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Encyclopedia > The Yeomen of the Guard

The Yeomen of the Guard, or The Merryman and his Maid, is the eleventh of Gilbert and Sullivan's operettas. It premièred at the Savoy Theatre on 3rd October 1888 and ran for four hundred and twenty three performances. It is set in the Tower of London during the 16th century and is the darkest of the Savoy Operas, though it does contain considerable humour and substantial traces of Gilbert's trademark satire and topsy-turvydom. The dialogue, though in prose, is somewhat Shakespearian in its language, being in early modern English. Despite its title, the operetta is clearly about the Yeomen Warders rather than the Yeomen of the Guard. Playwright/lyricist William S. Gilbert (1836-1911) and composer Arthur S. Sullivan (1842-1900) defined operetta or comic operas in Victorian England with a series of their internationally successful and timeless works known as the Savoy Operas. ... Operetta (literally, little opera) is a performance art-form similar to opera, though it generally deals with less serious topics. ... Savoy Theatre London, December 2003 The Savoy Theatre, which opened on 10 October 1881, was built by Richard DOyly Carte (1844 - 1901) on the site of the old Savoy Palace in London as a showcase for the works of Gilbert and Sullivan, which became known as the Savoy Operas... The Tower of London, seen from the river, with a view of the water gate called Traitors Gate. ... (15th century - 16th century - 17th century - more centuries) As a means of recording the passage of time, the 16th century was that century which lasted from 1501 to 1600. ... The Savoy Operas are a series of operettas written by Gilbert and Sullivan. ... Sir William Schwenck Gilbert (November 18, 1836 – May 29, 1911) was a British dramatist and librettist best known for his operatic collaborations with the composer Sir Arthur Sullivan. ... Satire is a literary technique of writing or art which exposes the follies of its subject (for example, individuals, organizations, or states) to ridicule, often as an intended means of provoking or preventing change. ... Wikipedia does not yet have an article with this exact name. ... Early modern English is a name for the modern English language the way it was used between around 1485 and 1650. ... A Beefeater in everyday undress uniform The Yeomen Warders of Her Majestys Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, popularly known as the Beefeaters, are ceremonial guardians of the Tower of London. ... The Queens Body Guard of the Yeomen of the Guard are a bodyguard of the British Monarch. ...


Yeomen is not among the most popular of Gilbert and Sullivan's works today (lagging somewhat behind the 'big three', HMS Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado), perhaps because it is not as light-hearted, topsy-turvy and immediately enjoyable as a 'comic opera' as the other Savoy Operas. It is thought, however, to have been Sullivan's favourite (for much the same reason) and Gilbert listed it among his top three, along with Ruddigore and Utopia, Limited, and commented shortly before the opening of their next piece, The Gondoliers (which pre-dated Utopia but not Ruddigore), "I thought The Yeomen of the Guard the best thing we had done, but I am told that the public like the topsy-turvy best, so this time they are going to get it." Wikisource has original text related to this article: HMS Pinafore H.M.S. Pinafore, or The Lass that Loved a Sailor, is a comic Gilbert and Sullivan operetta in two acts, with music by composer Arthur S. Sullivan and libretto by William S. Gilbert. ... The Pirates of Penzance, or The Slave of Duty, is a Gilbert and Sullivan comic operetta in two acts. ... The Mikado, or The Town of Titipu, is a comic Gilbert and Sullivan operetta in two acts. ... Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan (May 13, 1842–November 22, 1900) was a British composer best known for his operatic collaborations with librettist William S. Gilbert. ... Ruddigore, or The Witchs Curse, is a comic Gilbert and Sullivan operetta in two acts, with music by composer Arthur S. Sullivan and libretto by William S. Gilbert. ... Utopia, Limited or, The Flowers of Progress, is the second-to-last collaboration between composer Arthur Sullivan and librettist/satirist W.S. Gilbert. ... The Gondoliers is a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta written by William S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. ...

