W. S. Gilbert
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Sir William Schwenck Gilbert (18 November 1836 – 29 May 1911) was an English
dramatist A playwright or dramatist is a person who writes play (theatre), plays. Etymology The word "play" is from Middle English pleye, from Old English plæġ, pleġa, plæġa ("play, exercise; sport, game; drama, applause"). The word wikt:w"wright" i ...
,
librettist A libretto (Italian for "booklet") is the text used in, or intended for, an extended musical work such as an opera Opera is a form of theatre in which music is a fundamental component and dramatic roles are taken by Singing, singers, but is ...
, poet and illustrator best known for his
collaboration Collaboration is the process of two or more people, entities or organizations working together to complete a task or achieve a goal. Collaboration is similar to cooperation. Most collaboration requires leadership Leadership is both a researc ...
with composer
Arthur Sullivan Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan Royal Victorian Order, MVO (13 May 1842 – 22 November 1900) was an English composer. He is best known for 14 comic opera, operatic Gilbert and Sullivan, collaborations with the dramatist W. S. Gilbert, including ...

Arthur Sullivan
, which produced fourteen
comic opera Comic opera, sometimes known as light opera, is a sung dramatic work of a light or comic nature, usually with a happy ending and often including spoken dialogue. Forms of comic first developed in late 17th-century Italy. By the 1730s, a new ope ...
s. The most famous of these include '' H.M.S. Pinafore'', ''
The Pirates of Penzance ''The Pirates of Penzance; or, The Slave of Duty'' is a comic opera in two acts, with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert, W. S. Gilbert. The opera's official premiere was at the Fifth Avenue Theatre in New York Cit ...
'' and one of the most frequently performed works in the history of musical theatre, ''
The Mikado ''The Mikado; or, The Town of Titipu'' is a comic opera in two acts, with music by Arthur Sullivan Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan Royal Victorian Order, MVO (13 May 1842 – 22 November 1900) was an English composer. He is best known for ...

The Mikado
''. The popularity of these works was supported for over a century by year-round performances of them, in Britain and abroad, by the repertory company that Gilbert, Sullivan and their producer
Richard D'Oyly Carte Richard D'Oyly Carte (; 3 May 1844 – 3 April 1901) was an English talent agent, theatrical impresario An impresario (from the Italian ''impresa'', "an enterprise or undertaking") is a person who organizes and often finances concerts, plays, ...
founded, the
D'Oyly Carte Opera Company The D'Oyly Carte Opera Company is a professional British light opera company that, from the 1870s until 1982, staged Gilbert and Sullivan's Savoy operas nearly year-round in the UK and sometimes toured in Europe, North America and elsewhere. The ...
. These Savoy operas are still frequently performed in the English-speaking world and beyond. Gilbert's creative output included over 75 plays and
libretti A libretto (Italian for "booklet") is the text used in, or intended for, an extended musical work such as an opera Opera is a form of theatre in which music is a fundamental component and dramatic roles are taken by Singing, singers, but is ...
, and numerous short stories, poems and lyrics, both comic and serious. After brief careers as a government clerk and a lawyer, Gilbert began to focus, in the 1860s, on writing light verse, including his ''
Bab Ballads 250px, ''The Bab Ballads'' is a collection of light verses by W. S. Gilbert, illustrated with his own comic drawings. The book takes its title from Gilbert's childhood nickname. He later began to sign his illustrations "Bab". Gilbert wrote t ...

Bab Ballads
'', short stories, theatre reviews and illustrations, often for ''
Fun Fun is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary The ''Oxford English Dictionary'' (''OED'') is the principal historical dictionary of the English language, published by Oxford University Press (OUP). It traces the historical development o ...
'' magazine. He also began to write burlesques and his first comic plays, developing a unique absurdist, inverted style that would later be known as his "topsy-turvy" style. He also developed a realistic method of stage direction and a reputation as a strict theatre director. In the 1870s, Gilbert wrote 40 plays and libretti, including his
German Reed Entertainments '', 1871 The German Reed Entertainments were founded in 1855 and operated by Thomas German Reed (1817–1888) together with his wife, Priscilla Horton, Priscilla German Reed (née Horton) (1818–1895). At a time when the theatre in Londo ...
, several blank-verse "fairy comedies", some serious plays, and his first five collaborations with Sullivan: ''
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'', ''
Trial by Jury A jury trial, or trial by jury, is a lawful proceeding in which a jury A jury is a sworn body of people (the jurors) convened to render an impartiality, impartial verdict (a Question of fact, finding of fact on a question) officially submit ...
'', ''
The Sorcerer ''The Sorcerer'' is a two-act comic opera, with a libretto by W. S. Gilbert and music by Arthur Sullivan. It was the British duo's third operatic Gilbert and Sullivan, collaboration. The plot of ''The Sorcerer'' is based on a Christmas stor ...
'', ''H.M.S. Pinafore'' and ''The Pirates of Penzance''. In the 1880s, Gilbert focused on the Savoy operas, including ''
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'', ''
Iolanthe ''Iolanthe; or, The Peer and the Peri'' () is a comic opera with music by Arthur Sullivan Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan Royal Victorian Order, MVO (13 May 1842 – 22 November 1900) was an English composer. He is best known for 14 comic ...
'', ''The Mikado'', ''
The Yeomen of the Guard ''The Yeomen of the Guard; or, The Merryman and His Maid'', is a Savoy Opera, with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert. It premiered at the Savoy Theatre on 3 October 1888 and ran for 423 performances. This was the eleventh c ...
'' and ''
The Gondoliers ''The Gondoliers; or, The King of Barataria'' is a Savoy Opera, with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert. It premiered at the Savoy Theatre on 7 December 1889 and ran for a very successful 554 performances (at that time the f ...
''. In 1890, after this long and profitable creative partnership, Gilbert quarrelled with Sullivan and Carte concerning expenses at the Savoy Theatre; the dispute is referred to as the "carpet quarrel". Gilbert won the ensuing lawsuit, but the argument caused hurt feelings among the partnership. Although Gilbert and Sullivan were persuaded to collaborate on two last operas, they were not as successful as the previous ones. In later years, Gilbert wrote several plays, and a few operas with other collaborators. He retired, with his wife Lucy, and their ward, Nancy McIntosh, to a country estate,
Grim's Dyke Grim's Dyke (sometimes called Graeme's Dyke until late 1891)How, Harry ''The Strand Magazine'', Vol. 2, October 1891, pp. 330–41, reprinted at ''The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive'', 20 November 2011 is a house and estate in Harrow Weald, in northw ...
. He was
knighted A knight is a person granted an honorary title A title is one or more words used before or after a person's name, in certain contexts. It may signify either generation, an official position, or a professional or academic qualification. In some ...
in 1907. Gilbert died of a heart attack while attempting to rescue a young woman to whom he was giving a swimming lesson in the lake at his home. Gilbert's plays inspired other dramatists, including
Oscar Wilde Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (16 October 185430 November 1900) was an Irish poet and playwright. After writing in different forms throughout the 1880s, he became one of the most popular playwrights in London in the early 1890s. He is b ...

