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Description by Carol Lee Cole


Well, sir, here I am down on the farm in Annawan and during the past month of rain I have been perusing Gilbert's works found in Plays & Poems of W. S. Gilbert. I do not think I would have done this on my own, for I have not the will to be like "the very model of a modern Major-General" and I can whistle only one air "from that infernal nonsense Pinafore." However, S/A Sarah Cole asked me to give my impressions of The Palace of Truth, and since I never tell a lie to my children ("Well, hardly ever") I told her I would try.

First off, "DRAMATIS PERSONAE" let me know I was in for an education. I'm used to a play bill which just says "CHARACTERS". Most of the plays I have been to lately have had a synopsis to help us get into the story. No such easy way out here. The names of the characters are not Tom, Dick, or Harry or even Sally or Sue. No, they are names from the enchanted kingdom of W.S. Gilbert, and keeping them straight is a bit of work (and also hard on the little finger of the left hand when typing, since there are so many with the letter "Z" in them). Well, here goes.

CHARACTERS:
King PHANOR
He is a man who likes to be praised and listens to all who would tell him good things. He has philandered a bit in the last eighteen years, for that is how long he has been married. He seems to keep his eye peeled for a pretty face and figure. Reader, please to keep these qualities in mind.
Queen ALTEMIRE
She is Phanor's wife and mother of Princess Zeolide. She says she always tells the truth and wants her daughter to be happy in her engagement which is soon to be announced. The King thinks she is a good and honest wife who may be a bit on the plump side.
Princess ZEOLIDE
She is seventeen years old. This must be taken into consideration when we read about her reaction to the words of love from her boy friend. Her maturity is evident, because she feels the "false fire" in his words of love. We hear her say more than once "I love you, Philamir -- be satisfied!"
Prince PHILAMIR
He is the boy friend of the Princess. I wasn't sure just where his kingdom was in connection to that of King Phanor, but for the story it makes no difference. His words of love are said in metaphors and this line "Lapped in a lazy luxury of love!" is lapped in alliteration, is it not? The Queen recognizes that, if she could have been woo'd "with ardent songs of overwhelming love, framed by so fair a poet as Philamir, it would have turned [her] giddy woman's brain, and thrilled [her] reason to its very core!" Girls, think how this would thrill you when you were seventeen, and how, at forty, things look different. This fellow has been around a lot but doesn't know the score.

Men of the court:

CHRYSAL
A "yes-man" who is betrothed to Palmis, a lady of the court whom he thinks can help him get ahead in his position with the King. He writes words for songs.
ZORAM
Another "yes-man", who composes music.
ARISTAEUS
He is outspoken and is no "yes-man". He prides himself on always telling the truth.
GELANOR
He is the old steward from the Palace of Truth. He oversees the running of the place and watches those who visit from time to time. He has a wealth of insight when it comes to living in a palace where only true words will issue forth from a person's mouth. This palace is no place for politicians or used car salesmen.

Women of the Court:

MIRZA
A friend of Zeolide. The Queen does not like her because she is young and pretty and too clever for her own good. Mirza tries to get the Princess to give up her plan to become betrothed to the Prince. She uses words of sisterly endearment to try to bend the will of the Princess. The King thinks she is beautiful and pure. Humm!
PALMIS
She is a lady of standing in the court who is in love with Chrysal.
AZEMA
A visitor to the Palace of Truth in Act II. Her manner is extremely modest and timid, but remember, the Palace of Truth is a place where words speak louder than actions.

ACT I

Now for the story - It takes place within the space of 24 hours.

It opens in the garden of the King's Country House. The characteristics of the members of the court are laid out by how they react to the King's recitation and his ability to play the mandolin. The Queen enters bemoaning the fact that the Princess is to become betrothed tomorrow to the Prince but seems not to love him. The King says he will ask the Princess how she feels about Philamir.

Zeolide enters. When the Queen leaves, Mirza tries to tell the Princess she is cold to the Prince and that the Queen jealousy resents the love Mirza has for the Princess. The Prince enters and hears Mirza tell the Princess what a great guy he is.

After Mirza leaves the Prince is received quietly by the Princess. He is just back from hunting on horse back and full of love for her. He tells passionate things which you will have to read for yourself. She replies "I love you, Philamir - I'll say no more!"

The Queen returns and says that Gelanor, The Steward, has arrived. She wants to know why, even though the palace is only twenty miles away and that the King visits it once a month, she has never been there in eighteen years. She shows her jealousy again for thinking that, when a man keeps a bachelor pad and declines to take his wife to it, something is going to cause a storm on the sea of matrimony. So the King tells her about the secret: that the palace is enchanted and every one who goes into the place is bound to speak the truth, simple and unadulterated. The best part is that the speaker has no idea that he is really telling the truth and, if one wanted to keep something under his hat, it would be impossible.

