. . 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.
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
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
- "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,
boy, Is such a joy, So lovely a condition,
That many ask no better than To wed as often as they can, In happy
"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
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.
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...
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
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
Some more gems from the dear doctor:
How have you fared in the great, kind world, my dear boy?
Badly, sir. The great, kind world is a cold place.
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
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)
- "Any questions? Ask without
fear, (points to head) I've
all the answers here!" 4
Erat Demonstrandum" 2:
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
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
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
attempts to justify the apparent imperfections of the world using this
Leibniz's reasoning had nothing inherently to do with optimism
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
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,
believes the philosophy he preaches—and that depth is what
a strong character. Contrary to the Dr. Pangloss in Voltaire, this
Pangloss is optimistic, yet not quite blind.
Hellman book, Act 1, Scene 1, p. 4.
"Best of All Possible
Worlds," 1973 version by Richard Wilbur.
is either No. 1, No. 2, or No. 3 depending the
in question. If not No. 1, it is usually
preceded by "Life is Happiness Indeed" and/or the Westphalia
"Best of All Possible
Worlds," 1957 version by Richard Wilbur.
5 Wheeler book, 1973 version, dialogue following "Best
of All Possible Worlds."
Wheeler book, Lisbon scene, before "Auto-da-fe."
Hellman book, Act 1, Scene 2.
of the main characters die and reappear at least
with no explanation given. See You were dead, you know.
book, Act 1, Scene 1. p. 21.
- 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).
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.
Accessed 21 January 2005.
- Public Broadcasting System. Great
Performances: Leonard Bernstein's "Candide" in Concert.
Accessed 21 January 2005.
- Wheeler, Hugh and Michael H.
Hutchins (ed). Candide
/ The 1973 Libretto [Second Draft, August 1973].
Accessed 12 July 2005.
Thanks to redbaker for the extra help.