Contents


Dramatis personae

  • Sir Richard Cholmondeley [pronounced Chum'lee], Lieutenant of the Tower (baritone)
  • Colonel Fairfax, under sentence of death (tenor)
  • Sergeant Meryll of the Yeomen of the Guard (bass)
  • Leonard Meryll, his son (tenor)
  • Jack Point, a strolling jester (baritone)
  • Wilfred Shadbolt, Head Jailer and Assistant Tormentor (bass)
  • The Headsman (silent/chorus)
  • First Yeoman (tenor)
  • Second Yeoman (bass)
  • Third Yeoman (tenor)1
  • Fourth Yeoman (bass)1
  • First Citizen (speaking/chorus)
  • Second Citizen (speaking/chorus)
  • Elsie Maynard, a strolling singer (soprano)
  • Phoebe Meryll, Sergeant Meryll's daughter (mezzo-soprano)
  • Dame Carruthers, Housekeeper to the Tower (alto)
  • Kate, her niece (soprano)
  • Chorus of Yeomen of the Guard, gentlemen, citizens etc.

This is an article on the voice type. ... In music, a tenor is a male singer with a high voice (although not as high as a countertenor). ... A basso (or bass) is a male singer who sings in the lowest vocal range of the human voice. ... A jester or fool is a specific type of clown mostly associated with the Middle Ages. ... For other meanings of the term, see executioner (disambiguation). ... Look up Soprano in Wiktionary, the free dictionary In music, a soprano is a singer with a voice ranging approximately from the A below middle C to the C two octaves above middle C (i. ... A mezzo-soprano (meaning medium soprano in Italian) is a female singer with a range usually extending from the A below middle C to the F an eleventh above middle C. Mezzo-sopranos generally have a darker (or lower) vocal tone than sopranos, and their vocal range is between that... In music, an alto is a singer with a vocal range somewhere between a tenor and a mezzo-soprano. ...

Plot

Act 1

Phoebe Meryll sits spinning, sighing and singing of the pain of love. The jailer and torturer Wilfred Shadbolt enters and Phoebe mocks him, disgusted at his profession. He in turn mocks Colonel Fairfax, whom she loves and who is to be beheaded for sorcery; she replies that he is a scientist and alchemist and leaves Wilfred to suffer from his love for her. He leaves and the citizens and Yeomen arrive, singing of the latter's charge erstwhile valiant deeds. Dame Carruthers enters, dismisses protestations by Phoebe and a Yeoman of Fairfax's innocence and, vexed by Phoebe's hatred of the Tower, sings its praises. All but Phoebe leave and she is joined by her father, Sergeant Meryll, who reports that her brother Leonard has been appointed a Yeoman for his valour in battle and is on his way, and may bring the Colonel's reprieve. He reminisces on his son's boyhood and more recent deeds. Leonard enters bearing a despatch for the Lieutenant of the Tower but no reprieve. His father, eager to save the man who twice saved his life, announces a plan: Leonard will hide and Fairfax, sprung from his cell, will assume his guise; Phoebe is charged with getting cell's the key from Wilfred.


Leonard leaves and Fairfax enters, guarded by Yeomen. Sir Richard Cholmondeley, the Lieutenant, meets him, greeting him as an old friend. Fairfax bears his impending fate without sadness, but despite his philosophically cheerful song on the subject Phoebe cannot bear it and leaves in tears with her father. Fairfax asks a boon of the Lieutenant: the charge of sorcery was the doing of his wicked cousin Sir Clarence Poltwhistle, who will inherit his estate if he dies unmarried; he therefore wishes to be married by his confessor to any available woman, who will inherit his hundred crowns. The Lieutenant agrees and leaves.


Just then Jack Point the jester and Elsie Maynard the singer arrive, pursued by a crowd which demands merriment and threatens to throw Point into the river should he fail to deliver handsomely. Elsie, objecting to a man's attentions, boxes his ears, which amuses Point. They entertain the crowd with the song of The Merryman and his Maid: it tells of a merryman sad from his love for a maiden who laughs at him and in her turn loves a lord, but the latter rejects her; she returns on her knees to the first man and begs for his love, which he gives, and their sorrow is over. Another citizen tries to kiss Elsie and violence is averted only by the Lieutenant's arrival. They introduce themselves and Point explains that Elsie's mother Bridget is very ill and they seek money to buy things for her. The Lieutenant offers Elsie a chance to earn a hundred crowns, which could save her mother's life, by marrying Fairfax. Point, who intends to marry her himself, agrees once assured that the Colonel will die straight afterwards. Elsie consents and is blindfolded and led off by Wilfred. The Lieutenant tells Point that he has a vacancy for a jester and Point tells him of his skills and tries out some jokes. The Lieutenant is little impressed but leads Point off to discuss the matter further.


