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Theatre / The Yeomen of the Guard

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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:

  • Abhorrent Admirer:
    • Sergeant Meryll has Dame Carruthers, whom he finds too old to be attractive.
    • Phoebe has Wilfred Shadbolt, whom she detests for his occupation as jailer at the Tower of London.
  • And Now You Must Marry Me: Not one, but two major characters are forced into loveless marriages to detested admirers who have enough dirt on them to get them executed. Marriage to said admirers is the price of their silence.
  • Author Filibuster: "I've Wisdom from the East and from the West" appears to be Gilbert himself explaining his use of comedy.
  • Dark Reprise: "I Have a Song to Sing, O!" first appears as an uplifting song and dance in the first act, with the (more depressing) first and third verses slightly altered for their reprise at the end.
  • Darker and Edgier / Downer Ending: Most Gilbert and Sullivan plays end with all of the leads happily married off. In Yeomen, two of the three marriages are forced and loveless on one side and Dogged Nice Guy Jack Point appears to die of a broken heart after his love interest is reunited with his rival.
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  • Dogged Nice Guy: Jack Point "is not yet married to Elsie Maynard, but time works wonders..."
  • Face Death with Dignity: Fairfax, facing execution for a crime he did not commit, appears to have accepted his fate in his song, "Is Life a Boon?" In it, he notes that if life is good ("Is life a boon?") then it doesn't matter how much time people are given, they'll always want more; and if life is not good ("Is life a thorn?") then it's just as well to get it over with.
  • 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 1520. note 
  • Job Song: "A Private Buffoon" is sung by Jack Point about his job as a jester, from a rather cynical perspective.
  • Marriage Before Romance: While waiting to be executed Fairfax marries Elise in order to prevent his property being inherited by those who have falsely accused him. She is blindfolded for the ceremony and he is too distracted to remember her face so that when they meet later neither recognizes the other. They then proceed to fall in love.
  • 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 (not to mention the center of a third). 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.
  • Never Say "Die": According to the stage directions, Jack "falls insensible".
  • 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, "I've Jibe and Joke" and "Oh, a Private Buffoon", as well as a patter duet with Wilfred in "Like a Ghost His Vigil Keeping". Sgt. Meryll and Dame Carruthers have a semi-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, professional jester. The story doesn't end well for him, and some productions depict him as sickly.
  • She Is All Grown Up: Played with. When Phœbe 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.
  • Something Completely Different: Yeomen is very different from Gilbert and Sullivan's other collaborations, to accommodate Sullivan's desire to do more serious work. Yeomen is much darker in tone than other G&S works; it's an outright tragedy instead of the usual light comedy, with a downer ending instead of the usual armload of marriages; it alone has no satire of British institutions; it alone has a cast that includes someone who actually existed; it alone starts with a solo instead of the usual chorus; and it alone has an opera-style overture instead of the usual medley of tunes from the show.
  • So Unfunny, It's Funny / Incredibly Lame Pun: Jack Point's attempts to impress the Lieutenant are this.
  • Spanner in the Works: In order to prevent his accusers from inheriting his property after his execution Fairfax marries Elsie so that she will inherit instead. When he is rescued his escape is complicated by the fact that he is now married.
  • 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. note 


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