What Those Confusing Bohemian Rhapsody Lyrics Really Mean

One of the great joys in life is turning up Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" on the car radio and singing those strange lyrics as loud as you can in your worst possible singing voice. Freddie Mercury would be so proud.

Most of us don't really wonder what the lyrics mean, because if we spent too much time thinking about it our heads would probably explode. But it doesn't have to be that way. In fact if you dissect the lyrics of "Bohemian Rhapsody," the song starts to make a strange sort of sense. Well, sort of.

On the surface, "Bohemian Rhapsody" is about a young man who just murdered someone with a gun. He knows his life is over, and he's saying goodbye to his mother. So that's clear, if you want to interpret the song literally. But after that it gets a little muddy. 

Let's start with "scaramouch," because what the heck? According to Merriam-Webster, "scaramouch" means "a stock character in the Italian commedia dell'arte that burlesques the Spanish don and is characterized by boastfulness and cowardliness." Or simply, "a cowardly buffoon." So what about "fandango?" That's a type of dance, which is "usually performed by a man and a woman to the accompaniment of guitar and castanets." But Mercury's use of it might be a little darker — "hemp fandango" is a euphemism for hanging, with the "fandango" portion of the phrase used to describe the way the condemned person's feet do a little jig while trying to reach the ground. So the phrase, "Scaramouch, will you do the fandango?" is possibly referring to the approaching execution of the song's narrator, who has designated himself "a cowardly buffoon."

Okay, so what about "Galileo figaro magnifico?" Some people think this is based on the Latin phrase "Galileo figuro magnifico," which means "Magnify the Galilean's image," with "Galilean" in this case referring not to the Italian astronomer but to Jesus Christ. That phrase is followed immediately by the line "I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me," so perhaps it's a reference to the narrator's disbelief that he can be saved by a higher power.

And finally, there's "Bismillah," a Muslim invocation that is sometimes used to mean "God give me strength." And of course "Beelzebub," which is another word for "devil," and is probably a reference to the narrator's belief about where he's headed after his execution.

So those delightfully singable lyrics are just as dark as the whole "mama just killed a man portion of the song." Taken at face value, "Bohemian Rhapsody" seems to be about murder, death, and execution, and Freddie Mercury used references to old forms of stage entertainment to give the whole song a sort of theatrical personality. Plenty of people have also interpreted the song metaphorically, too, though — lyricist Sir Tim Rice once famously said "Bohemian Rhapsody" was a clear "coming out song," though you can decide for yourself whether you agree. Because that's the beauty of art, isn't it?