusion, even if it is clear to everyone else. For others, they may willingly refuse the truth and succumb to an illusion. Lewis deluded himself into believing that Lucy was faithful, when all signs such as Nick residing in the same home and Nick and Lucy spending time together, indicated that Lucy was in fact, blatantly disloyal.

Misogyny

Misogyny, or the hatred of women is commonly shown through Così. Set in a time where women’s rights were rapidly shifting, the hatred of women for being merely female grew more prominent. The idea of misogyny accompanies the tradition of male-dominated societies where women had few, if any privileges and power. Nowra attacks Lucy’s involvement with free love encouraging readers view her with emotions of disdain and distaste. Women’s hatred towards their own sex is also a form of misogyny. Cherry and Julie’s strained relationship involving Lewis’ affections is explores suspicion, jealously and overprotection.

Learning & Self-development

Lewis’ experience with the patients does, as Justin predicted, teach him more than his entire university education. At the beginning, Lewis is only interested in earning some money and alike other outsiders, views them as madmen. However, as he works with the patients, he develops a new perspective and insight into certain matters and himself. When Nick and Lucy denounce him for doing a play about love, Lewis sees that love is important, regardless of the Vietnam War. He learns about the importance of friendship and instead of attending the moratorium, helps the patients prepare for their performance with an additional rehearsal.

Symbols

Burnt-out theatre

The setting of a burnt-out theatre depicts the miserable environment the patients of mental institutions are forced to live with. As they are ostracised by the community, a lack of care and support is shown through the rejected and deteriorating theatre. The patients’ considerable enthusiasm highlights their unfortunate circumstances, since even a chance to spend their time in an old building performing a play causes much excitement.

Arabian Phoenix

The women in both Così Fan Tutte and Così are compared with the Arabian Phoenix. The mythical creature is a representation of women, for it is beautiful and enchanting, capturing men such as the god Apollo with its voice. This reflects the power of women to attract men. Nevertheless, its rarity, as often commented in Cosi, is linked with the seemingly infrequent loyalty demonstrated by women.

Lights

The lights in Act 1 Scene 1 highlight Lewis’ entrance into a new world, where he associates with patients who will ultimately, help him in learning and self-development. At first Lewis possesses a ‘pitch black’ perspective of the world, along with Lucy and Nick. This is a representation of their modern beliefs that circulate around politics and the war. When the lights are turned on, Roy is present, demonstrating that the patients of the mental institutions are the source for Lewis’ changing perspective throughout the play.

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