Oscar Wilde
and
George Bernard Shaw George Bernard Shaw (26 July 1856 – 2 November 1950), known at his insistence simply as Bernard Shaw, was an Irish playwright, critic, polemic Polemic () is contentious rhetoric Rhetoric () is the art Art is a diverse range ...

George Bernard Shaw
, and his comic operas with Sullivan inspired the later development of American
musical theatre Musical theatre is a form of theatre, theatrical performance that combines songs, spoken dialogue, acting and dance. The story and emotional content of a musical – humor, pathos, love, anger – are communicated through words, music, ...
, especially influencing
Broadway Broadway may refer to: Theatre * Broadway Theatre (disambiguation) * Broadway theatre, theatrical productions in professional theatres near Broadway, Manhattan, New York City, U.S. ** Broadway (Manhattan), the street **Broadway Theatre (53rd Str ...
librettists and lyricists. According to ''
The Cambridge History of English and American Literature ''The Cambridge History of English and American Literature'' is an encyclopedia of literary criticism that was published by Cambridge University Press between 1907 and 1921. Edited and written by an international panel of 171 leading scholars and t ...
'', Gilbert's "lyrical facility and his mastery of metre raised the poetical quality of comic opera to a position that it had never reached before and has not reached since".''The Cambridge History of English and American Literature''
Volume XIII, Chapter VIII, Section 15 (1907–21)
__TOC__


Early life and career


Beginnings

Gilbert was born at 17
Southampton Street Southampton Street is a street in central London, running north from the Strand, London, Strand to Covent Garden Market. There are restaurants in the street such as Bistro 1 and Wagamama. There are also shops such as The North Face outdoor c ...
,
Strand Strand may refer to: Topography *The flat area of land bordering a body of water, a: ** Beach ** Shoreline *Strand swamp, a type of swamp habitat in Florida Places Africa *Strand, Western Cape, a seaside town in South Africa *Strand Street, ...
, London. His father, also named
William William is a male Male (♂) is the sex of an organism that produces the gamete known as sperm. A male gamete can fuse with a larger female gamete, or ovum, in the process of fertilization. A male cannot sexual reproduction, reproduce sexually ...
, was briefly a
naval surgeon A naval surgeon, or less commonly ship's doctor, is the person responsible for the health of the ship's company aboard a warship. The term appears often in reference to Royal Navy The Royal Navy (RN) is the United Kingdom's Navy, naval warf ...
, who later became a writer of novels and short stories, some of which his son illustrated. Gilbert's mother was the former Anne Mary Bye Morris (1812–1888), the daughter of Thomas Morris, an apothecary.Stedman, Jane W
"Gilbert, Sir William Schwenck (1836–1911)"
''Oxford Dictionary of National Biography'', Oxford University Press, September 2004, online edition, May 2008, accessed 10 January 2010
Gilbert's parents were distant and stern, and he did not have a particularly close relationship with either of them. They quarrelled increasingly, and following the break-up of their marriage in 1876, his relationships with them, especially his mother, became even more strained. Gilbert had three younger sisters, two of whom were born outside England because of the family's travels during these years: Jane Morris (b. 1838 in
Milan Milan (, , Milanese Milanese (endonym in traditional orthography ''Milanes'', ''Meneghin'') is the central variety of the Western dialect of the Lombard language spoken in Milan, the rest of its Metropolitan City of Milan, metropolitan cit ...

Milan
, Italy – 1906), who married Alfred Weigall, a miniatures painter; Mary Florence (b. 1843 in
Boulogne Boulogne-sur-Mer (; pcd, Boulonne-su-Mér; nl, Bonen; la, Gesoriacum or ''Bononia''), often called just Boulogne (, ), is a coastal city in Hauts-de-France, Northern France. It is a Subprefectures in France, sub-prefecture of the Departments ...

Boulogne
, France – 1911); and Anne Maude (1845–1932). The younger two never married. Gilbert was nicknamed "Bab" as a baby, and then "Schwenck", after the surname of his great aunt and great uncle, who were also his father's godparents. As a child, Gilbert travelled to Italy in 1838 and then France for two years with his parents, who finally returned to settle in London in 1847. He was educated at
Boulogne Boulogne-sur-Mer (; pcd, Boulonne-su-Mér; nl, Bonen; la, Gesoriacum or ''Bononia''), often called just Boulogne (, ), is a coastal city in Hauts-de-France, Northern France. It is a Subprefectures in France, sub-prefecture of the Departments ...

Boulogne
, France, from the age of seven (he later kept his diary in French so that the servants could not read it), then at Western Grammar School, Brompton, London, and then at the
Great Ealing School Great Ealing School was situated on St Mary's Road, Ealing Ealing () is a district in West London (sub-region), West London, England. It is west of Charing Cross. Located within the London Borough of Ealing, it is one of the borough's seven ma ...
, where he became head boy and wrote plays for school performances and painted scenery. He then attended
King's College London King's College London (informally King's or KCL) is a public university, public research university located in London, United Kingdom, and a founding college and Member institutions of the University of London, member institution of the f ...
, graduating in 1856. He intended to take the examinations for a commission in the
Royal Artillery The Royal Regiment of Artillery, commonly referred to as the Royal Artillery (RA) and colloquially known as "The Gunners", is the artillery Artillery is a class of heavy military ranged weapons built to launch Ammunition, munitions far be ...
, but with the end of the
Crimean War The Crimean War, , was a military conflict fought from October 1853 to February 1856 in which Russia Russia ( rus, link=no, Россия, Rossiya, ), or the Russian Federation, is a country spanning Eastern Europe and Northern Asia. ...
, fewer recruits were needed, and the only commission available to Gilbert would have been in a
line regimentThe line regiments formed the majority of the regiment A regiment is a military unit. Its role and size varies markedly, depending on the country, military service, service and/or a administrative corps, specialisation. In Middle Ages, Medi ...
. Instead he joined the
Civil Service The civil service is a collective term for a sector of government composed mainly of career civil servants hired on professional merit rather than appointed or elected, whose institutional tenure typically survives transitions of political leaders ...
: he was an assistant clerk in the
Privy Council A privy council is a body that advises the head of state A head of state (or chief of state) is the public persona who officially embodies a state (polity), state#Foakes, Foakes, pp. 110–11 "he head of state He or HE may refer to: ...
Office for four years and hated it. In 1859, he joined the
Militia A militia () is generally an army An army (from Latin ''arma'' "arms, weapons" via Old French ''armée'', "armed" eminine, ground force or land force is a fighting force that fights primarily on land. In the broadest sense, it is the land-ba ...
, a part-time volunteer force formed for the defence of Britain, which he served in until 1878 (in between writing and other work), reaching the rank of captain. In 1863, he received a bequest of £300 that he used to leave the civil service and take up a brief career as a
barrister A barrister is a type of lawyer A lawyer or attorney is a person who practices law, as an advocate, attorney at lawAttorney at law or attorney-at-law, usually abbreviated in everyday speech to attorney, is the preferred term for a practisin ...

barrister
(he had already entered the
Inner Temple The Honourable Society of the Inner Temple, commonly known as the Inner Temple, is one of the four (professional associations for s and judges) in London. To be and practise as a barrister in , a person must belong to one of these Inns. It is ...

