The Operas of Benjamin Britten: Expression and Evasion

By Claire Seymour | Go to book overview

3

Peter Grimes

I set out to study [the score] ... and I came to the conclusion that there was absolutely not one thing about the Peter Grimes in the poem that related to Peter Grimes in the opera ... [I]f there was a model on which Ben hung the character in the opera, it was on Crabbe himself.

Jon Vickers 1

Who is Peter Grimes? In his article 'George Crabbe and Peter Grimes' 2 E. M. Forster identifies two men, distinguishing between Crabbe's harsh, dull and insensitive murderer, for whom no possibility of mercy intervenes, and Britten's 'misunderstood Byronic hero', 'sensitive, touched by pity, stung by remorse, and corrected by shame'. Crabbe's Grimes embodies the dark side of a morally weak society, which the poet satirises but does not judge, whereas Britten's Grimes is the victim of a cruel society, which is criticised and condemned. Forster's observations are penetrating but his divisions are too categorical and cannot accommodate the complexities of Britten's Grimes and his relationship to the society that rejects him.

Peter Pears, the first interpreter of the role, acknowledged the difficulty of 'defining' Peter Grimes:

In the opera, the Borough is very much the same as Crabbe's Borough ... Peter Grimes himself, on the other hand, is a more complicated character and considerably removed from the desperado of the poem ... Grimes is not a hero nor is he an operatic villain. He is not a sadist nor a demonic character, and the music quite clearly shows that. He is very much of an ordinary weak person who, being at odds with the society in which he finds himself, tries to overcome it and, in doing so, offends against the conventional code, is classed by society as a criminal, and destroyed as such. There are plenty of Grimeses around, still I think! 3

Significantly, Pears suggests that Grimes has two 'identities', a dramatic persona and a musical persona, but his unequivocal interpretation is an inadequate response to the complexities of the opera. Moreover his sympathetic reading — he also states that 'it is clear that he was no murderer' — is undermined by contradictory interpretations proposed by Britten and Pears elsewhere. Thus their

____________________
1
Jon Vickers, 'Jon Vickers on Peter Grimes', Opera, August 1984, vol. 35, no. 8, 835—43.
2
E. M. Forster, 'George Crabbe and Peter Grimes', in Two Cheers for Democracy (London: Arnold, 1972), pp. 166—80. This essay was first given as a lecture at the 1948 Aldeburgh Festival.
3
Peter Pears, 'Neither a Hero nor a Villain', Radio Times, 8 March 1946, 3.

Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this page

Cited page

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
The Operas of Benjamin Britten: Expression and Evasion
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The Operas of Benjamin Britten - Expression and Evasion *
  • Contents *
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Permissions *
  • Abbreviations x
  • 1 - Introduction *
  • 2 - Paul Bunyan *
  • 3 - Peter Grimes *
  • 4 - The Rape of Lucretia *
  • 5 - Albert Herring *
  • 6 - The Little Sweep *
  • 7 - Billy Budd *
  • 7 - Billy Budd *
  • 8 - Gloriana *
  • 9 - The Turn of the Screw *
  • 10 - Noye's Fludde *
  • 11 - A Midsummer Night's Dream *
  • 12 - The Church Parables *
  • 13 - Owen Wingrave *
  • 14 - Death in Venice *
  • 15 - Conclusion *
  • Bibliography *
  • Index *
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this book
  • Bookmarks
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
/ 358

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.