Wilfred leads Elsie back on and leaves her to reflect on her marriage of a moment ago. She leaves again and Wilfred returns, wondering what they were up to in Fairfax's cell. Phoebe arrives and, forgetting herself, abuses Wilfred as usual before seductively distracting him as she reaches for the keys, which she gives surreptitiously to her father, who goes. Phoebe continues, singing of an imagined happy marriage with Wilfred, until her father returns the keys, which she returns to Wilfred, abruptly shattering the fantasy and leaving him nevertheless hopeful. He goes and Meryll arrives with Fairfax disguised as his son. The Yeomen come to greet 'Leonard', who insists that the tales of his bravery are much exaggerated. He flounders when Phoebe greets him, not having been introduced to her, but Wilfred helpfully identifies her, announcing to him (untruthfully) their betrothal and commends her to the care of her 'brother' until the marriage.


All is ready for the execution and Wilfred, 'Leonard' and two Yeomen go to fetch Fairfax. The Yeomen return and Fairfax announces his own disappearance. The Lieutenant leaves, returning with Wilfred and declaring his life forfeit instead. Wilfred protests his innocence and all wonder - not all honestly - how the prisoner could have escaped. Elsie is distraught, as is Point; the former faints in Fairfax's arms as all but they and the Headsman rush off to hunt for Fairfax.


Act 2

Night has fallen. The women and Yeomen despair at Fairfax's flight. Dame Carruthers enters with her niece Kate and berates the Yeomen for letting him escape; they reply that they have searched everywhere but in vain. All leave and Jack Point (now employed by the Lieutenant) enters, brushing up on his jests. Wilfred joins him and they complain of their respective professions; Wilfred says he'd rather be a jester, and Point begins to tell him how to go about it by means of a patter song. He then reveals the secret wedding to Wilfred and offers to teach him jesting in full if he will swear, backed up by Point, that he shot Fairfax dead as he swam in the river. Wilfred agrees and they go. Fairfax enters, still disguised as Leonard Meryll, mourning his state of marriage to a bride he cannot identify (for her face was concealed).


Sergeant Meryll arrives and says that Elsie, whose shock struck her ill and who has been placed in his charge, has recovered thanks to Dame Carruthers's nursing, and that he is glad the latter will be going, as she, whom he cannot stand, wants to marry him. She then enters with Kate and announces that the latter heard Elsie talking in her sleep about her secret wedding. The other three leave Fairfax alone, pleased to find that his wife is Elsie intent on testing her loyalty by wooing his own wife as Leonard. She rejects him as a married woman should and he withdraws.


Just then a shot is heard and Meryll enters, followed by the chorus, they in turn by the Lieutenant, Point and Wilfred, who, with the jester's support, declares that he saw someone creeping about, fell upon him, identified him as Colonel Fairfax, was overpowered, saw him dive into the river and, being unable to swim, seized an arquebus and shot him dead. The Lieutenant orders the crowd to search for the body and Wilfred is carried off as a hero. Elsie, Fairfax, Phoebe and Point are left and Point tries to persuade Elsie, as she is now free, to marry him. Fairfax tells Point that he doesn't know how to woo and, assisted by Elsie and Phoebe, begins to instruct him, following this up with a most effective demonstration on Elsie. Point, most alarmed, protests, but Fairfax tells him to find another maid. Phoebe, seeing her 'brother' and beloved pledged to another, bursts into tears. Point wishes he was dead. The Arquebus (sometimes spelled harquebus or hackbut) was a primitive firearm used in the 15th to 17th centuries. ...


All but Phoebe leave. Wilfred joins her and she, rendered incautious by her grief and her intense dislike of her lover, inadvertently reveals that 'Leonard' is in fact Fairfax. Seeing that the game is up, she desparately buys Wilfred's silence with her hand in marriage. The real Leonard then returns and announces Fairfax's reprieve, which had merely been delayed by the scheming Poltwhistle. He goes and his father enters, followed by an unseen Dame Carruthers. Phoebe tells him of her folly and goes with Wilfred, whereupon Dame Carruthers reveals herself to Meryll and threatens to expose him; he, disgustedly but to her delight, buys her silence with his hand.


