Gilbert and Sullivan: Gender, Genre, Parody by Carolyn Williams

By Carolyn Williams

Lengthy ahead of the satirical comedy of The day-by-day convey and The Colbert document, the comedian operas of W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan have been the most well liked send-ups of the day's political and cultural obsessions. Gilbert and Sullivan's productions regularly rose to the extent of social remark, regardless of being impertinent, absurd, or inane. a few audience might take them directly, yet what feels like sexism or stereotype was once truly a smart technique of critique. Parody used to be a strong weapon within the tradition wars of late-nineteenth-century England, and with defiantly in-your-face sophistication, Gilbert and Sullivan proved that pop culture could be intellectually in addition to politically challenging.Carolyn Williams underscores Gilbert and Sullivan's artistic and acute knowing of cultural formations. Her precise point of view exhibits how anxiousness drives the stricken brain within the Lord Chancellor's "Nightmare track" in Iolanthe and is vividly discovered within the sexual and financial phraseology of the song's patter lyrics. the trendy physique seems automatic and performative within the "Junction music" in Thespis, expecting Charlie Chaplin's manufacturing unit employee in glossy instances. Williams additionally illuminates using magic in The Sorcerer, the parody of nautical melodrama in H.M.S. Pinafore, the ridicule of Victorian aesthetic and idyllic poetry in endurance, the autoethnography of The Mikado, the function of gender in Trial through Jury, and the topic of illegitimacy in The Pirates of Penzance. along with her provocative reinterpretation of those artists and their paintings, Williams recasts our knowing of creativity within the overdue 19th century. (7/1/11)

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Additional info for Gilbert and Sullivan: Gender, Genre, Parody

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On its most profound level, genre parody thus reflects on the process of historical generalization itself. This viewpoint makes the twisted stereotypes of Savoy opera much more critically interesting than they otherwise would be. Even the recognizable types of modern social life must be seen as aesthetic creations, while the conventional literary and theatrical types must be associated with their histories of formation. In this respect, Savoy opera—despite its refusal to be overtly argumentative, consistent, or sometimes even coherent about a political agenda—can be credited with provoking real cultural critique.

But we must focus on it if we are to understand the way these operas contribute to the discussion of gender in late Victorian England. 32 Most important, the Chorus takes part in the dramatic action, and it thereby performs a critical parody of the conventions of grand opera. Gilbert’s first opera burlesque, Dulcamara! or, The Little Duck and the Great Quack (1866), makes this intention clear, simultaneously lampooning both the hackneyed conventions of opera and the conventions of their burlesque parody, such as rhyming couplets and songs set to familiar music: You’re in a village during harvest time, Where all the humblest peasants talk in rhyme, And sing about their pleasures and their cares In parodies of all the well-known airs.

For example, take the old joke about recognition itself. ” In La Vivandière; or, True to the Corps (1867), Gilbert’s “operatic extravaganza” on Donizetti’s La fille du régiment (The Daughter of the Regiment, 1840), Gilbert wreaks havoc with this convention. Sergeant Sulpizio says to Lord Margate: Say, are you covered, pardon the allusion, With strawberry marks in prodigal confusion?  . ” To which Sulpizio replies: “Then you are not the Earl of Margate!  . ” To which Sulpizio responds: “Ha! ” The humor of this scene depends first on the hyperbolic proliferation of strawberry marks, an apt reminder that this sort of recognition scene has been staged many, many times.

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