Les Misérables

Castle on a Cloud – Les Misérables the Musical

There is a castle on a cloud
I like to go there in my sleep
Aren’t any floors for me to sweep
Not in my castle on a cloud

There is a room that’s full of toys
There are a hundred boys and girls
Nobody shouts or talks too loud
Not in my castle on a cloud

There is a lady all in white
Holds me and sings a lullaby
She’s nice to see and she’s soft to touch
She says, ‘Cosette, I love you very much’

I know a place where no one’s lost
I know a place where no one cries
Crying at all is not allowed
Not in my castle on a cloud

‘Castle on a Cloud’ by 10th Anniversary Concert Cast, licensed to YouTube

Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel has been famously adapted into the world’s longest-running musical written by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil and debuted in the West End in 1985. The story is set in the early 19th century. Cosette’s mother, Fantine, leaves her with the Thénardiers, hoping that they will give better care to Cosette than she can. Fantine sends money to them believing Cosette is in good hands, unfortunately, Cosette is ill-treated by the cruel Thénardiers. Cosette is abused by her ‘caregivers’ and used as child labour in their inn.

‘Castle on a Cloud’ is performed during the first act of the musical. This is the audience first encounter of young Cosette after the death of Fantine. This number illustrates the way this foundling is living. When the scene begins the audience sees a grubby Cosette cleaning and tidying the Thénardiers’ inn, then she starts singing out a world that she imagines. She pictures all the people around her are nice and care about her. This is, however, the mirror opposite of Cosette’s life. The song is constructed with a number of negatives, which add to the poignant feeling of the song. If the negatives are taken out in some lines, it is exactly the life that she is living.

This solo number is melodic and lullaby-like. It is mainly played by strings instruments in a steady and moderate tempo, which gives a melancholy feeling to the audience. Young Cosette’s voice is innocent and vulnerable, a sharp contrast to other characters, particularly the Thénardiers who sound evil. There is a sudden change in the music after this segment. It becomes loud and more up-tempo as Madame Thénardier appears on stage and begins shouting at Cosette. At this moment, Cosette’s imagination immediately vanishes.

Cosette sings out that ‘there is a room that’s full of toys’ in her imagination. In Hugo’s text, it is mentioned that she is not given any toys to play with. The Thénardiers refuse to give her a doll. On the contrary, the Thénardiers’ daughter, who is the same age as Cosette, is given toys and, more importantly, care and affection. Cosette also wishes that there could be ‘a hundred boys and girls’, which illustrates her loneliness and how much she longs for company.

In the third stanza, she mentions the ‘lady all in white’. This is referring to her mother who has passed away in the previous scene. At the end of the musical, Fantine appears on stage again dressed in all white. Cosette does not have anyone who can emotionally care for her. What the Thénardiers do is minimal, they only keep her alive to work for them. According to the attachment theory, it is critical to have a strong emotional and physical attachment to at least one primary caregiver for a child’s personal development. In many foundlings’ cases, however, they do not have a primary caregiver. Cosette is treated more like a commodity rather than a child. Although Cosette’s mother Fantine struggles to feed her, she is able to provide the love and care that Cosette needs. She is the person that Cosette can be attached to.

The Thénardiers deprive Cosette’s chance of having a happy childhood. The only thing they cannot take away from her is her imagination. To understand the life of foundlings, it is certainly important to understand their imagination. With all the hardships and cruelty that they have to bare, their imagination becomes their only escape. Foundlings lack someone or something to develop their attachment to. There is always a gap in their lives waiting to be filled. What appears in their imagination is what they need most. This song is Cosette’s plea for love and comfort in a safe place. She imagines someone would say to her, ‘Cosette I love you very much’. Foundlings and orphans also use their imagination to account for the absence of their parents – as Anne of Green Gable famously says ‘the scope of imagination’ – and you will see in Tracy Beaker’s extract that she also uses her imagination.

Comments are closed.