It is time for Elsie's wedding to 'Leonard'. She enters joyfully, hailed by the women, but the Lieutenant arrives and announces that her husband Fairfax lives. All are distraught. Fairfax enters, this time as himself, and has a joke at his wife's expense: Elsie begs for his mercy but he is adamant and claims her as his bride. Then Elsie sees him close up and, of course, recognises him as the 'Leonard' who wooed her. All once again erupt into joy. Then Jack Point enters. Tearfully he reprises The Merryman and his Maid with sorrowful aptness. Elsie replies with her verse, but changes the words: though she still loves Fairfax, she drops a tear for Point instead of laughing at him. While the chorus joins in the final mournful "Heighdy!" Fairfax embraces Elsie as Point falls insensible at their feet2.


Musical numbers

  • Overture

Act One

  • When maiden loves, she sits and sighs (Phoebe)
  • When jealous tormets rack my soul (Wilfred)1
  • Tower warders, under orders (Crowd and Yeomen, solo Second Yeoman)
  • When our gallant Norman foes (Dame Carruthers and Yeomen)
  • A laughing boy but yesterday (Meryll)1
  • Alas! I waver to and fro (Phoebe, Leonard and Meryll)
  • Is life a boon? (Fairfax)
  • Here's a man of jollity (Chorus)
  • The Merryman and his Maid/I have a song to sing, O! (Point, Elsie and chorus)
  • How say you maiden, will you wed (Lieutenant, Elsie, Point)
  • I've jibe and joke (Point)
  • 'Tis done! I am a bride! (Elsie)
  • Were I thy bride (Phoebe)
  • Finale (Ensemble)

Act Two

  • Night has spread her pall once more (People, Dame Carruthers, Yeomen)
  • Oh! A private buffoon is a light-hearted loon (Point)
  • Tell a tale of cock and bull (Point and Wilfred)
  • Free from his fetters grim (Fairfax)
  • Strange adventure! (Kate, Dame Carruthers, Fairfax, Meryll)
  • Hark! What was that, sir? (Meryll, Fairfax, Lieutenant, Wilfred, Point, Ensemble)
  • A man who would woo a fair maid (Fairfax, Elsie, Phoebe)
  • When a wooer goes a-wooing (Elsie, Fairfax, Phoebe, Point)
  • Rapture, rapture (Dame Carruthers, Sergeant Meryll)
  • Finale (Ensemble)

Cut music

A substantial quantity of music was cut from Yeomen during rehearsals or early in the first run. Wilfred's solo "When jealous torments rack my soul", in which he mourns his love for Phoebe, was cut in rehearsal. Sergeant Meryll's solo "A laughing boy but yesterday" was cut after the first night. The third and fourth verses of the section of the finale to Act One in which the Yeomen remind 'Leonard' of his brave deeds were cut shortly before the first night (thus removing the roles of the Third and Fourth Yeomen, who have no other lines of dialogue or song except as part of the chorus of Yeomen). Some modern productions include some or all of these. Furthermore, the version of Fairfax's first solo "Is life a boon?" usually sung today is the second version; Sullivan took a dislike to his first version and re-wrote it. The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive's Yeomen section (see below) includes lyrics, vocal scores and MIDI files of the two cut solos, and the 1993 D'Oyly Carte recording (details in the discography; see "External Links") includes all the cut music and both versions of "Is life a boon?". Musical Instrument Digital Interface, or MIDI, is a system designed to transmit information between electronic musical instruments. ... Richard DOyly Carte (May 3, 1844 – April 3, 1901) was a London theatrical impresario during the latter half of the nineteenth century. ... Discography is the study and listing of sound recordings. ...


External link

  • The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive's section on Yeomen has a wealth of information and material including a Web Opera (full lyrics, dialogue and MIDI files) and a link to a detailed discograhpy.

Notes

  1. Optional - see "Cut music"
  2. Some directors and actors interpret this as suicide, or at least death from a broken heart.

 
 

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