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Theatre / Trial by Jury

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A comic opera in one act by Gilbert and Sullivan, their second collaboration and oldest to survive intact.note  First produced in 1875, humorously dramatizing an action filed in the Court of Exchequer by Angelina against Edwin.

Remedy: "Substantial damages."

Cause of Action: Breach of Promise of Marriage.

Pleadings: Defendant pleads that he was acting as a "love-sick boy" who left the plaintiff after he grew bored with her. Plaintiff is, by her own admission, "no unhappy maid," but nevertheless charges the defendant with having cruelly deprived her of his love.

Issues: "A nice dilemma we have here." May the defendant propose to marry the plaintiff today and marry his intended young lady tomorrow, or does marrying both count as "Burglaree"?

Finding: The jurymen find they "haven't a scrap of sympathy with the defendant." After further deliberations, jury find that they love the plaintiff fondly. The Judge ultimately can find no time to address all the pleadings.

Holding: Every gentleman of the jury wants to hold the fair plaintiff in his arms. The Judge awards her an embrace of his own.

Tropes appearing in Court:

  • Adaptation Expansion: Trial by Jury was originally a one-page filler for a comic magazine. It did contain lyrics, some of which appear in the final version, but it jumps from Angelina's arrival straight to the twist ending, eliminating all the build-up. It works much better in the final form.
  • Bowdlerise: When the defendant enters the court, he sings "Is this the Court of the Exchequer?" and then aside Be firm, be firm, my pecker, as in British slang "pecker" meant "courage". This has been altered in some modern productions to "Of many a man the wrecker," to avoid awkward explanations.
  • Breach of Promise of Marriage: Gilbert and Sullivan fans will recognize this play as a Breach of Promise case. When the plaintiff enters, the first line the chorus of bridesmaids sings is, "Comes the broken flower", suggesting a seduce-and-abandon scenario. In a particularly hypocritical moment, the Judge reveals that his backstory also involved callously committing Breach of Promise to get ahead in his career.
    • For some, this is actually what introduced them to “Breach of Promise of Marriage” cases in general.
  • Chewbacca Defense: Naturally enough, since everyone in the courtroom operates on Insane Troll Logic.
  • Corrupt Politician: The great Judge happens to be a greedy and power-hungry buffoon, who gleefully admits to committing and getting away with the same tort the defendant is accused of.
    Judge: Though all my law is fudge,
    Yet I'll never, never budge,
    But I'll live and die a Judge!
    Chorus: And a good Judge too!
  • Domestic Abuse: The defendant suggests he would thrash and kick the plaintiff, not as a threat but to try to convince the jury that he'd have been a terrible husband, so the plaintiff isn't missing much by not being able to marry him and shouldn't get much in damages even if she wins.
  • Gold Digger: The Judge got his big break in practicing law by courting the ugly daughter of a wealthy attorney... who he dumped after getting the judgeship.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: "Be firm, be firm, my pecker." His pecker is his nose or his courage; he's trying to keep a Stiff Upper Lip, not a stiff...something else. Also, the Judge has a brief that he "bought off a booby" meaning a foolish person.
  • Hollywood Law: Everyone involved in the trial is blatantly biased in favor of the plaintiff.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    • The Usher urges the jury that "from bias free of every kind, this trial must be tried", then sympathizes with the "broken-hearted bride" and instructs the jury not to pay attention to anything the "ruffianly defendant" might say.
    • The Judge tells the story of how he came to be a Judge, which involved committing breach of promise of marriage, the same thing the defendant is accused of.
  • "I Am" Song: The Judge explains in the song "When I, Good Friends, Was Called To The Bar" how he came to be a Judge.
  • Incessant Chorus: The judge is repeatedly interrupted by the jury and the ladies in the gallery.
    Silence in cooooooooooourt!
  • Jerkass: Played for Laughs as both the defendant and the judge demonstrate their caddish characters in song.
  • Joker Jury: The entire jury promptly falls in love with the plaintiff and unleashes its fury on the defendant.
  • Kangaroo Court: Played for Laughs, of course.
  • Malaproper: The counsel for the plaintiff submits that "to marry two at once is Burglaree!"
  • Marry Them All: The defendant proposes that it would resolve the dilemma if he would "marry this lady today, and marry the other tomorrow." Unfortunately, this is the crime of "Burglaree."
  • Notably Quick Deliberation: The only deliberating the jury is actually asked to do is on whether the plaintiff is beautiful. After conferring for just a moment, they return the verdict, "We've but one word, my lord, and that is— rapture!"
  • Opening Chorus: "Hark, the Hour of Ten Is Sounding."
  • Pun: "Trial-la-law, trial-la-law, singing so merrily Trial-la-law!"
    • The Judge admits (see Corrupt Politician and Hypocritical Humor above) how he got his job through a "job" (archaic slang, in this sense, for a corrupt transaction) and the chorus replies, "And a good job too!"
  • Shout-Out: The defendant and plaintiff are named Edwin and Angelia after a popular romantic poem by Oliver Goldsmith.
  • Sung-Through Musical: This is the only Gilbert and Sullivan musical that contains no spoken dialogue as originally written.note 
  • That Was Objectionable: The judge proposes that they test the defendant's claim that he would beat his wife when tipsy by making him tipsy to see what happens. The counsel for the plaintiff objects to this, as does the plaintiff herself. (The defendant doesn't.)