". . . All is for the best in this best of all possible worlds." 1

In Leonard Bernstein's operetta Candide, Dr. Pangloss is the teacher/mentor/philosophical role model/idol of the kids of Westphalia: Candide, Cunegonde, Maximillian, and Paquette. He is modeled after the Dr. Pangloss of Voltaire's novella Candide, and can be considered mostly to be the same character.

"Paragraph Two, Axiom Seven" 2

The children consider him the know-all and be-all of knowledge. In "Best of All Possible Worlds," one of the first numbers in the show,3 Dr. Pangloss gives a lesson on optimism:

  • "Once one dismisses the rest of all possible worlds, one finds that this is the best of all possible worlds."
  • "There is a reason for everything under the sun." 2

The children naturally have questions and objections to this conclusion. But Dr. Pangloss, in his all-knowing wisdom, deftly explains these objections away. When asked why there is so much divorce in this best of all possible worlds, he replies: "Why, marriage, boy, Is such a joy, So lovely a condition, That many ask no better than To wed as often as they can, In happy repetition." 4

"What about snakes?" asks Maximilian. "'Twas snake that tempted Mother Eve. Because of Snake we now believe That tho' depraved, we can be saved from hell-fire and damnation." 2

And war? "Though war may seem a bloody curse, It is a blessing in reverse. When cannon roar, Both rich and poor By danger are united." 2

Objections and questions answered, he and the children go on to sing a wonderful uplifting chorus, because, yes Virginia, this is the best of all possible worlds! They even do it in a fugato.

"It is to study the specific gravity of two bodies, male and female . . ." 5

In addition to being a philosopher, Dr. Pangloss is also an expert in aesthetics, specifically female beauty. Naturally, to that end, Dr. Pangloss is a master of his geek skills. (That, and/or he's an old man with a weakness of the flesh.) After class, he has Paquette stay over for a private lesson on advanced physics. Curious, Cunegonde comes back and just happens to see the two engaging in a physical experiment. Seeking to emulate the good Doctor, she proceeds to find Candide and engage him in said experiment. They are discovered: the Baron and Baroness are horrified. They forbid their daughter to love a bastard, and Candide is kicked out of the castle. However, Candide's troubles are far from over...

"Even the blackest-seeming disasters are merely blessings in disguise in a world where everything is for the best." 6

Shortly after the above incident, Westphalia is destroyed in war, just one of many catastrophes occurring in this tale. But somehow, in line with the fact that people get killed off and yet reappear in this operetta,8 Dr. Pangloss reappears in many forms throughout, dishing out optimistic (and often very ironic) wisdom. His spirit and teachings follow Candide around in his travels, in the form of a disembodied voice that just comes out of nowhere, and he himself comes back on the scene not once but several times, to the surprise of his pupils. His alter egos pop up from time to time, too. All in all, he makes himself ubiquitous in this show, and it wouldn't be Candide without him!

Some more gems from the dear doctor:
  • Pangloss. How have you fared in the great, kind world, my dear boy?
    Candide. Badly, sir. The great, kind world is a cold place.
    Pangloss. It pains me to hear you speak that way. 7
  • "There is some sweetness in every woe." 8
  • On death: "Were they all to have lived longer who knows what crueler fate may have been in store for them?" 6
  • (to pillaging soldiers, from on top of a table) "Gentlemen! Gentlemen!  I have never before in my life used strong words, but I am forced to say this is unsporting." (gets knocked off table) 9
  • "Any questions? Ask without fear, (points to head) I've all the answers here!" 4

"Quod Erat Demonstrandum" 2: The Origins of Dr. Pangloss

Voltaire based Dr. Pangloss on the beliefs, writings, and philosophy of Gottfried Leibniz. Leibniz believed in a perfect God, and he believed in reason. Therefore, he introduced the concept of a possible world, a world that is without logical contradictions, and therefore could exist within the bounds of reason. His reasoning was that when God created the world, He chose among these possible worlds, since even God was bound by reason. Since God is perfect and hence perfectly loving, He must have chosen to create the best of these possible worlds, i.e. the optimal and most balanced world. Leibniz's book Theodicée attempts to justify the apparent imperfections of the world using this conclusion.

