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Working Magic With Pippin
by Scott Miller

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Like Les Miserables, Fiddler on the Roof, Sweeney Todd, and other musicals, Pippin has the themes of God and religion running through the show. As Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles is of necessity a religious man (though only to a degree). Pippin tells Charles early in the show that he thinks Charles in the most powerful man in the world, even more so than the Pope. Charles humbly agrees. In the same scene, Charles tells Pippin that he and the Pope have dedicated themselves to bringing Christianity to the world, even if that entails killing anyone who doesn't believe. Charles may believe in religion, but the basic tenets of Christianity have apparently escaped him.

Before the battle with the Visigoths, Charles asks Pippin and Lewis to pray for victory with him. As kings (and presidents) have done throughout history, Charles believes that God will help them in their killing, raping, and pillaging. But as a university student, Pippin has learned to question everything; and it occurs to him that the opposing king must also be praying, also believing that God is on his side. Like the young adults of today's world, Pippin won't blindly accept everything he's told. He's more educated than his father, but with that education comes a built-in skepticism. Pippin asks Charles if the other king is also praying for God's favor in the upcoming battle. Charles says with a bit of admiration that in fact the Visigoth king is a real pro at praying for victory. Pippin's confidence is shaken. If God isn't on their side, will they be killed? When Charles' father told him that God was on their side, Charles believed it; yet when Charles tells Pippin, Pippin looks at the statement objectively and realizes that surely God isn't on the side of both kings, in fact maybe God isn't on either side. But they win the battle anyway and in their victory song ("Glory"), they make references a number of religious images. Charles is seen as a minor deity himself, throwing wide the gates of heaven for his people. After the battle, Pippin has a discussion with a decapitated head about the hereafter. Pippin asks if the head will go to heaven and the head says that his king has promised him he will, though that is small consolation. Pippin begins to think dying for your king may not be all it's cracked up to be, heaven or not.

Later, in the chapel scene, Pippin comes disguised as a monk to kill his father as he prays. As many authors have throughout the ages, the creators of Pippin found the mystery and secretiveness of the church a perfect place for a murder. Charles' belief that God is on his side is certainly called into question if his son can stab him to death while he prays. Then again, perhaps we're to believe that Charles might have been spared if he prayed more than once a year. Maybe God and religion aren't being called into question here as much as man's faith and dedication to God. Pippin has seen that which side wins in a battle probably isn't connected to praying (since both sides pray), and that maybe violence shouldn't be perpetrated in God's name, as Charles has done for so long. Yet the only way for Pippin to stop Charles from killing is to kill him -- yet another moral gray area. Pippin kills Charles, believing that he can start a new era of peace, but it's not that simple; peace doesn't begin with an act of violence.

Pippin's faith in religion is shaken. He realizes during "On the Right Track" that the church is not serving the people, but is instead stuffing its own pockets. When Theo's duck dies later in the show, Pippin tries prayer as a last resort ("Prayer for a Duck"), but his failure only reinforces his observation earlier that events don't change merely because you ask God. The Visigoth king prayed but was defeated; Pippin and Theo pray, but the duck dies.

All these experiences form the basis of his conviction at the end of the show that the angels of the morning are not in fact calling him to dance, that death -- his or anyone else's - - is no solution. He begins to see that religion and God are not necessarily connected, that what other people tell him about his life and destiny may not be as true as what he knows himself. Of course, if we accept that the show is happening entirely in Pippin's mind, then what others tell him is actually coming from his own mind. Like his other dilemmas, this too is an internal conflict between what he has been taught (i.e., organized religion) and what he has learned from experience (a spirituality independent of man-made institutions).

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