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M. Butterfly, a play by David Henry Hwang, premiered on Broadway in 1988 to critical acclaim, and it went on to win the Tony Award for Best Play. M. Butterfly tells the love story between René Gallimard, a sexually insecure minor French diplomat, and Song Liling, a diva from the Chinese opera, a man who pretends to be a woman. Elements of Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly echo throughout the play. Gallimard uses Song, his personal Butterfly, to reinforce his sense of manhood, but Song uses Gallimard to spy on the French for Communist China. Over a 21 period, their love affair explores the clashes between their cultures and between how they use and perceive each other. The operatic ending reveals how love, desire, and self-deception are often tragic human mysteries that can never be fully resolved. Hwang adapted M. Butterfly for the screen in 1993, and he revised the text again for a 2017 stage revival of the play to reflect more current discourse on intersectional identities.

Read the full play summary, the full play analysis, and explanations of important quotes in M. Butterfly.

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