Hellfire – The Hunchback of Notre Dame


So I recently re-watched The Hunchback of Notre Dame and I really wanted to talk about Frollo, the main villain. Being a classic Disney cartoon, almost all the characters can and will sing, and by far my most favourite song in the entire movie is Hellfire, sung by the villain. Here is a YouTube video for reference, and here are the lyrics, with the Priests’ lyrics in italics and their translation in parentheses:

Confiteor Deo Omnipotenti (I confess to God almighty)
Beatae Mariae semper Virgini (To blessed Mary ever Virgin)
Beato Michaeli archangelo (To the blessed archangel Michael)
Sanctis apostolis omnibus sanctis (To the holy apostles, to all the saints)

Beata Maria
You know I am a righteous man
Of my virtue I am justly proud

Et tibit Pater (And to you, Father)

Beata Maria
You know I’m so much purer than
The common, vulgar, weak, licentious crowd

Quia peccavi nimis (That I have sinned)

Then tell me, Maria
Why I see her dancing there
Why her smold’ring eyes still scorch my soul

Cogitatione (In thought)

I feel her, I see her
The sun caught in raven hair
Is blazing in me out of all control

Verbo et opere (In word and deed)

Like fire
This fire in my skin
This burning
Is turning me to sin
It’s not my fault

Mea culpa (Through my fault)

I’m not to blame

Mea culpa (Through my fault)

It is the gypsy girl
The witch who sent this flame

Mea maxima culpa (Through my most grievous fault)

It’s not my fault

Mea culpa (Through my fault)

It’s in God’s plan

Mea culpa (Through my fault)

He made the devil so much
Stronger than a man

Mea maxima culpa (Through my most grievous fault)

Protect me, Maria
Don’t let this siren cast her spell
Don’t let her fire sear my flesh and bone
Destroy Esmeralda
And let her taste the fires of hell
Or else let her be mine and mine alone

“Minister Frollo, the gypsy has escaped”


“She’s no longer in the cathedral. She’s gone”

“But how? I- Never mind. Get out, you idiot
I’ll find her. I’ll find her if I have to burn down all of Paris!”

Dark fire
Now gypsy, it’s your turn
Choose me or
Your pyre
Be mine or you will burn

Kyrie Eleison (Lord have mercy)

God have mercy on her

Kyrie Eleison (Lord have mercy)

God have mercy on me

Kyrie Eleison (Lord have mercy)

But she will be mine
Or she will burn!

Marvel at those lyrics for a minute. Perhaps this was intentional, perhaps not, but I noticed a few things about this song that really impressed me.

Firstly, there are priests singing in the background who set the tone in the beginning. They sing in Latin, which is symbolic of religion and Christianity. I believe the Latin parts are like his conscience, or perhaps they are the mouthpieces of God, telling him what is correct, and what he should be thinking. The song therefore opens with him preparing to confess. However, we do not understand this, nor do the common folk of that time – presumably only the religiously ordained will have understood Latin and it is up to Frollo himself to convey its meaning to the layman. So the Latin lyrics are unclear both in meaning (lack of translation) and in sound (it is part of the background music after the introduction). Likewise, the focus of the main song is Frollo’s own voice, so the priests’/his conscience’s words are mostly ignored. They are saying “…I have sinned, in thought, in word and deed, through my fault.” Frollo is at fault, he has sinned, but those thoughts are being pushed away by his physical voice and physical self.

At first, as a religious person, one can see where his ideas are coming from – we are to be righteous, everything is in God’s plan, the Devil exists to test us – but there is something very wrong in his countenance. In his very first verse, straight after saying he is righteous, he says he is “justly proud”. Surely a righteous man would not see himself as perfect. Surely he would not judge himself to be above the “common, vulgar, weak, licentious crowd,” scorning others while priding himself on his “righteousness”. Pride or vainglory is literally one of the “seven deadly sins” – this is an immediate paradox.

He then blames Esmerelda for being who she is and for the problems he faces. A religious path of action may have been: trying to preach religion or modesty, accepting her to the Church, averting his eyes, or letting her have her own beliefs and way of life. Instead, he judges that she is a “witch” or “siren” who is putting a spell on him because he finds her attractive (lust). Therefore, he wants her to die (“destroy Emerelda”; wrath) or he wants her all to himself (“or else let her be mine and mine alone”; greed). She is to be punished for his predicament. He does not blame just Esmerelda, but the Devil and God, too. So he exhibits three more of the seven deadly sins, as well as the inability to own his actions.

Sloth. This can be argued because “…in the Christian faith, [the] sloth rejects grace and God”, and grace refers to how God gives love and mercy to everybody, which is something Frollo is clearly lacking. Also, sloth can refer to how evil exists in the world because of the inaction of good men. In this instance, Frollo’s inner good self (if the priests can be seen as his conscience) is dormant. When it tries to get through to his consciousness through repeatedly confessing “mea culpa“(through my fault), it is reputed incessantly: “it’s not my fault, I’m not to blame” and the blame is placed elsewhere. In any case, the priest’s voices become one with Frollo’s at the end, where they are both wishing for mercy.

Envy. You could argue he is being envious of all the people Esmerelda has in her life, especially since he wants her to be “[his] and [his] alone“.

Gluttony. Traditionally it refers to eating too much but it can be “over-consumption of anything to the point of waste…  gluttony can be interpreted as selfishness; essentially placing concern with one’s own interests above the well-being or interests of others.” Frollo will “find her if I have to burn down all of Paris!” (which is exactly what he does in the movie). I would presume this is being entirely selfish. The whole city will suffer for it, but he is also being selfish towards Esmerelda. She has no choice in the matter. To be with him or to burn to death? Really?

He finishes by asking for mercy for her (ironic, considering his lack of mercy) and for himself, in a soft voice, but then ends with a majestic crescendo: “but she will be mine or she will burn!” At that point you understand that despite asking God for help or mercy, he has no intention in doing what God would want in this situation and is being completely and utterly ruled by his own wants and desires. The voices in his head have merged into the music and are now indistinguishable from the background. His voice shouting “burn!” is the only thing that reigns clear. It is the ultimate decision he makes after his so-called confession, in church, during a critical song that could have either reformed his character or cemented his evil nature. Clearly, the latter was chosen.

In conclusion, I believe this song is the best song in the movie because it shows how utterly hypocritical and evil he is in so little words. I only spoke of the lyrics but the cinematography, the art – his facial expressions! the symbolic imagery! – as well as the music added so many more layers of meaning to this song that I cannot go into detail right now. It was epic.

I am also surprised that Disney was fine with exploring the corruption of Churches back then. Was it because the world was less politically correct back then? I wonder how it would be received in the current climate.

In any case, the main reason why I wrote this post is because Hellfire was such an amazing part of this movie. Other songs that I have been enjoying lately are “Let My People Go” from the Prince of Egypt soundtrack and “No Good Deed” from the musical Wicked. Deliver Us is also a very impressive opening to a movie.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: