Study Guide

Roxanne Lyrics

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Quick Thought

The name "Roxanne" (which means "luminous beauty") has been owned by a great many important female historical figures.

Deep Thought

Great Roxannes in world history include the wife of Alexander the Great and the love interest in the play about Cyrano de Bergerac, a brash poet in the French army with a huge nose. Sting, lead singer of the Police, wanted to write a song about a prostitute in the Paris Red Light District and gave her the name Roxanne because he saw an old poster for the play Cyrano de Bergerac hanging in his French hotel lobby.

During his enormously successful and famous conquest of the ancient world, Alexander the Great stopped in Bactria (present day Uzbekistan and Northern Afghanistan) in order to take over the rest of the Persian Empire. His troops surprise-attacked the Persians in Balkh at the Sogdian Rock Fortress, and they quickly surrendered.

Victorious Alexander attended a Sogdian wedding soon afterward and was totally smitten with one of the female dancers, a fifteen-year-old girl named Roxana. Against the advice of his fellow Macedonians (she was a barbarian, after all) he married her and she followed him through the rest of his journey. She was not his only wife. Later, Alexander took another woman named Sateira as his bride and was also rumored to have had a long-lasting romantic relationship with his closest friend and fellow soldier, Hephaestion. Roxana bore his only child, Alexander IV Aegus, who was his sole heir and the successor to his kingdom after Alexander died of a fever/alcohol poisoning/spinal deformities—nobody really knows how—at the age of 33. Roxana and her son were later assassinated by Cassander in his quest to succeed to the throne of Alexander's empire. People got away with that kind of stuff back then.

Now, back to Cyrano de Bergerac. He lived many years after Alexander, during the early to mid-1600s, and was a French playwright and swordsman. Most major historical figures are famous for their heroic deeds, but Cyrano was probably best remembered for his ridiculously large nose. That thing was big, and more interesting than his actual life were the many stories written about him and his shnoz, including the famous play in his name by Edmund Rostand.

The historical Cyrano de Bergerac was a soldier, a writer, drinker, and gambler, and known for his outrageous courage when it came to dueling. He was proud of his prominent, bulbous nose, but his fictional character hid it with deep insecurity. Many scholars think that the real Bergerac was gay, based on his relationship with another prominent nobleman (yet another link to Alexander the Great), but Rostand crafted his play on the idea that Cyrano was in love with his distant cousin, the beautiful—you guessed it—Roxanne.

Another interesting connection between the play Cyrano de Bergerac and Alexander the Great, besides the name Roxanne, is that the play was written almost entirely in Alexandrine verse, a style that was thought to have arisen in French-written heroic epics describing the exploits of Alexander the Great. While Shakespeare liked to write in iambic pentameter (ten-syllable lines that follow an unstressed-stressed pattern), many French poets and dramatists displayed Alexandrine verse instead. It's a 12-syllable line of six iambic unstressed/stressed iambic "feet" with a caesura, or pause, in the middle.

You don't have to put on the red light

Quick Thought

The red-light district of a city is the part of town where prostitution and other trades of the sex industry flourish.

Deep Thought

Although prostitution is illegal in many countries, including the majority of the United States (Rhode Island and Nevada are the two exceptions), nearly every major city in the world has an area where prostitution and the sex industry are concentrated. Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, has perhaps the world's most famous legal red-light district.

There are many theories concerning the origin of the term "red-light district," but probably the most plausible one concerns American railway workers in the late 1800s. These men worked late into the night and sometimes visited brothels (houses of prostitution). While inside, the men left the red lanterns that they always carried at the door. This was to show that the woman was busy, but also to allow the other railroad workers to find the guy in case there was an emergency on the tracks. 

In Japan, these districts are called akasen (which means "red line") in reference to the red line that policemen drew to mark the boundaries of legal prostitution areas. Red is also typically a color associated with sex and prostitution, and many female sex workers in older times dyed their hair red to signify their particular trade.

Although red-light districts exist in nearly every city (Pigalle, Paris; Canal Street, New Orleans; the Tenderloin, San Francisco; Calle Montera, Madrid; Soho, London; Ostia, Rome; etc., etc., etc.), the most famous one by far is De Wallen in Amsterdam. This area of the city is a major tourist trap, and many of the prostitutes dance under red lights in windows that are visible to the street. While prostitution exists all over the city, this is the place where the practice is the most visible. These women are professionals, and they know what they're doing.

You don't have to sell your body to the night

Quick Thought

Although prostitutes sometimes venture out during the day to attract customers, they're sometimes called "women of the night."

Deep Thought

Under the cover of darkness is when many illegal or looked-down-upon operations happen in any big city. These include prostitution, drug deals, murders, and robbery, as well as more benign entertainments like drinking, clubbing, raving, cruising, and so on.

You don't have to wear that dress tonight

Quick Thought

Many prostitutes working the streets dress in a particular way so they can be spotted and can stand out among other women.

Deep Thought

Prostitutes often wear outfits that draw attention to their bodies, since that's what they're primarily selling. 

In cities today, prostitutes are culturally perceived as dressing "cheap," often in outrageously colored, skimpy, inexpensive clothing, which all make them stand out from other women walking nearby. The women also typically wear big, bangly jewelry, dye their hair (red, usually), and walk around in very high heels and boots to emphasize their sexuality.

In Victorian England, prostitutes had a "love of finery" and often used the money they got selling their bodies to buy elegant dresses for themselves. Yet they were still looked down upon because their style of dress didn't match their low-class status. One famous prostitution-related historical horror story from the Victorian Era was that of Jack the Ripper, whose identity remains unknown, but who brutally murdered and mutilated five prostitutes who worked in the seedy areas of London.

