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Q: The Cow in Sondheim's "Into the Woods" ( Answered 4 out of 5 stars,   5 Comments )
Subject: The Cow in Sondheim's "Into the Woods"
Category: Arts and Entertainment > Performing Arts
Asked by: aknj-ga
List Price: $5.00
Posted: 04 Mar 2004 11:15 PST
Expires: 03 Apr 2004 11:15 PST
Question ID: 313425
My daughter recently played the cow (Milky White) in a production of
the junior version of Steven Sondheim's musical "Into the Woods."  At
one point in the play, she had to roll over, give a loud "Moo!!!" and
play dead.  We asked the director why the cow died, but she didn't
know.  The script just said that the cow suddenly dies.

My question, silly as it may seem, is why does the cow die?

Subject: Re: The Cow in Sondheim's "Into the Woods"
Answered By: hammer-ga on 04 Mar 2004 12:08 PST
Rated:4 out of 5 stars
In short, the cow dies because the cow needs to die in order to move
the story along.

In the "what's my motivation" explanation, Milky White dies because
she is old and sick (the reason why Jack was sent to sell her in the
first place).

Theatrically, she dies at that particular moment as a plot device, so
that everybody can freak out about it. They need to create an argument
between the Baker and his Wife. They need to force the Baker and his
Wife into the lie about buying back the (dead) cow, to demonstrate
their willingness to sacrifice their ethics to lift the curse. They
need to draw out the tension of not being able to satify the demands
of the Witch. They need to show the Witch's real power by having her
resurrect the cow. That cow rolling over and dying is actually one of
the pivotal moments of this show. I hope your daughter did it well!

Search strategy: None. I know this show very well. :)

- Hammer

Request for Answer Clarification by aknj-ga on 04 Mar 2004 15:41 PST
Any authoratative sources on this subject?

Clarification of Answer by hammer-ga on 05 Mar 2004 06:02 PST
The script itself is pretty authoritative on the subject of the cow
being old and sick, as is the fairy tale (Jack and the Beanstalk) on
which that part of the script is based.

As to the death of the cow being a plot device, I went to a performing
arts high school, and spent a number of years as a professional stage
manager and theatrical lighting technician. Script analysis is a
subject with which I am  familiar.

Musicals don't tend to generate much scholarly analysis, so I'm not
quite sure what to offer, in terms of authoritative sources. It's
possible to start talking about the cow in terms of symbolizing the
fragility of desire/wishes and how the cow dies just as the Baker and
his Wife are feeling like they can't fail, and how the death of the
cow is the death of their sense of hope and how the resurrection of
the cow is the resurrection of that hope, etc. But, I think that's a
bit much in the context of this particular show.

- Hammer
aknj-ga rated this answer:4 out of 5 stars

Subject: Re: The Cow in Sondheim's "Into the Woods"
From: pinkfreud-ga on 04 Mar 2004 12:23 PST
I think Hammer is absolutely correct. The cow's death is a necessary
plot mechanism. From the standpoint of the play's characters, it would
appear that the cow died of natural causes related to the
wear-and-tear of age, but in the grand view of things, the poor cow is
done in not by disease, but by the playwright.
Subject: Re: The Cow in Sondheim's "Into the Woods"
From: probonopublico-ga on 04 Mar 2004 12:38 PST
Surely, it was Mad Cow Disease?
Subject: Re: The Cow in Sondheim's "Into the Woods"
From: bowler-ga on 04 Mar 2004 14:14 PST
I thought it was from natural "cow"-ses!
Subject: Re: The Cow in Sondheim's "Into the Woods"
From: hammer-ga on 04 Mar 2004 15:08 PST
Maybe the cow lay down and died to avoid the bad jokes...

- Hammer
Subject: Re: The Cow in Sondheim's "Into the Woods"
From: crabcakes-ga on 05 Mar 2004 22:17 PST
hammer-ga actually meant "....the cow needs to die in order to MOOve
the story along."

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