It’s A Hard Life by Queen is a song written by Freddie Mercury, which dates back to 1984 and tells of the difficulties encountered in loving someone. The incipit of the song contains a quotation from the opera “Pagliacci” by Ruggero Leoncavallo from 1892: it is the part in which it says “Laugh, you clown, to your broken love” (Ridi, pagliaccio, al tuo amore spezzato). The video is by the English director Tim Pope (Timothy Michael Pope) but the idea is by Freddie and his intention was to recreate the scenography of the opera Pagliacci.
The story of Pagliacci by Leoncavallo
“Pagliacci” was inspired by Ruggero Leoncavallo from real events in Calabria, in Italy: a betrayed man turned into a murderer who performed his revenge dressed as a clown.
The play “Pagliacci” is a sort of “real” comedy: the protagonists are the actors of a theater company who are preparing to act in a comedy that speaks of betrayal.
Canio must impersonate Arlecchino, while his wife Nedda must impersonate Colombina. The bizarre thing is that Nedda truly betrays Canio with a local peasant, Silvio. After discovering the betrayal, Canio cannot take revenge immediately, because the theatrical comedy is about to begin.
The play, however, turns into drama under the astonished eyes of the public, because Canio distorts the script and begins to reproach the betrayal to his wife. In the end he stabs her. Silvio, who is in the audience, rushes to the stage to rescue the woman and he is also killed. In short, it is a theatrical performance in which a theatrical performance takes place and it is also a comedy that turns into a drama.
The story of It’s A Hard Life by Queen
The scenography is in a theatrical opera style and stages a sort of Venetian masked dance where the band members and the extras wear clothes that recall the Elizabethan era, the Renaissance, the Decadence and the Enlightenment.
The location for the video is Arri Film’s studios in Munich, in southern Germany.
Freddie Mercury is a jester with a red peacock dress decorated with a series of eyes on the bust, wrists and legs. Some feathers emerge from his left side.
Freddie Mercury dressed as a red peacock: who does he represent?
According to some interpretations Freddie Mercury impersonates a rich man, surrounded by pomp and luxury, but he does not find love.
According to others it would be a jester of God: in Western culture this figure is an entertainer who amuses people and at the same time conveys an important message. He is a spokesman for the truth, which however nobody listens to and therefore feels alone.
Freddie’s peacock costume also has a meaning: the peacock is the symbol of the rebirth of the spirit, of the resurrection of God. During the shoot, Freddie Mercury is back from a knee injury and in fact he is seen moving with difficulty in some scenes.
It’s a Hard Life by Queen: a video full of symbols
The other members of the band, Brian, Roger and John, have an unconvinced and impassive expression. Later they declare that they don’t like that ridiculous video very much, while the song is one of their favorites. However, the choice to remain serious probably derives from the role they were playing.
John Deacon, in the unicorn costume, represents pure and sincere Christianity. Roger Taylor is a kind of dark side of Christianity, while Brian May represents the divine justice that reminds humans that they are mortal.
Throughout the video, symbols of paganism, Christianity and alchemy appear. Above all the skull and bone guitar by Brian May, made in Japan. You can also see it on the cover of the single.
Other elements that do not go unnoticed are the giant symbol on the floor: a square in which there is a circle with an eight-pointed star, which represents the union between heaven and Earth. It is a sort of bridge between the kingdom of God and the human people.
At the top of the altar you can see the statue of the Greek god Apollo which would actually be the statue of Adam, the first sinner of Christianity.
When Freddie comes down the stairs, you can see a man dressed as a black dancer representing the witch Odile from “The Swan Lake”.
The scene of the black lady stepping on Freddie’s foot
But let’s get to the strangest and most curious scene of Queen’s video It’s a Hard Life: Freddie Mercury is climbing the stairs and crosses a woman dressed in black who steps on his foot, looks at him and smiles.
This woman is the Austrian actress Barbara Valentin (aka Ursula Ledersteger), with whom Freddie was in a very intimate friendship. This figure perhaps represents the destiny that hinders our existence. Or maybe Freddie wanted to stage an affectionate and playful gesture that Barbara Valentin made during their love story.
We have not found clues to this detail, so if you know other interpretations you can write to us on Instagram or to our e-mail address in the contact section!