Skip to comments.Gilbert and Sullivan understood what is happening today
Posted on 04/27/2013 9:04:15 AM PDT by chajin
This is from The Gondoliers, an 1889 comic opera by Gilbert & Sullivan, copied from www.gutenberg.org. The song occurs in Act II.
As I was doing some quick research this morning and came upon this, I had an epiphanic experience: Gilbert (the librettist) was describing the essence of a positive-rights, equality-of-success society, and how it ultimately concludes with an upside-down-ness, placing shoddiness on a pedestal, as we see in much of our society today.
The whole of the opera can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tUNvZqTfK-I; this particular song begins right after 1:37:00.
SONGDON ALHAMBRA, with MARCO and GIUSEPPE.
DON AL. There lived a King, as I've been told, In the wonder-working days of old, When hearts were twice as good as gold, And twenty times as mellow. Good-temper triumphed in his face, And in his heart he found a place For all the erring human race And every wretched fellow. When he had Rhenish wine to drink It made him very sad to think That some, at junket or at jink, Must be content with toddy.
MAR. and GIU. With toddy, must be content with toddy.
DON AL. He wished all men as rich as he (And he was rich as rich could be), So to the top of every tree Promoted everybody.
MAR. and GIU. Now, that's the kind of King for me. He wished all men as rich as he, So to the top of every tree Promoted everybody!
DON AL. Lord Chancellors were cheap as sprats, And Bishops in their shovel hats Were plentiful as tabby cats In point of fact, too many. Ambassadors cropped up like hay, Prime Ministers and such as they Grew like asparagus in May, And Dukes were three a penny. On every side Field-Marshals gleamed, Small beer were Lords-Lieutenant deemed, With Admirals the ocean teemed All round his wide dominions.
MAR. and GIU. With Admirals all round his wide dominions.
DON AL. And Party Leaders you might meet In twos and threes in every street Maintaining, with no little heat, Their various opinions.
MAR. and GIU. Now that's a sight you couldn't beat Two Party Leaders in each street Maintaining, with no little heat, Their various opinions.
DON AL. That King, although no one denies His heart was of abnormal size, Yet he'd have acted otherwise If he had been acuter. The end is easily foretold, When every blessed thing you hold Is made of silver, or of gold, You long for simple pewter. When you have nothing else to wear But cloth of gold and satins rare, For cloth of gold you cease to care Up goes the price of shoddy.
MAR. and GIU. Of shoddy, up goes the price of shoddy.
DON AL. In short, whoever you may be, To this conclusion you'll agree, When every one is somebodee, Then no one's anybody!
MAR. and GIU. Now that's as plain as plain can be, To this conclusion we agree
ALL. When every one is somebodee, Then no one's anybody!
When I saw the headline I thought you meant “I’ve Got a Little List.”
Neat. This is topical for me as we are doing “The Gondoliers”, this summer!
I love the Gondoliers. One of my students had a role in it last year, and the group did a nice job.
I have always loved this song and refer to it a lot when discussing today’s politics.
When I think of Obama another Gondoliers patter song comes to mind - that of the Duke of Plaza Toro singing “In enterprise of martial kind”. It fits.
Human nature hasn’t changed in millennia. Technology has, nations come and go, and certain institutions have evolved. But basic human nature hasn’t changed. I don’t know when The Emperor’s New Clothes was written (or is it a folk tale?) but in any case a truer parable is hard to find. We’re living through just that. Really sort of amazing, really.
He led his regiment from behind! LOL!
Thanks for posting this. Yes, G&S really lays into the Marxists and their fellow travelers.
BTW, I was in summer stock on Cape Cod and had the tiny role of Antonio which consisted of leading the opening song:
“For the merriest fellows are we
That ply on the emerald sea
With loving and laughing and quipping and quaffing
We’re happy as happy can be.”
Having gone after a left-wing dream utopia in the Gondoliers, in contrast G&S devoted an entire comic operetta, “Utopia Limited” to going after a right-wing dream corporate utopia where every person is a limited liability entity. Utopia concludes with the elites (bureaucrats, military, MDs, lawyers) bored to tears with their idyllic life without anything to do and they leap to embrace the inefficiency and chaos of “two-party” government.
“Gilbert’s libretto satirises limited liability companies, and particularly the idea that a bankrupt company could leave creditors unpaid without any liability on the part of its owners. It also lampoons the Joint Stock Company Act by imagining the absurd convergence of natural persons (or sovereign nations) with legal commercial entities under the limited companies laws.”
“Utopia has transformed itself into a “more perfect” replica of Britain it has built an army, a navy, and courts, purified its literature and drama, and wholeheartedly adopted Mr. Goldbury’s proposal, so that every person now is a limited liability entity.”
“Scaphio and Phantis, however, have succeeded in convincing the people of Utopia that the changes are for the worse (”Upon our sea-girt land”). For example, there has been an end to war, making the army and navy useless; sanitation is so good that the doctors are unemployed; and so perfect are the laws that crime has all but ended, emptying the courts and leaving lawyers jobless. The people demand that the changes be revoked. Paramount asks his daughter for a solution, and, after a little prodding from Sir Bailey Barre, she realizes that she has forgotten “the most essential element” of British civilisation: Government by Party! Under the two-party system, each party will so confound the efforts of the other that no progress will be made, leading to the happy result that everyone seeks. The crowd is overjoyed, Scaphio and Phantis are thrown in prison, and the curtain falls as the people sing their praises of “a little group of isles beyond the wave” Great Britain.”