Leibniz's reasoning had nothing inherently to do with optimism. Given that you accept his premises, his reasoning was perfectly sound. However, Leibniz's summary of this conclusion was that "we live in the best of all possible worlds."

Now, Voltaire heard this and thought it absolutely absurd. Leibniz was a gifted and well-respected mathematician, but Voltaire thought him a laughable philosopher. He thought him so laughable that he decided to write an entire book making fun of Leibniz. Voltaire's Dr. Pangloss, therefore, is a parody of Leibniz, saying absurdly optimistic things throughout. Pangloss became immortalized in the word panglossian, an adjective meaning "marked by blind or excessive optimism."

Dr. Pangloss in Candide the operetta

Voltaire's Pangloss was a very one-sided character by design, meant to show the fruits of excessive optimism. Voltaire used one-sided character archetypes to hammer home his point, but by 1957 both this technique and his "moral" for the story had become dated. In adapting Candide for the modern stage, the librettists chose to move away from this one-sidedness and bring a little more depth to his character. Interestingly, they did this not by changing his character in significant ways, but instead by having the actor take on multiple roles in addition to Pangloss.

Lillian Hellman, the author of the first Candide book, doubled up Dr. Pangloss and Martin, his complete polar opposite in Voltaire. This made for a very interesting choice because as much as they are polar opposites, they are both personifications of extremes. Having the same actor play these two parts made Dr. Pangloss very interesting because of the implication that he and Martin are actually just two sides of the same coin.

Hugh Wheeler, on the other hand, eliminated Martin from his book. After the lackluster reception of Hellman's very dark book, he was trying to lighten Candide up, and I guess a character with utmost pessimism just isn't all that funny. Instead, he doubled up Dr. Pangloss with the Governor, the Sage, and "Dr. Voltaire," a caricature of the author acting as the narrator. The Governor is a fat aristocrat occupied mostly with greed and lust; the Sage is a transformed Pangloss (similar to the difference between Gandalf the Grey and Gandalf the White); and Dr. Voltaire narrates the action with appropriate third-person commentary.

In either case, the Pangloss of the operetta is not so one-sided as Voltaire's Pangloss. Sometimes, one is made to question whether he himself, after experiencing numerous hardships, still believes the philosophy he preaches—and that depth is what makes him a strong character. Contrary to the Dr. Pangloss in Voltaire, this Dr. Pangloss is optimistic, yet not quite blind.


1 Hellman book, Act 1, Scene 1, p. 4.

2 "Best of All Possible Worlds," 1973 version by Richard Wilbur.

3 It is either No. 1, No. 2, or No. 3 depending the version of Candide in question. If not No. 1, it is usually preceded by "Life is Happiness Indeed" and/or the Westphalia Chorale.

4 "Best of All Possible Worlds," 1957 version by Richard Wilbur.

5 Wheeler book, 1973 version, dialogue following "Best of All Possible Worlds."

6 Wheeler book, Lisbon scene, before "Auto-da-fe."

7 Hellman book, Act 1, Scene 2.

8 Most of the main characters die and reappear at least once, usually with no explanation given. See You were dead, you know.

9 Hellman book, Act 1, Scene 1. p. 21.

Sources:
Bernstein, Leonard; Lillian Hellman; and Richard Wilbur et al. Candide: Original Broadway Cast Recording. Columbia Soundtracks, 1957.
"Gottfried Leibniz." From Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia (English). <http://en.wikipedia.org/Gottfried_Leibniz>. Accessed 11 July 2005.
Hellman, Lillian; Leonard Bernstein, Richard Wilbur, John Latouche and Dorothy Parker. Candide: A Comic Operetta Based on Voltaire's Satire. New York: Random House, 1957.
Hellman, Lillian and Michael H. Hutchins (ed). Candide / The 1956 Libretto. <http://www.geocities.com/bernsteincandide/56libretto.html>. Accessed 21 January 2005.
Public Broadcasting System. Great Performances: Leonard Bernstein's "Candide" in Concert. <http://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf/shows/candide/>. Accessed 21 January 2005.
Wheeler, Hugh and Michael H. Hutchins (ed). Candide / The 1973 Libretto [Second Draft, August 1973]. <http://www.geocities.com/bernsteincandide/73libretto2nd.html>. Accessed 12 July 2005.

Thanks to redbaker for the extra help.

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