You don't care if it's wrong or if it's right

Quick Thought

The pros and cons of prostitution have been debated in every society for thousands of years, yet the sex trade remains a thriving industry today.

Deep Thought

Prostitution, dating back to at least 2400 BC, has been jokingly referred to as the "world's oldest profession." And it just might be true. We know from the historical record that the sex industry in some form or another existed in virtually every society in human history. 

There are many prostitutes and other "fallen women" in the Bible, the most famous being Mary Magdalene, upon whom Jesus took pity and loved in spite of her sinful life. She has since been made into a virtual saint in many sects of Christianity, especially in the Eastern Orthodox traditions. The Bible never says for sure if she really was a sex worker, but it does make clear that Mary Magdalene repented whatever sins she thought she had committed and became Jesus' follower, witnessed his crucifixion, and was the first to discover him missing from the tomb. Some dissidents from the dominant Christian tradition question whether Mary Magdalene was actually a prostitute or whether she was actually Jesus' wife. A religious movement called Gnosticism has surviving writings that seem to support this claim, including a Gospel of Mary that didn't make it into the Christian Bible. 

Obviously, this is a touchy subject—one that blew up into pop-culture controversy with the publication of Dan Brown's bestselling novel The Da Vinci Code, which centers on the Mary-Magdalene-as-Christ's-wife theory—but check out the debate for yourself.

Discussing the pros and cons of prostitution is a tangled moral web— while some people condemn the practice, others defend it. Women's groups traditionally rail against the sex industry, citing many instances of girls being forced into prostitution at a very young age, against their will, and who become drug addicts at the complete mercy of their pimps. However, in many cases when police try to stamp out prostitution, it just ends up spreading to other areas of the city or goes completely underground, which is perhaps even worse. For centuries, it has been an unstoppable presence in society.

Yet some prostitutes have spoken out saying that this life is better for them than other alternatives. For one, the women can make more money doing it than they would as, say, a minimum-wage worker. Some women view sex work such as stripping and prostitution as sexually liberating because they choose who sees their bodies and who's allowed to touch, and therefore are much more in control of the situation than the men.

No one can seem to agree on anything except for the simple fact that prostitution has the tenacity of a cockroach and is going to stick around for a long, long time. Long story short, prostitution has existed all over ancient Greece, Rome, Asia, the Middle East, and India, and remains a thriving trade today.

I loved you since I knew ya

Quick Thought

There are many accounts of men falling in love with prostitutes, despite the fact that know they're paying the women to fake interest in them.

Deep Thought

The human capacity for denial is staggering, especially when it comes to matters of the heart. Men sometimes have a real knack for ignoring some pretty obvious deal-breakers in a situation with women that may or may not involve sex, in order to indulge some unrealistic fantasies.

This tendency (or at least potential) for customers to fall in love with sex workers can lead to the "save the stripper" complex that has worked its way so pervasively into our culture. Even girls have jumped on the bandwagon. Megan Fox, the actress known for her beauty and roles in the Transformer movies, spoke candidly to GQ about her infatuation with a stripper in Hollywood in her younger days. On the relationship, she said:

Well, that year my boyfriend broke up with me, and I decided—oh man, sorry, mommy!—that I was in love with this girl that worked at the Body Shop. I decided that I was going to get her to love me back, and I went out of my way to create a relationship with this girl, a stripper named Nikita…  She used to do these beautiful slow dances to Aerosmith ballads. I used to give her presents to try and convince her to stop stripping. (Source)

Megan's plan didn't work, but the point here is that people are sometimes overcome with a love-induced pity for girls in the sex business and do everything they can to "save" them. Which is exactly what Sting is trying to do with Roxanne.

"I wouldn't have to talk down to ya"

Quick Thought

One of the biggest problems associated with prostitution is the sexual, physical, verbal, and emotional abuse that many sex workers experience.

Deep Thought

As with most problems associated with prostitution, there are two sides to this issue. On the one hand, many people argue that if we make prostitution legal, women can then seek justice for violent crimes committed against them without fear of being arrested or jailed themselves (for being illegal prostitutes). There are several gruesome accounts of men who methodically raped and murdered prostitutes because they knew they could get away with it—most famously Jack the Ripper, but there have been others.
On the flip side, some people argue that legalizing prostitution won't really do anything in terms of slowing down the violence committed towards these women. As Dr. Melissa Farley, Founding Director of the Prostitution Research and Education, explained in an article in Psychiatric Times, "Regardless of prostitution's status (legal, illegal, or decriminalized) or its physical location (strip club, massage parlor, street, escort/home/hotel), prostitution is extremely dangerous for women. Homicide is a frequent cause of death... It is a cruel lie to suggest that decriminalization or legalization will protect anyone in prostitution. It is not possible to protect someone whose source of income exposes them to the likelihood of being raped on average once a week."

"I won't share you with another boy"

Quick Thought

Turning daily casual sex into a business potentially involving hundreds or even thousands of clients not only has some interesting emotional consequences, but also can present physical dangers such as the spread of STIs.

Deep Thought

Just try Googling "prostitute STIs" or "prostitute STDs" and you'll notice that the majority of sites that arise are forums like,,,, etc. They're filled with frantic men describing their sexual encounters with prostitutes in detail and then asking medical professionals if whatever they did puts them at risk for STIs/HIV. The fact is, prostitutes and their clients are at very high risk for many STIs. When Sting sings "I won't share you with another boy," well… he already has. What's interesting to note is that there's an evolutionary component behind the jealous rage that men can experience when they find out that their woman isn't being exclusive. We'll get to that in a minute.

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