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Theatre / Princess Ida

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The only three-act Gilbert and Sullivan operetta (originally described as a prelude and two acts), poking fun at Straw Feminist tendencies, women's education in general and possibly early bethrothals as well. It's based on the Alfred, Lord Tennyson poem, The Princess, which Gilbert adapted into a previous play in 1870.

The titular princess was married to the nearby kingdom's Prince Hilarion when they were one and two years old, respectively. Twenty years have passed since and the courtiers of Castle Hildebrand impatiently await the arrival of King Gama and his daughter. Instead, the king arrives with his three boorish sons, only to announce that Ida locked herself away in Castle Adamant with a hundred girls, teaching them to renounce men and study.

Hilarion, who is in love with Ida, sets out to win her over with his friends Cyril and Florian, but through charms, not warfare. They disguise themselves as lady undergraduates and enlist the help of Florian's sister Lady Psyche, who is a professor at the university, and Melissa, a student who overhears them and is quite surprised that men are not as ape-like as the Princess would have them believe. Her mother Lady Blanche, another professor at the university, meanwhile hopes to use the marriage to take over Adamant and get rid of both Ida and her academic rival Psyche.

King Hildebrand refuses to wait long, though - Gama and sons are locked in a dungeon to make certain that nothing happens to the prince and promises to storm Adamant's halls, should Ida not swallow her pride...

Hilarity Ensues, of course. Of all the 14 operettas in the Gilbert & Sullivan series, Princess Ida's plot is the most out of step with modern sensibilities because of its dated view of women's education.

Tropes used in Princess Ida include:

  • Abled in the Adaptation: The play's Hilarion lacks his poem's counterpart's catalepsy.
  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: In the poem, Hilarion and his friends lose their battle with Ida's brothers. The outcome is reversed in the operetta.
  • Adaptational Dumbass: Ida's brothers, Arac especially, are far more intelligent in Tennyson's The Princess than they are here.
  • Adaptational Jerkass: Tennyson's King Gama is far more cordial than Gilbert's version.
  • Adapted Out: In the poem and original play, Hilarion and friends are given their disguises by another character: a hostel landlord (poem) and Gobbo, a porter of Castle Adamant (play). No such character appears in the operetta as the three friends conveniently find their disguises on the ground. Hilarion and Ida's mothers are also absent.
  • Alto Villainess: Lady Blanche is probably the closest any character in the show comes to antagonistic, but never gets the chance to do anything truly villainous due to the show's abrupt ending.
  • Arranged Marriage: "A bride's a bride tho' the knot were tied at the early age of one!" Hilarion hopes it will turn out to be a Perfectly Arranged Marriage, being in love with Ida from the start. In the end, it seems to work.
  • Beta Couple: Cyril and Psyche, Florian and Melissa.
  • Bowdlerise: Lady Psyche, professor of humanities, advises her students to do this with classics. It can also be said for the whole play - the initial poem had Ida's brothers winning the duel against Hilarion and friends.
    • Plus, in one song, the line "And the n——s they'll be bleaching" was turned into "And they'll practice what they're preaching".
  • Bawdy Song: Tenor Boy Cyril gets one, while Disguised in Drag. In front of the whole university, members of which watch with astonishment and horror.
  • Catchphrase: "Yes, yes, yes" for Ida's brothers.
  • Childhood Marriage Promise: Minus the promise - they actually were married as children and thus have been married for twenty years, without ever interacting. Hilarion even sings a song about it.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander:
    • Ida, by the standards of the time, but her whole family is very odd.
    • King Gama.
  • Compassionate Critic: Gama provides the trope page quote and introduces himself with a song about it.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: Gama is horrified to learn that Hildebrand intends to treat him with absolute luxury, meaning that complaining becomes impossible. He's in a misanthrope's hell: a place where there is never anything to complain about and everything suits him.
  • Crossdresser: Hilarion, Florian and Cyril disguise themselves as undergraduates when entering Castle Adamant. They even sing a trio about it - "I am a maiden".
  • Deadpan Snarker: King Gama, who was Gilbert's parody of himself!
  • Disguised in Drag: Hilarion, Cyril and Florian.
  • The Ditz: The Three Brothers Arac Gurion and Scynthius qualify. They are so dumb after not taking their armor off for the entire piece they remove it all before going into battle. Probably the only example of this trope in all of Gilbert and Sullivan.
  • Does Not Like Men: Ida teaches all the women at her college to hate men. However, they eventually see the error of their ways when some actual men show up, albeit in drag.
  • Dumb Muscle: Ida's three brothers are... not smart. Bonus for the fact that they sing a song about it and openly admit it - they're not intelligent, but they're "bold and fierce and strong".
  • Either/Or Title: Princess Ida, or, Castle Adamant
  • Everyone Must Be Paired: Justified Trope - The girl scholars have been kept completely isolated from men, taught that they're like apes. Ooh, look, men have appeared! They decide to further their education.
  • Grande Dame: Lady Blanche
  • Gratuitous Iambic Pentameter: In keeping with the source material note  Princess Ida is the only Gilbert & Sullivan operetta where the spoken dialogue is all in blank verse.
  • Helmets Are Hardly Heroic: After running around in full armor for the entire play, Arac, Gurion and Scynthius sing "This Helmet I Suppose", a song about how uncomfortable it is (starting with the helmet) and take it all off shortly before a battle.
  • Honour Before Reason: Hilarion saves Ida from falling into a stream, but she still wants to punish him for his deception. When Hildebrand's troops arrive, she refuses to surrender despite being badly outnumbered and outgunned, and loudly proclaims her intention to die rather than marry the fair, strong and tall (her own words) prince.
  • "I Am" Song: "If You Give Me Your Attention" for King Gama, and "We Are Warriors Three" for his sons.
  • Lady of War: Ida is quite willing to fight Hildebrand's entire army on her own, if need be. Subverted Trope: she never gets to do so.
  • Named by the Adaptation: Hilarion, Hildebrand and Guron & Scynthius did not have names in The Princess.
  • No Social Skills: King Gama, who is brutally honest to everybody and has no idea why people don't like him.
  • Opening Chorus:
    Search throughout the panorama
    for a sign of royal Gama
    who today should cross the water
    with his fascinating daughter
    Ida is her name.
  • One-Gender School: Ida runs a school where only women are allowed.
  • Plot Hole: Sacharissa, a student of Ida's, is expelled early on, but is still part of the ensemble.
  • Self-Deprecation: The grouchy and misanthropic King Gama is a self-parody of none other than W. S. Gilbert, who had a rather curmudgeonly persona. At one dinner given in his honor, Gilbert concluded a speech by quoting Gama's catchphrase: "But everybody says I'm such a disagreeable man! And I can't think why!"
  • Straw Feminist: The whole premise, basically. Sacharissa, a student of Ida's, is expelled for having chessmen.
  • Those Two Guys: Cyril and Florian.
  • Twelfth Night Adventure: Hilarion, Cyril, and Florian disguise themselves as women to infiltrate Ida's women-only school.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: In a throwaway line, a character mentions that the words "'are men' stuck in her throat." This is a Pun on an obscure line from Macbeth, "Amen stuck in my throat." One wonders how many of the original audience caught the joke.
  • Wig, Dress, Accent: Only Lady Psyche and Lady Blanche aren't fooled - the former is Florian's sister, so they let her in on it before she can expose them in any way and Blanche agrees to keep it quiet because Ida's marriage would be advantageous to her.