Monday, January 21, 2008

Sweeney Todd

Sweeney Todd is a villain appearing in various English language works starting in the mid-19th century as a barber and an early example of a serial killer. His weapon of choice is a straight razor, with which he cuts his victims' throats. In some versions of the story Mrs. Lovett, who is his lover, friend, or partner in crime (and who is variously Marjorie, Sarah, Nellie, Shirley or Claudett) hides the crimes by butchering the corpses of Todd's victims, baking their flesh into meat pies, and selling them to unknowing customers. He is also assisted by an unwitting apprentice lad named Tobias Ragg, who later aids in unmasking his crimes. In most versions of the story, Sweeney either helps or hinders (sometimes both) the love affair of a young woman, Johanna Oakley, who in the musical stage production and 2007 film, is Todd's daughter Johanna Barker, and a sailor named Mark Ingesterie or, later, Anthony Hope. Sweeney Todd may not be a wholly fictional character. In two books, the horror and killing story writer Peter Haining argues that Sweeney Todd was a historical figure who committed his crimes around 1800. Nevertheless, other researchers who have tried to verify his citations find nothing in these sources to back Haining's claims. There is, however, a similar story reputed to have occurred on the Rue de la Harpe in Paris that likely influenced the stories of Todd.

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