If you haven’t heard Emily Blunt slay “Moments in the Woods” from Sondheim’s musicalĀ Into the Woods, I don’t know what you’re doing with your life. Lately, I’ve been playing the soundtrack from both the original cast and the recent movie on a loop. My poor roommate has had to put up with the random moments (both with and without music) that I have belted out the chorus from the introduction, wailed the Witch’s lines from “Last Midnight,” or broke my voice reaching the notes warbling about giants.

For me, the climax and a major underlying theme of the musical is achieved when the Baker’s Wife is left by the scumbag Prince Charming to belt out her iconic song. The very essence of the musical is encapsulated in her words, after all. Everyone goes “into the woods” at different points in their life: it’s actually a psychological reference to the periods in life when people are searching after something or going through a period of change. (I won’t go on about psychological references inĀ Into the Woods since I am not qualified to do so, but it is worth reading what others have said about it.)

INTO THE WOODS

I know it’s just my personal opinion, but I think the entire struggle and purpose of going into the woods and out of the woods is summed up in the Baker’s Wife’s song.

What was that?

Was that me?
Was that him?
Did a prince really kiss me?
And kiss me?
And kiss me?
And did I kiss him back?

Was it wrong?
Am I mad?
Is that all?
Does he miss me?
Was he suddenly
Getting bored with me?

Wake up!
Stop dreaming
Stop prancing about the woods
It’s not beseeming
What is it about the woods?

Back to life, back to sense
Back to child, back to husband
No one lives in the woods
There are vows, there are ties
There are needs, there are standards
There are shouldn’ts and shoulds

Why not both instead?
There’s the answer, if you’re clever
Have a child for warmth
And a baker for bread
And a prince for whatever
Never!
It’s these woods

Face the facts, find the boy
Join the group, stop the giant
Just get out of these woods
Was that him?
Yes, it was
Was that me?
No, it wasn’t
Just a trick of the woods

Just a moment
One peculiar passing moment
Must it all be either less or more?
Either plain or grand?
Is it always “or?”
Is it never “and?”
That’s what woods are for
For those moments in the woods

Oh, if life were made of moments
Even now and then a bad one!
But if life were only moments
Then you’d never know you had one

First a witch, then a child
Then a prince, then a moment
Who can live in the woods?
And to get what you wish
Only just for a moment
These are dangerous woods

Let the moment go
Don’t forget it for a moment, though
Just remembering you’ve had an “and”
When you’re back to “or”
Makes the “or” mean more
Than it did before
Now I understand

And it’s time to leave the woods

The Baker’s Wife went into the woods the first time with her husband, and they both went through trials and changes that they had to face before coming out again, together, more prepared for life than when they went in. This is the second time she went into the woods, though. And for what?

Well, the Baker’s entire family was forced into the woods when extenuating circumstances forced them to adapt and change. The Baker’s Wife wanders off on her own during that time, and runs into the prince.

It’s important to note that she wasn’t fully satisfied with the baker as her lover. Or, at least, she didn’t think she was. We know from previously in the musical that she idolized the prince and royalty in general and was slightly jealous of the opportunity Cinderella had to meet and marry the prince for herself. And now, in the chaos of the woods, she has met her idol and they share a moment where her secret desires are realized and the core of his nature is fully revealed to the audience.

And this song comes in the moment after he leaves her. She is thinking through what just happened, and sees before her the options that the woods have provided for her. This is the one time that the characters seem to realize what the woods are for and what benefit going into the woods gives them. And the danger that those options open up to them, as well. Remember this lyric:

First a witch, then a child
Then a prince, then a moment
Who can live in the woods?
And to get what you wish
Only just for a moment
These are dangerous woods

The Baker’s Wife, in the end, doesn’t choose the prince. She recognizes that she has fulfilled her desire, but knows that it won’t come again and doesn’t necessarily want it to come again. Instead, she is ready to leave the woods and go back to her husband and son.

Of course, there is more to her story, and more that can be said about what she learned and experienced in the woods. However, I stand by my statement that this song shows exactly what this musical is about. It’s about facing the chaos of our own personal woods, recognizing the changes that need to be made in our lives, and choosing which path we will take out of the woods.

Maybe that’s why I love this musical so much. Maybe I like it because I’m facing my own woods, and I find the Baker’s Wife’s choice inspiring as I am trying to tack my way through the underbrush and find the right path out.

-Wilber

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