The Demon Baker of Fleet Street

The musical Sweeney Todd is filled with evil characters. There is of course the murderous title character along with the clever pie baker, Mrs. Lovett, and Judge Turpin, who has done so many evil deeds it would require too much room to list them. Those are just the big ones; the only characters innocent by the end of the show are Anthony and Joanna.

Yet the baker, not the vengeful barber, is the most villainous character in the musical. What could that character commit worse than murder? The crimes committed are out of her own greed that ultimately leads to the downfall of Judge Turpin, the Beadle, Aldolfo Pirelli, Tobias, the Beggar Woman, Sweeney, and herself.

At the beginning of the show, Todd returns to London after serving time in Australia, and goes to a shop on Fleet Street run by Mrs. Lovett, the purveyor of “the worst pies in London.” After being prodded by Todd, she tells about how his wife was raped by Judge Turpin after the loving husband was shipped off to Australia for “foolishness.” After Sweeney erupts in anger, she is asked as to what became of his wife, Lucy. Lovett replies with “She poisoned herself. Arsenic from the apothecary on the corner. I tried to stop her but she wouldn’t listen to me.” Mrs. Lovett never tells Todd as to whether or not his wife died from the consumption of the poison. However, due to it being arsenic one can assume that his wife died. Lovett’s failure to tell the entire story ultimately sets Sweeney Todd’s revenge in motion.

During the course of the musical, Mrs. Lovett serves as Todd’s friend. She allows him to work in the room above her shop, gives him his razors–which play the role of barbershop tools and weapons, and is fully aware of his plan to kill the Judge and the Beadle. This role gives her a nice position to prevent Sweeney Todd from committing his crimes. But does she do anything to prevent his killing spree?

The song “Wait” is the closest to her trying to hold Sweeney back, but even this number seems more so like a number expressing that he needs to wait and possibly enjoy the world. It should be noted that at this point of the show, Judge Turpin and the Beadle are the only targets.

After having the opportunity to kill the judge, but then losing it to Anthony bursting into the shop, Todd proclaims that “I will get him back even as he gloats. In the meantime I’ll practice on less honorable throats.” In addition to killing Judge Turpin and the Beadle, Sweeney decides to go and kill everyone in his way. (He also says, “My Lucy lies in ashes,” explicitly telling the audience that he believes she is dead.)

And what does Mrs. Lovett do? She recommends baking Todd’s victims into her pies. She sings “Business needs a lift–Debts to be erased–think of it as thrift, as a gift.” Not only does she encourage him to kill people, but she finds a way to profit from it. Luckily for her, the pies are a huge success.

But then her acts catch up with her. The orphan Tobias that she has taken under wing figures out that Todd killed his former guardian/boss, Signor Pirelli, and Mrs. Lovett locks him up in the basement to grind meat. Surely enough, Tobias finds a human body part. (Talk about losing your appetite) But then Sweeney goes and kills the beggar woman, Beadle, and judge only to find out a horrifying truth.

In response to Mrs. Lovett’s horrifying screams, he rushes to the basement to find the Beggar Woman. Behold, the hag is Lucy, the supposedly dead wife–well, she’s dead now. Enraged, Sweeney asks Mrs. Lovett why she lied. She tells him, “No, no, not lied at all. No I never lied. Said she took the poison–she did–never said that she died […] Yes, I lied ‘cos I love you! I’d be twice the wife she was!” It is Mrs. Lovett’s desire for Todd, which can be categorized under greed, that leads him to kill so many people while getting revenge for his wife’s death, which occurs by his own hands. She sets the horror in motion, and in return gets thrown into the oven at the end.

It is indeed true that Sweeney Todd is filled with all sorts of evil characters. But the greedy baker skillfully uses the suffering of others to her own benefit, and in the end receives the same fate as others. As Sweeney Todd remarks to her in “Epiphany,” “We all deserve to die.”

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