What is the climax of M. Butterfly?

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In order to understand the climax of the play M. Butterfly , it is important to review the meaning of “climax” in terms of theatre. The climax is the point at which the action starts during which the solution is given. Therefore, the climax is the turning point of the...

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In order to understand the climax of the play M. Butterfly, it is important to review the meaning of “climax” in terms of theatre. The climax is the point at which the action starts during which the solution is given. Therefore, the climax is the turning point of the play and can often be seen as a “crisis” that eventually leads to the resolution and/or conclusion. Traditionally in a five-act play, the climax is close to the conclusion of act 3. However, in the nineteenth century, five-act plays were more commonly replaced by three-act plays, and the climax was placed close to the end of the play right before the conclusion. When looking at M. Butterfly, it is important to keep in mind that it is a three-act play, so the climax is likely near the end of the play.

With that being said, I believe the climax of the play M. Butterfly is near the end when Gallimard finds out Song is actually a man, not the woman Gallimard believed him to be. Upon returning to France, Gallimard told his wife, Helga, about his eight-year affair with Song. Gallimard did this with the intention of devoting himself to Song. Gallimard viewed Song as the perfect woman. However, when Gallimard found out the truth about his beloved’s gender, Song mocked him, saying it was easy to fool him. She (now he) pointed out that she was taken in by Gallimard with open arms and was supported by him for fifteen years. Therefore, it is easy to see how this resolution for Gallimard is the major crisis for him in the play. During act 3, scene 2, Song is taunting Gallimard, accusing Gallimard of still wanting him. Gallimard tells Song that he made a huge mistake. He says, “You showed me your true self. When all I loved was the lie. A perfect lie, which you let fall to the ground—and now, it's old and soiled." I believe this quote truly marks the climax of the play. Song realizes that Gallimard doesn’t love him, which causes them to fight and split for good.

When reading a story or play, there are many events that could be considered “turning points,” which can make identifying the climax tricky, so it is important to also consider the conclusion or resolution of the play itself. The climax I suggested leads the play to the conclusion, where Gallimard admits that he loved Song and states, "Love warped my judgment, blinded my eyes, rearranged the very lines on my face...until I could look in the mirror and see nothing but...a woman." Without Song, Gallimard finds “Madame Butterfly” in himself, and the play concludes with him dressing himself up as Madame Butterfly and killing himself.

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The 1988 play M. Butterfly is set in present-day Paris; the protagonist is Rene Gallimard. Rene Gallimard falls in love with the singer Song Liling. The climax of M. Butterfly involves a startling transformation by Song. The climax takes place in act 3, which opens in a Paris courthouse in 1986. It turns out that the beautiful Song, who Gallimard was infatuated with, was actually a man. In the final scene, Song changes out of men's clothes into the robes of Madame Butterfly. Additionally, the story of Madame Butterfly ends up being reversed. Gallimard spent twenty years in love with the vision of Song, only to be deeply betrayed in the end. He, too, gets dressed as Madame Butterfly in his jail cell in Paris and plunges a knife into himself. In the opera, it is Madame Butterfly who commits suicide, but in the play, it is Gallimard, the lover of M. Butterfly, who does so.

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The climax of the play M. Butterfly occurs in Act 3 Scene 2 when Gallimard confronts Song after Song has stripped in court and revealed that he is in fact a man.  In the previous scene, Song has told the court how he was able to fool Gallimard for so long into believing that he was a man; Song also reveals all the secret information that he was able to get from Gallimard.  In Scene 2, Gallimard confronts Song--he is angry because he says that he truly loved his Butterfly and he was betrayed.  Song tries to coax Gallimard, but now that he is just a man, Song no longer has any power of Gallimard.  Gallimard banishes Song from his life and comes to the realization that he is no longer like Pinkerton from the Madama Butterfly opera; he now relates to Cio-cio san who gave her life to love her partner.

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