Inner Temple
as a student). His legal practice was not successful, averaging just five clients a year. To supplement his income from 1861 on, Gilbert wrote a variety of stories, comic rants, grotesque illustrations, theatre reviews (many in the form of a parody of the play being reviewed), and, under the pseudonym "Bab" (his childhood nickname), illustrated poems for several comic magazines, primarily ''
Fun Fun is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary The ''Oxford English Dictionary'' (''OED'') is the principal historical dictionary of the English language, published by Oxford University Press (OUP). It traces the historical development o ...
'', started in 1861 by H. J. Byron. He published stories, articles, and reviews in papers such as ''
The Cornhill Magazine ''The Cornhill Magazine'' (1860–1975) was a monthly Victorian magazine A magazine is a periodical literature, periodical publication which is printing, printed in Coated paper, gloss-coated and Paint sheen, matte paper. Magazines are gen ...
, London Society, Tinsley's Magazine'' and ''Temple Bar''. In addition, Gilbert was the London correspondent for ''L'Invalide Russe'' and a drama critic for the ''Illustrated London Times''. In the 1860s he also contributed to
Tom Hood Tom Hood (19 January 183520 November 1874) was an English humorist and playwright, and son of the poet and author Thomas Hood. A prolific author, in 1865 he was appointed editor of the magazine ''Fun (magazine), Fun''. He founded ''Tom Hood's ...

Tom Hood
's Christmas annuals, to ''Saturday Night'', the ''Comic News'' and the ''Savage Club Papers''. ''
The Observer ''The Observer'' is a British newspaper published on Sundays. In the same place on the political spectrum A political spectrum is a system to characterize and classify different in relation to one another. These positions sit upon one ...

The Observer
'' newspaper in 1870 sent him to France as a war correspondent reporting on the
Franco-Prussian War The Franco-Prussian War or Franco-German War,, german: Deutsch-Französischer Krieg often referred to in France as the War of 1870, was a conflict between the Second French Empire (later the Third French Republic) and the North German Confeder ...
. The poems, illustrated humorously by Gilbert, proved immensely popular and were reprinted in book form as the ''
Bab Ballads 250px, ''The Bab Ballads'' is a collection of light verses by W. S. Gilbert, illustrated with his own comic drawings. The book takes its title from Gilbert's childhood nickname. He later began to sign his illustrations "Bab". Gilbert wrote t ...

Bab Ballads
''. He would later return to many of these as source material for his plays and comic operas. Gilbert and his colleagues from ''Fun'', including ,
Tom Hood Tom Hood (19 January 183520 November 1874) was an English humorist and playwright, and son of the poet and author Thomas Hood. A prolific author, in 1865 he was appointed editor of the magazine ''Fun (magazine), Fun''. He founded ''Tom Hood's ...

Tom Hood
,
Clement Scott Clement William Scott (6 October 1841 – 25 June 1904) was an influential English theatre critic for ''The Daily Telegraph ''The Daily Telegraph'', known online and elsewhere as ''The Telegraph'' (), is a national British daily broadsheet n ...
and
F. C. Burnand Sir Francis Cowley Burnand (29 November 1836 – 21 April 1917), usually known as F. C. Burnand, was an English comic writer and prolific playwright, best known today as the librettist of Arthur Sullivan's opera '' Cox and Box''. The son of ...
(who defected to ''
Punch Punch commonly refers to: * Punch (combat) A punch is a striking blow with the fist. It is used in most martial arts and combat sports, most notably boxing Boxing is a combat sport in which two people, usually wearing boxing glove, protec ...
'' in 1862) frequented the Arundel Club, the
Savage Club The Savage Club, founded in 1857, is a gentlemen's club in London London is the capital city, capital and List of urban areas in the United Kingdom, largest city of England and the United Kingdom. The city stands on the River Thames in the s ...
, and especially Evans's café, where they had a table in competition with the ''Punch'' 'Round table'. After a relationship in the mid-1860s with the novelist Annie Thomas, Gilbert married Lucy Agnes Turner (1847–1936), whom he called "Kitty", in 1867; she was 11 years his junior. He wrote many affectionate letters to her over the years. Gilbert and Lucy were socially active both in London and later at
Grim's Dyke Grim's Dyke (sometimes called Graeme's Dyke until late 1891)How, Harry ''The Strand Magazine'', Vol. 2, October 1891, pp. 330–41, reprinted at ''The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive'', 20 November 2011 is a house and estate in Harrow Weald, in northw ...
, often holding dinner parties and being invited to others' homes for dinner, in contrast to the picture painted by fictionalisations such as the film ''Topsy-Turvy''. The Gilberts had no children, but they had many pets, including some exotic ones.


First plays

Gilbert wrote and directed several plays at school, but his first professionally produced play was ''Uncle Baby'', which ran for seven weeks in the autumn of 1863. In 1865–66, Gilbert collaborated with Charles Millward on several pantomimes, including one called ''Hush-a-Bye, Baby, On the Tree Top, or, Harlequin Fortunia, King Frog of Frog Island, and the Magic Toys of Lowther Arcade'' (1866). Gilbert's first solo success came a few days after ''Hush-a-Bye Baby'' premiered. His friend and mentor, Tom Robertson, was asked to write a pantomime but did not think he could do it in the two weeks available, and so he recommended Gilbert instead. Written and rushed to the stage in 10 days, ''Dulcamara, or the Little Duck and the Great Quack'', a Victorian burlesque, burlesque of Gaetano Donizetti's ''L'elisir d'amore'', proved extremely popular. This led to a long series of further Gilbert opera burlesques, pantomimes and farces, full of awful puns (traditional in burlesques of the period),Gilbert, W. S. ''La Vivandière (Gilbert), La Vivandière, or, True to the Corps!'' (a burlesque of Donizetti's ''The Daughter of the Regiment'') though showing, at times, signs of the satire that would later be a defining part of Gilbert's work. For instance: This was followed by Gilbert's penultimate operatic parody, ''Robert the Devil (Gilbert), Robert the Devil'', a burlesque of Giacomo Meyerbeer's opera, ''Robert le diable (opera), Robert le diable'', which was part of a triple bill that opened the Gaiety Theatre, London, in 1868. The piece was Gilbert's biggest success to date, running for over 100 nights and being frequently revived and played continuously in the provinces for three years thereafter. In Victorian theatre, "[to degrade] high and beautiful themes ... had been the regular proceeding in burlesque, and the age almost expected it" However, Gilbert's burlesques were considered unusually tasteful compared to the others on the London stage. Isaac Goldberg wrote that these pieces "reveal how a playwright may begin by making burlesque of opera and end by making opera of burlesque." Gilbert would depart even further from the burlesque style from about 1869 with plays containing original plots and fewer puns. His first full-length prose comedy was ''An Old Score'' (1869).


German Reed entertainments and other plays of the early 1870s

Theatre, at the time Gilbert began writing, had fallen into disrepute. Badly translated and adapted French operettas and poorly written, prurient Victorian burlesques dominated the London stage. As Jessie Bond vividly described it, "stilted tragedy and vulgar farce were all the would-be playgoer had to choose from, and the theatre had become a place of evil repute to the righteous British householder."Bond, Jessie
''Reminiscences'', Introduction.
/ref> Bond created the mezzo-soprano roles in most of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas, and is here leading into a description of Gilbert's role reforming the Victorian theatre. From 1869 to 1875, Gilbert joined with one of the leading figures in theatrical reform, Thomas German Reed (and his wife Priscilla Horton, Priscilla), whose German Reed Entertainment, Gallery of Illustration sought to regain some of theatre's lost respectability by offering family entertainments in London. So successful were they that by 1885 Gilbert stated that original British plays were appropriate for an innocent 15-year-old girl in the audience. Three months before the opening of Gilbert's last burlesque (''The Pretty Druidess''), the first of his pieces for the Gallery of Illustration, ''No Cards'', was produced. Gilbert created six German Reed Entertainment, musical entertainments for the German Reeds, some with music composed by Thomas German Reed.List of Gilbert's Plays
at the Gilbert and Sullivan Archive, accessed 26 May 2009
The environment of the German Reeds' intimate theatre allowed Gilbert quickly to develop a personal style and freedom to control all aspects of production, including set, costumes, direction and stage management. These works were a success, with Gilbert's first big hit at the Gallery of Illustration, ''Ages Ago'', opening in 1869. ''Ages Ago'' was also the beginning of a collaboration with the composer Frederic Clay that would last seven years and produce four works.Crowther, Andrew
"''Ages Ago'' – Early Days"
The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive, 23 August 2011, accessed 21 July 2016
It was at a rehearsal for ''Ages Ago'' that Clay formally introduced Gilbert to his friend, Arthur Sullivan. The Bab Ballads and Gilbert's many early musical works gave him much practice as a lyricist even before his collaboration with Sullivan. Many of the plot elements of the German Reed Entertainments (as well as some from his earlier plays and Bab Ballads) would be reused by Gilbert later in the Gilbert and Sullivan operas. These elements include paintings coming to life (''Ages Ago'', used again in ''Ruddigore''), a deaf nursemaid binding a respectable man's son to a "pirate" instead of to a "pilot" by mistake (''Our Island Home'', 1870, reused in ''
The Pirates of Penzance ''The Pirates of Penzance; or, The Slave of Duty'' is a comic opera in two acts, with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert, W. S. Gilbert. The opera's official premiere was at the Fifth Avenue Theatre in New York Cit ...
''), and the forceful mature lady who is "an acquired taste" (''Eyes and No Eyes'', 1875, reused in ''
The Mikado ''The Mikado; or, The Town of Titipu'' is a comic opera in two acts, with music by Arthur Sullivan Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan Royal Victorian Order, MVO (13 May 1842 – 22 November 1900) was an English composer. He is best known for ...

The Mikado
''). During this time, Gilbert perfected the 'topsy-turvy' style that he had been developing in his Bab Ballads, where the humour was derived by setting up a ridiculous premise and working out its logical consequences, however absurd. Mike Leigh describes the "Gilbertian" style as follows: "With great fluidity and freedom, [Gilbert] continually challenges our natural expectations. First, within the framework of the story, he makes bizarre things happen, and turns the world on its head. Thus the Learned Judge marries the Plaintiff, the soldiers metamorphose into aesthetes, and so on, and nearly every opera is resolved by a deft moving of the goalposts ... His genius is to fuse opposites with an imperceptible sleight of hand, to blend the surreal with the real, and the caricature with the natural. In other words, to tell a perfectly outrageous story in a completely deadpan way."Leigh, Mike
"True anarchists"
''The Guardian'', 3 November 2006
At the same time, Gilbert created several "fairy comedies" at the Haymarket Theatre. This series of plays was founded upon the idea of self-revelation by characters under the influence of some magic or some supernatural interference. The first was ''The Palace of Truth'' (1870), based partly on a story by Madame de Genlis. In 1871, with ''Pygmalion and Galatea (play), Pygmalion and Galatea'', one of seven plays that he produced that year, Gilbert scored his greatest hit to date. Together, these plays and their successors such as ''The Wicked World'' (1873), ''Sweethearts (play), Sweethearts'' (1874), and ''Broken Hearts'' (1875), did for Gilbert on the dramatic stage what the German Reed entertainments had done for him on the musical stage: they established that his capabilities extended far beyond burlesque, won him artistic credentials, and demonstrated that he was a writer of wide range, as comfortable with human drama as with farcical humour. The success of these plays, especially ''Pygmalion and Galatea'', gave Gilbert a prestige that would be crucial to his later collaboration with as respected a musician as Sullivan.Wren, p. 13. During this period, Gilbert also pushed the boundaries of how far satire could go in the theatre. He collaborated with Gilbert Arthur à Beckett on ''The Happy Land'' (1873), a political satire (in part, a parody of his own ''The Wicked World''), which was briefly banned because of its unflattering caricatures of William Ewart Gladstone, Gladstone and his ministers. Similarly, ''The Realm of Joy'' (1873) was set in the lobby of a theatre performing a scandalous play (implied to be the ''Happy Land''), with many jokes at the expense of the Lord Chamberlain (the "Lord High Disinfectant", as he's referred to in the play). In ''Charity (play), Charity'' (1874), however, Gilbert uses the freedom of the stage in a different way: to provide a tightly written critique of the contrasting ways that Victorian society treated men and women who had sex outside of marriage. These works anticipated the 'problem plays' of George Bernard Shaw, Shaw and Henrik Ibsen, Ibsen.Crowther, Andrew
"''Charity'': Synopsis"
The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive, 29 November 2009, accessed 21 July 2016


As director

Once he became established, Gilbert was the stage director for his plays and operas and had strong opinions on how they should best be performed. He was strongly influenced by the innovations in "stagecraft", now called stage direction, by the playwrights James Planché and especially . Gilbert attended rehearsals directed by Robertson to learn this art first-hand from the older director, and he began to apply it in some of his earliest plays. He sought realism in acting, settings, costumes, and movement, if not in content of his plays (although he did write a romantic comedy in the "naturalist" style, as a tribute to Robertson, ''Sweethearts (play), Sweethearts''). He shunned self-conscious interaction with the audience, and insisted on a style of portrayal in which characters were never aware of their own absurdity, but were coherent internal wholes. In Gilbert's 1874 burlesque, ''Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (Gilbert), Rosencrantz and Guildenstern'', the character Hamlet, in his speech to the players, sums up Gilbert's theory of comic acting: "I hold that there is no such antick fellow as your bombastical hero who doth so earnestly spout forth his folly as to make his hearers believe that he is unconscious of all incongruity". Robertson "introduced Gilbert both to the revolutionary notion of disciplined rehearsals and to mise-en-scène or unity of style in the whole presentation – direction, design, music, acting." Like Robertson, Gilbert demanded discipline in his actors. He required that his actors know their words perfectly, enunciate them clearly and obey his stage directions, ideas new to many actors of the day.Cox-Ife, ''foreword'' A major innovation was the replacement of the star actor with the disciplined ensemble, "raising the director to a new position of dominance" in the theatre.Stedman, Jane W
"General Utility: Victorian Author-Actors from Knowles to Pinero"
''Educational Theatre Journal'', Vol. 24, No. 3, October 1972, pp. 289–301, The Johns Hopkins University Press
"That Gilbert was a good director is not in doubt. He was able to extract from his actors natural, clear performances, which served the Gilbertian requirements of outrageousness delivered straight." Gilbert prepared meticulously for each new work, making models of the stage, actors and set pieces, and designing every action and bit of business in advance. He would not work with actors who challenged his authority. George Grossmith wrote that, at least sometime, "Mr. Gilbert is a perfect autocrat, insisting that his words should be delivered, even to an inflection of the voice, as he dictates. He will stand on the stage beside the actor or actress, and repeat the words with appropriate action over and over again, until they are delivered as he desires them to be." Even during long runs and revivals, Gilbert closely supervised the performances of his plays, making sure that the actors did not make unauthorised additions, deletions or paraphrases. Gilbert was famous for demonstrating the action himself, even as he grew older. Gilbert himself went on stage occasionally, including several performances as the Associate in ''
Trial by Jury A jury trial, or trial by jury, is a lawful proceeding in which a jury A jury is a sworn body of people (the jurors) convened to render an impartiality, impartial verdict (a Question of fact, finding of fact on a question) officially submit ...
'', as substitute for the injured Kyrle Bellew in a charity matinee of ''Broken Hearts'', and in charity matinees of his one-act plays, such as King Claudius in ''Rosencrantz and Guildenstern''.


Collaboration with Sullivan


First collaborations amidst other works

In 1871, John Hollingshead commissioned Gilbert to work with Sullivan on a holiday piece for Christmas, ''Thespis (opera), Thespis, or The Gods Grown Old'', at the Gaiety Theatre, London, Gaiety Theatre. ''Thespis'' outran five of its nine competitors for the 1871 holiday season, and its run was extended beyond the length of a normal run at the Gaiety, However, nothing more came of it at that point, and Gilbert and Sullivan went their separate ways. Gilbert worked again with Clay on ''Happy Arcadia'' (1872), and with Alfred Cellier on ''Topsyturveydom'' (1874), as well as writing several farces, operetta libretti, extravaganzas, fairy comedies, adaptations from novels, translations from the French, and the dramas described above. Also in 1874, he published his last contribution for ''Fun'' magazine (''"Rosencrantz and Guildenstern"''), after a gap of three years, then resigned due to disapproval of the new owner's other publishing interests. It would be nearly four years after ''Thespis'' was produced before the two men worked together again. In 1868, Gilbert had published a short comic sketch in ''Fun'' magazine titled "Trial by Jury: An Operetta". In 1873, Gilbert was asked by the theatrical manager, Carl Rosa, to write a work for his planned 1874 season. Gilbert expanded ''Trial'' into a one-act libretto. However, Rosa's wife Euphrosyne Parepa-Rosa, a childhood friend of Gilbert's, died after an illness in 1874 and Rosa dropped the project. Later in 1874 Gilbert offered the libretto to
Richard D'Oyly Carte Richard D'Oyly Carte (; 3 May 1844 – 3 April 1901) was an English talent agent, theatrical impresario An impresario (from the Italian ''impresa'', "an enterprise or undertaking") is a person who organizes and often finances concerts, plays, ...
, but Carte could not use the piece at that time. By early 1875, Carte was managing the Royalty Theatre, and he needed a short opera to play as an afterpiece to Jacques Offenbach, Offenbach's ''La Périchole''. He contacted Gilbert, asked about the piece, and suggested Sullivan to set the work. Sullivan was enthusiastic, and ''
Trial by Jury A jury trial, or trial by jury, is a lawful proceeding in which a jury A jury is a sworn body of people (the jurors) convened to render an impartiality, impartial verdict (a Question of fact, finding of fact on a question) officially submit ...
'' was composed in a matter of weeks. The little piece was a runaway hit, outlasting the run of ''La Périchole'' and being revived at another theatre. Gilbert continued his quest to gain respect in and respectability for his profession. One thing that may have been holding dramatists back from respectability was that plays were not published in a form suitable for a "gentleman's library", as, at the time, they were generally cheaply and unattractively published for the use of actors rather than the home reader. To help rectify this, at least for himself, Gilbert arranged in late 1875 for publishers Chatto and Windus to print a volume of his plays in a format designed to appeal to the general reader, with an attractive binding and clear type, containing Gilbert's most respectable plays, including his most serious works, but mischievously capped off with ''Trial by Jury''. After the success of ''Trial by Jury'', there were discussions towards reviving ''Thespis'', but Gilbert and Sullivan were not able to agree on terms with Carte and his backers. The score to ''Thespis'' was never published, and most of the music is now lost. It took some time for Carte to gather funds for another Gilbert and Sullivan opera, and in this gap Gilbert produced several works including ''Tom Cobb'' (1875), ''Eyes and No Eyes'' (1875, his last German Reed Entertainment), and ''Princess Toto'' (1876), his last and most ambitious work with Clay, a three-act comic opera with full orchestra, as opposed to the shorter works for much reduced accompaniment that came before. Gilbert also wrote two serious works during this time, ''Broken Hearts'' (1875) and ''Dan'l Druce, Blacksmith'' (1876). Also during this period, Gilbert wrote, ''Engaged (play), Engaged'' (1877), which inspired
Oscar Wilde Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (16 October 185430 November 1900) was an Irish poet and playwright. After writing in different forms throughout the 1880s, he became one of the most popular playwrights in London in the early 1890s. He is b ...

Oscar Wilde
's ''The Importance of Being Earnest''. ''Engaged'' is a parody of romantic drama written in the "topsy-turvy" satiric style of many of Gilbert's Bab Ballads and the Savoy Operas—with one character pledging his love, in the most poetic and romantic language, to every single woman in the play. The story portrays some "innocent" Scottish rustics making a living by throwing trains off the lines and then charging the passengers for services and, in parallel, romance being gladly thrown over in favour of monetary gain. A ''New York Times'' reviewer wrote in 1879, "Mr Gilbert, in his best work, has always shown a tendency to present improbabilities from a probable point of view, and in one sense, therefore, he can lay claim to originality; fortunately this merit in his case is supported by a really poetic imagination. In [''Engaged''] the author gives full swing to his humor, and the result, although exceedingly ephemeral, is a very amusing combination of characters – or caricatures – and mock-heroic incidents." ''Engaged'' is still performed today, by both professional and amateur companies.


Peak collaborative years

Carte finally assembled a syndicate in 1877 and formed the Comedy Opera Company to launch a series of original English comic operas, beginning with a third collaboration between Gilbert and Sullivan, ''
The Sorcerer ''The Sorcerer'' is a two-act comic opera, with a libretto by W. S. Gilbert and music by Arthur Sullivan. It was the British duo's third operatic Gilbert and Sullivan, collaboration. The plot of ''The Sorcerer'' is based on a Christmas stor ...
'', in November 1877. This work was a modest success, and '' H.M.S. Pinafore'' followed in May 1878. Despite a slow start, mainly due to a scorching summer, ''Pinafore'' became a red-hot favourite by autumn. After a dispute with Carte over the division of profits, the other Comedy Opera Company partners hired thugs to storm the theatre one night to steal the sets and costumes, intending to mount a rival production. The attempt was repelled by stagehands and others at the theatre loyal to Carte, and Carte continued as sole impresario of the newly renamed
D'Oyly Carte Opera Company The D'Oyly Carte Opera Company is a professional British light opera company that, from the 1870s until 1982, staged Gilbert and Sullivan's Savoy operas nearly year-round in the UK and sometimes toured in Europe, North America and elsewhere. The ...
. Indeed, ''Pinafore'' was so successful that over a hundred unauthorised productions sprang up in America alone. Gilbert, Sullivan and Carte tried for many years to control the American performance copyrights over their operas, without success. For the next decade, the Savoy opera, Savoy Operas (as the series came to be known, after the Savoy Theatre, theatre Carte later built to house them) were Gilbert's principal activity. The successful comic operas with Sullivan continued to appear every year or two, several of them being among the longest-running productions up to that point in the history of the musical stage.List of longest running London shows through 1920
After ''Pinafore'' came ''
The Pirates of Penzance ''The Pirates of Penzance; or, The Slave of Duty'' is a comic opera in two acts, with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert, W. S. Gilbert. The opera's official premiere was at the Fifth Avenue Theatre in New York Cit ...
'' (1879), ''
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'' (1881), ''
Iolanthe ''Iolanthe; or, The Peer and the Peri'' () is a comic opera with music by Arthur Sullivan Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan Royal Victorian Order, MVO (13 May 1842 – 22 November 1900) was an English composer. He is best known for 14 comic ...
'' (1882), ''Princess Ida'' (1884, based on Gilbert's earlier farce, ''The Princess (play), The Princess''), ''
The Mikado ''The Mikado; or, The Town of Titipu'' is a comic opera in two acts, with music by Arthur Sullivan Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan Royal Victorian Order, MVO (13 May 1842 – 22 November 1900) was an English composer. He is best known for ...

The Mikado
'' (1885), ''Ruddigore'' (1887), ''
The Yeomen of the Guard ''The Yeomen of the Guard; or, The Merryman and His Maid'', is a Savoy Opera, with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert. It premiered at the Savoy Theatre on 3 October 1888 and ran for 423 performances. This was the eleventh c ...
'' (1888) and ''
The Gondoliers ''The Gondoliers; or, The King of Barataria'' is a Savoy Opera, with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert. It premiered at the Savoy Theatre on 7 December 1889 and ran for a very successful 554 performances (at that time the f ...
'' (1889). Gilbert not only directed and oversaw all aspects of production for these works, but he actually ''designed'' the costumes himself for ''Patience'', ''Iolanthe'', ''Princess Ida'', and ''Ruddigore''. He insisted on precise and authentic sets and costumes, which provided a foundation to ground and focus his absurd characters and situations. During this time, Gilbert and Sullivan also collaborated on one other major work, the oratorio ''The Martyr of Antioch'', premiered at the Leeds music festival in October 1880. Gilbert arranged the original epic poem by Henry Hart Milman into a libretto suitable for the music, and it contains some original work. During this period, also, Gilbert occasionally wrote plays to be performed elsewhere–both serious dramas (for example ''The Ne'er-Do-Weel'', 1878; and Gretchen (play), Gretchen, 1879) and humorous works (for example ''Foggerty's Fairy'', 1881). However, he no longer needed to turn out multiple plays each year, as he had done before. Indeed, during the more than nine years that separated ''The Pirates of Penzance'' and ''The Gondoliers'', he wrote just three plays outside of the partnership with Sullivan. Only one of these works, ''Comedy and Tragedy'', proved successful. Although ''Comedy and Tragedy'' had a short run due to the lead actress refusing to act during Holy Week, the play was revived regularly. With respect to ''Brantinghame Hall'', Stedman writes, "It was a failure, the worst failure of Gilbert's career." In 1878, Gilbert realised a lifelong dream to play Harlequinade, Harlequin, which he did at the Gaiety Theatre as part of an amateur charity production of ''The Forty Thieves'', partly written by himself. Gilbert trained for Harlequin's stylised dancing with his friend John D'Auban, who had arranged the dances for some of his plays and would choreograph most of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas."Mr. D'Auban's 'Startrap' Jumps". ''The Times'', 17 April 1922, p. 17Biographical file for John D'Auban, list of productions and theatres, The Theatre Museum, London (2009) Producer John Hollingshead later remembered, "the gem of the performance was the grimly earnest and determined Harlequin of W. S. Gilbert. It gave me an idea of what Oliver Cromwell would have made of the character." Another member of the cast recalled that Gilbert was tirelessly enthusiastic about the piece and often invited the cast to his home for dinner extra rehearsals. "A pleasanter, more genial, or agreeable companion than he was it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to find." In 1882, Gilbert had a telephone installed in his home and at the prompt desk at the Savoy Theatre, so that he could monitor performances and rehearsals from his home study. Gilbert had referred to the new technology in ''Pinafore'' in 1878, only two years after the device was invented and before London even had telephone service.


Carpet quarrel and end of the collaboration

Gilbert's working relationship with Sullivan sometimes became strained, especially during their later operas, partly because each man saw himself as subjugating his work to the other's, and partly due to their opposing personalities. Gilbert was often confrontational and notoriously thin-skinned, though given to acts of extraordinary kindness, while Sullivan eschewed conflict.Crowther, Andrew
"The Carpet Quarrel Explained"
The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive, 28 June 1997, accessed 22 July 2016
Gilbert imbued his libretti with "topsy-turvy" situations in which the social order was turned upside down. After a time, these subjects were often at odds with Sullivan's desire for realism and emotional content. In addition, Gilbert's political satire often poked fun at those in the circles of privilege, while Sullivan was eager to socialise among the wealthy and titled people who would become his friends and patrons. Throughout their collaboration, Gilbert and Sullivan disagreed several times over the choice of a subject. After both ''Princess Ida'' and ''Ruddigore'', which were less successful than the seven other operas from ''H.M.S. Pinafore'' to ''The Gondoliers'', Sullivan asked to leave the partnership, saying that he found Gilbert's plots repetitive and that the operas were not artistically satisfying to him. While the two artists worked out their differences, Carte kept the Savoy open with revivals of their earlier works. On each occasion, after a few months' pause, Gilbert responded with a libretto that met Sullivan's objections, and the partnership continued successfully. In April 1890, during the run of ''The Gondoliers'', however, Gilbert challenged Carte over the expenses of the production. Among other items to which Gilbert objected, Carte had charged the cost of a new carpet for the Savoy Theatre lobby to the partnership. Ford, Tom
"G&S: the Lennon/McCartney of the 19th century"
. ''Limelight Magazine'', Haymarket Media Ltd., 8 June 2011
Gilbert believed that this was a maintenance expense that should be charged to Carte alone. Gilbert confronted Carte, who refused to reconsider the accounts. Gilbert stormed out and wrote to Sullivan that "I left him with the remark that it was a mistake to kick down the ladder by which he had risen". Helen Carte wrote that Gilbert had addressed Carte "in a way that I should not have thought you would have used to an offending menial." The scholar Andrew Crowther has commented:
After all, the carpet was only one of a number of disputed items, and the real issue lay not in the mere money value of these things, but in whether Carte could be trusted with the financial affairs of Gilbert and Sullivan. Gilbert contended that Carte had at best made a series of serious blunders in the accounts, and at worst deliberately attempted to swindle the others. It is not easy to settle the rights and wrongs of the issue at this distance, but it does seem fairly clear that there was something very wrong with the accounts at this time. Gilbert wrote to Sullivan on 28 May 1891, a year after the end of the "Quarrel", that Carte had admitted "an unintentional overcharge of nearly £1,000 in the electric lighting accounts alone."
Gilbert brought suit, and after ''The Gondoliers'' closed in 1891, he withdrew the performance rights to his libretti, vowing to write no more operas for the Savoy.Shepherd, Marc
"Introduction: Historical Context"
''The Grand Duke'', p. vii, New York: Oakapple Press, 2009. Linked at ''The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive'', accessed 7 July 2009.
Gilbert next wrote ''The Mountebanks (opera), The Mountebanks'' with Alfred Cellier and the flop ''Haste to the Wedding'' with George Grossmith, and Sullivan wrote ''Haddon Hall (opera), Haddon Hall'' with Sydney Grundy. Gilbert eventually won the lawsuit and felt vindicated, but his actions and statements had been hurtful to his partners. Nevertheless, the partnership had been so profitable that, after the financial failure of the Royal English Opera House, Carte and his wife sought to reunite the author and composer. In 1891, after many failed attempts at reconciliation by the pair, Chappell & Co., Tom Chappell, the music publisher responsible for printing the Gilbert and Sullivan operas, stepped in to mediate between two of his most profitable artists, and within two weeks had succeeded. Two more operas resulted: ''Utopia, Limited'' (1893) and ''The Grand Duke'' (1896). Gilbert also offered a third libretto to Sullivan (''His Excellency (opera), His Excellency'', 1894), but Gilbert's insistence on casting Nancy McIntosh, his protégée from ''Utopia'', led to Sullivan's refusal. ''Utopia'', concerning an attempt to "anglicise" a south Pacific island kingdom, was only a modest success, and ''The Grand Duke'', in which a theatrical troupe, by means of a "statutory duel" and a conspiracy, takes political control of a grand duchy, was an outright failure. After that, the partnership ended for good. Sullivan continued to compose comic opera with other librettists but died four years later. In 1904, Gilbert would write, "... Savoy opera was snuffed out by the deplorable death of my distinguished collaborator, Sir Arthur Sullivan. When that event occurred, I saw no one with whom I felt that I could work with satisfaction and success, and so I discontinued to write ''libretti''."


Later years

Gilbert built the Garrick Theatre in 1889. The Gilberts moved to
Grim's Dyke Grim's Dyke (sometimes called Graeme's Dyke until late 1891)How, Harry ''The Strand Magazine'', Vol. 2, October 1891, pp. 330–41, reprinted at ''The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive'', 20 November 2011 is a house and estate in Harrow Weald, in northw ...
in Harrow, London, Harrow in 1890, which he purchased from Robert Heriot, to whom the artist Frederick Goodall had sold the property in 1880. In 1891, Gilbert was appointed Justice of the Peace for Middlesex. After casting Nancy McIntosh in ''Utopia, Limited'', he and his wife developed an affection for her, and she eventually gained the status of an unofficially adopted daughter, moving to Grim's Dyke to live with them. She continued living there, even after Gilbert died, until Lady Gilbert's death in 1936. A statue of Charles II of England, Charles II, carved by Danish sculptor Caius Gabriel Cibber in 1681, was moved in 1875 from Soho Square to an island in the lake at Grim's Dyke, where it remained when Gilbert purchased the property."Soho Square Area: Portland Estate: Soho Square Garden"
in ''Survey of London'' volumes 33 and 34 (1966) St Anne Soho, pp. 51–53. Date accessed: 12 January 2008.
On Lady Gilbert's direction, it was restored to Soho Square in 1938. Although Gilbert announced a retirement from the theatre after the short run of his last work with Sullivan, ''The Grand Duke'' (1896) and the poor reception of his 1897 play ''The Fortune Hunter'', he produced at least three more plays over the last dozen years of his life, including an unsuccessful opera, ''Fallen Fairies'' (1909), with Edward German. Gilbert also continued to supervise the various revivals of his works by the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, including its London Repertory seasons in 1906–09. His last play, ''The Hooligan'', produced just four months before his death, is a study of a young condemned thug in a prison cell. Gilbert shows sympathy for his protagonist, the son of a thief who, brought up among thieves, kills his girlfriend. As in some earlier work, the playwright displays "his conviction that nurture rather than nature often accounted for criminal behaviour".Bradley, Ian
"W. S. Gilbert: He was an Englishman"
''History Today'', Vol. 61, Issue 5, 2011
The grim and powerful piece became one of Gilbert's most successful serious dramas, and experts conclude that, in those last months of Gilbert's life, he was developing a new style, a "mixture of irony, of social theme, and of grubby realism," to replace the old "Gilbertianism" of which he had grown weary. In these last years, Gilbert also wrote children's book versions of '' H.M.S. Pinafore'' and ''
The Mikado ''The Mikado; or, The Town of Titipu'' is a comic opera in two acts, with music by Arthur Sullivan Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan Royal Victorian Order, MVO (13 May 1842 – 22 November 1900) was an English composer. He is best known for ...

The Mikado
'' giving, in some cases, backstory that is not found in the librettos. Gilbert was Knight Bachelor, knighted on 15 July 1907 in recognition of his contributions to drama. Sullivan had been knighted for his contributions to music almost a quarter of a century earlier, in 1883. Gilbert was, however, the first British writer ever to receive a knighthood for his plays alone – earlier dramatist knights, such as Sir William Davenant and Sir John Vanbrugh, were knighted for political and other services. On 29 May 1911, Gilbert was about to give a swimming lesson to two young women, Winifred Isabel Emery (1890–1972), and 17-year-old Patricia Preece, Ruby Preece in the lake of his home,
Grim's Dyke Grim's Dyke (sometimes called Graeme's Dyke until late 1891)How, Harry ''The Strand Magazine'', Vol. 2, October 1891, pp. 330–41, reprinted at ''The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive'', 20 November 2011 is a house and estate in Harrow Weald, in northw ...
, when Preece got into difficulties and called for help. Gilbert dived in to save her but suffered a heart attack in the middle of the lake and died at the age of 74. He was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium, Golders Green and his ashes buried at the churchyard of St John the Evangelist, Great Stanmore, St. John's Church, Stanmore. The inscription on Gilbert's memorial on the south wall of the Thames Embankment in London reads: "His Foe was Folly, and his Weapon Wit". There is also a memorial plaque at All Saints' Church, Harrow Weald.


Personality

Gilbert was known for being sometimes prickly. Aware of this general impression, he claimed that "If you give me your attention", the misanthrope's song from ''Princess Ida'', was a satiric self-reference, saying: "I thought it my duty to live up to my reputation."Grossmith, George. "Recollections of Sir W. S. Gilbert", ''The Bookman'', vol. 40, no. 238, July 1911, p. 162 However, many people have defended him, often citing his generosity. Actress May Fortescue recalled,
His kindness was extraordinary. On wet nights and when rehearsals were late and the last buses were gone, he would pay the cab-fares of the girls whether they were pretty or not, instead of letting them trudge home on foot ... He was just as large-hearted when he was poor as when he was rich and successful. For money as money he cared less than nothing. Gilbert was no plaster saint, but he was an ideal friend.
The journalist Frank M. Boyd wrote: Jessie Bond wrote that Gilbert "was quick-tempered, often unreasonable, and he could not bear to be thwarted, but how anyone could call him unamiable I cannot understand." George Grossmith wrote to ''The Daily Telegraph'' that, although Gilbert had been described as an autocrat at rehearsals, "That was really only his manner when he was playing the part of stage director at rehearsals. As a matter of fact, he was a generous, kind true gentleman, and I use the word in the purest and original sense."George Grossmith's tribute to Gilbert in ''The Daily Telegraph'', 7 June 1911 Aside from his occasional creative disagreements with, and eventual rift from, Sullivan, Gilbert's temper sometimes led to the loss of friendships. For instance, he quarrelled with his old associate C. H. Workman, over the firing of Nancy McIntosh from the production of ''Fallen Fairies'', and with actress Henrietta Hodson. He also saw his friendship with theatre critic
Clement Scott Clement William Scott (6 October 1841 – 25 June 1904) was an influential English theatre critic for ''The Daily Telegraph ''The Daily Telegraph'', known online and elsewhere as ''The Telegraph'' (), is a national British daily broadsheet n ...
turn bitter. However, Gilbert could be extraordinarily kind. During Scott's final illness in 1904, for instance, Gilbert donated to a fund for him, visited nearly every day, and assisted Scott's wife, despite having not been on friendly terms with him for the previous sixteen years. Similarly, Gilbert had written several plays at the behest of comic actor Edward Askew Sothern, Ned Sothern. However, Sothern died before he could perform the last of these, ''Foggerty's Fairy''. Gilbert purchased the play back from his grateful widow. According to one London society lady: As the writings about Gilbert by husband and wife Seymour Hicks and Ellaline Terriss (frequent guests at his home) vividly illustrate, Gilbert's relationships with women were generally more successful than his relationships with men. According to Grossmith, Gilbert "was to those who knew him a courteous and amiable gentleman – a gentleman without veneer." Grossmith and many others wrote of how Gilbert loved to amuse children: Gilbert's niece Mary Carter confirmed, "... he loved children very much and lost no opportunity of making them happy ... [He was] the kindest and most human of uncles." Grossmith quoted Gilbert as saying, "Deer-stalking would be a very fine sport if only the deer had guns."


Legacy

In 1957, a review in ''The Times'' explained "the continued vitality of the Savoy operas" as follows: Gilbert's legacy, aside from building the Garrick Theatre and writing the Savoy Operas and other works that are still being performed or in print nearly 150 years after their creation, is felt perhaps most strongly today through his influence on the American and British musical theatre. The innovations in content and form of the works that he and Sullivan developed, and in Gilbert's theories of acting and stage direction, directly influenced the development of the modern musical throughout the 20th century.Downs, Peter. "Actors Cast Away Cares". ''Hartford Courant'', 18 October 2006. Available for a fee a
courant.com archives.
/ref> Gilbert's lyrics employ punning, as well as complex internal and two and three-syllable rhyme schemes, and served as a model for such 20th century Broadway librettists and lyricists as P. G. Wodehouse, Cole Porter, Ira Gershwin, Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II. Gilbert's influence on the English language has also been marked, with well-known phrases such as "A policeman's lot is not a happy one", "short, sharp shock", "What never? Well, hardly ever!", and "let the punishment fit the crime" arising from his pen. In addition, people continue to write biographies about Gilbert's life and career, and his work is not only performed, but frequently Parody, parodied, pastiched, quoted and imitated in comedy routines, film, television and other popular media.Bradley (2005), Chapter 1 Ian Bradley, in connection with the 100th anniversary of Gilbert's death in 2011 wrote:


See also

* W. S. Gilbert bibliography * Cultural influence of Gilbert and Sullivan * List of W. S. Gilbert dramatic works


Notes, references and sources


Notes


References


Sources

* * * * * * * * (A collection of material from several books published previously.) * * (Contains mostly stories from ''Foggerty's Fairy and Other Tales''.) * * * * * * * * * * * *


Further reading

* * *


External links

* * * *
W. S. Gilbert Society website


by Andrew Crowther

by Harry How in ''The Strand Magazine'' (1891)
List of Gilbert's works, with links to most of them
and information about them, at The Gilbert & Sullivan Archive

by W. S. Gilbert, giving some of his philosophy of the theatre



{{DEFAULTSORT:Gilbert, W. S. W. S. Gilbert, 1836 births 1911 deaths 19th-century British Army personnel 19th-century British civil servants 19th-century British short story writers 19th-century English dramatists and playwrights 20th-century English dramatists and playwrights 19th-century English lawyers 19th-century English poets Alumni of King's College London British theatre directors Deputy Lieutenants of Middlesex English illustrators English male dramatists and playwrights English male poets English opera librettists Freemasons of the United Grand Lodge of England Gilbert and Sullivan, Knights Bachelor Members of the Inner Temple People from Pinner Victorian poets Writers who illustrated their own writing Writers from London People from the City of Westminster