The Yeomen of the Guard, or, The Merryman and his Maid
is an opera by Gilbert and Sullivan
. Though generally considered a "comic opera," it is notable as the team's most serious
work. (Sir Henry Lytton wrote that Gilbert once told him that he had always intended Jack Point to die at the end, but had somewhat modified his intention due to the great comic reputation of George Grossmith, who originated the role.)
The central motif of the drama is said to have been suggested to Gilbert when he saw a Beefeater displayed on the advertisement of a London furniture moving company. His imagination took fire at the picturesque Tower of London setting, and he made a special study of Shakespearean language in order to create the proper feel for the period. The plot-device of the secret wedding may have been suggested by an earlier melodrama, Maritana
, itself based on a still earlier French play, Don César de Bazan
. However, neither of those sources have the eccentricity of character or the wit, grace, and occasional profundity of Gilbert's libretto, let alone the rich and glittering texture of Sullivan's outstanding score, "over which" (it has been said) "the motif
of the Tower broods like a watchful giant."
Tropes present in this work:
- Cut Song: "When Jealous Torments Rack My Soul" for Wilfred, "A Laughing Boy But Yesterday" for Sgt. Meryll. Modern productions may include either or both songs.
- Dark Reprise: "I Have a Song to Sing, O!"
- Darker and Edgier / Downer Ending: Most Gilbert and Sullivan plays end with all of the leads happily married off. The leads get married off, but two of the three marriages involve being forced into marrying someone they despise and Dogged Nice Guy Jack Point dies of a broken heart after Elsie is reunited with Fairfax.
- Dogged Nice Guy: Jack Point "is not yet marries to Elsie Maynard, but time works wonders..."
- Face Death with Dignity: Fairfax
- For Doom the Bell Tolls: The finale of the first act employs the ensemble singing along as the bell tolls for Fairfax's execution.
- Healthcare Motivation: Elsie agrees to marry Fairfax because she needs the money for her sick mother.
- Historical-Domain Character: Sir Richard Cholmondeley was Lieutenant of the Tower of London from 1513 to 1524. The play is thus set early in the reign of King Henry VIII.
- Mondegreen: Anyone else hear the "love a heartless jade" line from "When Jealous Torments Rack My Soul" as "love a heartless jail"?
- Murder the Hypotenuse: Played with. Fairfax is the hypotenuse of not one but two love triangles. His rivals, Point and Wilfred, publicly claim to have killed him as he tried to swim across the Thames, reasoning that Fairfax can't contradict them without fatally blowing his cover.
- Offstage Villainy: Fairfax's cousin and heir apparent, Sir Clarence Poltwhistle, has falsely accused Fairfax of sorcery in order to get his hands on his estates and fortune after his execution. It's Fairfax's determination to prevent this that sets up the play's Downer Ending.
- Pair the Spares: Subverted. The marriages that result do not appear happy, and Jack Point gets left out to dry.
- Patter Song: Jack Point has two of them — "I've Jibe and Joke" and "Oh, a Private Buffoon." Sgt. Merryl and Dame Carruthers get a patter duet in "Rapture, rapture!"
- Playing Cyrano: Played with. Fairfax leads a quartet about how wooing has to be learned, with Jack Point eagerly hoping to apply this teaching to Elsie. Then Fairfax proposes to Elsie and sends Jack off.
- Rags to Royalty: Elsie. Or at least from rags to prosperous upper class as Fairfax is indicated to have a considerable estate.
- Sad Clown: Jack Point
- She Is All Grown Up: Played with. When Phbe greets Fairfax as "Leonard", he has no idea who she is. Upon learning that she's his sister, he exclaims, "Why, how you've grown! I did not recognise you!"
- Shown Their Work: The Tower of London is guarded by the Yeomen of the Guard, not the Yeomen Warders, which didn't exist until 1548.
- So Unfunny It's Funny: Jack Point's attempts to impress the Lieutenant are this.
- Talking in Your Sleep: Kate hears Elsie talking in her sleep, and learns important information from it.
- Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe: Averted, for the most part; as mentioned above, Gilbert made a special study of Elizabethan language to get it right.
- He did make one blunder, however. In "When a wooer goes a-wooing," he uses the word "mickle" to mean "little" ("'Tis but mickle sister reaps"); it actually means the exact opposite, "much, large, great."
- To be fair, "mickle" does mean "little" in Scottish dialects, which use "muckle" to mean "large". (Northern English dialects reverse the meanings.) Gilbert probably learned the Scottish definitions of the words during his many years in a Highland volunteer regiment.