Monostatos, the Moor

Monostatos, captain of Sarastro’s guard and clandestine admirer of Pamina, is a character of frustrated villainy. Duplicitous, cowardly, and often dull-witted, he is bound to a menial social position and blinded by a self-imposed ignorance that prevents him from realizing his ambitions. As an opportunist, Monostatos is entirely unsuccessful—his schemes and machinations never quite pan out. Yet of all the nationalities and peoples he could represent, why is Monostatos cast as a Moor? Why not a Greek or a Jew or a Dane? Is it simply his Morrish background that makes of him a rather odious and pathetic creature, or is there something else in his demeanor or actions or decisions that more correctly locates the source of his contemptuous and strangely tragic character? The answer to these questions is not overly complicated. Monostatos is certainly liable to all the difficulties a Moor would encounter in the household of non-Moors, but it is he who ultimately proves his own undoing by not following Wisdom’s path, even when it stretches before his very eyes. Though Monostatos is not the cleverest of men, lack of native intelligence is not his stumbling block; it is his willful indifference to the Right, to the Good, his refusal to see what is to be seen. An entirely self-generated apathy toward the integrity of the person accounts for his foolish and unfortunate course.

Published in BYU Studies Quarterly 43:3
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