The two decide to take the Prince and Princess there to see if, by having to tell the truth, true love can be established. Then they decide that all the courtiers should go, too. After the Queen leaves, but within earshot of Mirza, the King tells Gelanor that he has a talisman--a crystal box--that will keep the holder from having to tell the truth. He shows it to Mirza. She marvels over it and gives it back.


ACT II

We have made it through Act I and are on to the interior of the Palace of Truth and Act II.

The Queen and Princess find that the place is beautiful and the Princess wonders why in all her almost eighteen years she had discovered its existence only three hours before. The King assures the steward that only the King, the steward, and the Queen know the secret. The King feels securely protected by the talisman. Too bad.

The Princess sings a song written by Chrysal and set to music by Zoram. After she finishes they clap their hands with enthusiasm and say that their ears have never heard such miserable singing. Chrysal is found out: he doesn't know he said he never meant one word he said at court. Zoram confesses, unknowingly, that he doesn't know one note from another. Aristaeus (who always tell the truth in court) says in a critical tone of voice that the Princess sang sweetly and his true disposition is disclosed. A duel is soon proposed between Chrysal and Zoram because of the truth spoken.

After the courtiers leave, the Prince and Princess have words. That is just it: the Prince wants more words beside "I love you," and the Princess replies, "You ask me, then, to limit my illimitable love, and circle, with a boundary of words, a wealth of love that knows no bounds at all!" Well, isn't that deep? And what with other things she says the Prince says, "At last you speak! Why, this, indeed, is love." The Princess wonders just what she said, but is glad that her words pleased him.

The Prince is filled with vanity which needs to be fed with loving words. That's what he says and is (there may be a modern- day lesson to be learned here, lovers). The Prince lifts the lid of his hat, so to speak, and tells Zeolide that he has been around a bit: at least 500 ladies have kissed him. And he doesn't know he said it, more's the pity. The Prince continues to engage his mouth and gets into more deep confessions for which he will hate himself in the morning. Of course this turns the Princess off to him, and she is grieved.

Azema timidly enters, but her speech belies her actions and she confesses that she seeks the Prince to try her charms on him. She makes an appointment to meet with him that night at 10:00 p.m. All the while she shows rage that he kissed her. The Prince tells her she can't take the place of the Princess so Azema tries her act on Chrysal (rich and titled).

By watching the actions of Chrysal and Azema the Prince decides that the palace is enchanted and shows up human nature as it is and everybody is affected by it, but him. Now Mirza enters looking for her diary. She, too, confesses to the Prince that she knows the palace is enchanted. The Prince tells Mirza he loves her and asks, fully knowing that she must say the truth, "Do you love me?" Mirza asks him not to make her answer and he lets her go. He thinks she is pure, wise and true. Watch out!

The Princess returns in time to hear the Prince talking to himself and thinks he is talking about her. She asks his forgiveness for going off before. He tells her he was thinking of Mirza and tells the Princess that Mirza loves him. The Princess breaks their bond and gives him his freedom, and then pleads with him to take her back and give her until the night to sort out the idea she has that the place is enchanted. She wants to get the truth from her father.

Palmis has a thought which has come down through the century. She has found out what has gone on between the Prince and Princess, and tries to console Zeolide with "When men are over head and ears in love, they cannot tell the truth -- they must deceive, though the deception tell against themselves!" Chrysal enters and tells the truth of his fortune-hunting to his (former) girlfriend and she says she can no longer endure him. Zoram enters and tells Palmis that he has loved her and tried much cunning to get her away from Chrysal. Again the duel is on.

After the King admits to making love to Mirza in the shrubbery and Mirza admits that she hates the King, he suspects that his talisman is not operating correctly. Gelanor looks at it and finds it to be a forgery (no inscription on the hinge!). Well, it's "Everybody back to the bus!" time. The King wants to leave!


ACT III

Act III takes place at night on the Avenue of Palms. Chrysal has a sword and is ready for the duel with Zoram. He speaks in a valiant manner, yet reveals to the old steward that he is a cowardly knight and that he is afraid that Zoram will accidently score a win. When Zoram arrives they tell each other how afraid they are of each other but with bravado. They begin to fight. Gelanor tries to stop the fight by telling them about the enchantment. He tells them that it was what they thought, not what they said, that made the difference. The men decide that they don't care what thoughts one has, but what matters is what one speaks out loud. They shake hands. Gelanor laments that honor is the one virtue which causes more harm than half the other vices on earth.

The Queen comes into the scene and talks with old Gelanor. Azema (the bold-faced timid maid) sees them and decides that she would use their meeting as blackmail when she meets the King later.

Palmis and the Princess enter and compare their grief. The Queen counsels both of them. She says this love for Mirza is "Idle pique! No doubt he hoped--as other lovers hope--in the fierce whirlpool of a new-born love to drown remembrance of the love just dead." When Mirza enters, the Queen and Palmis leave the Princess to talk things over with the "other woman." Mirza gives her a tale of having been a lady in the court of the father of the Prince, and that she was secretly engaged to the Prince. Because of an illness, Mirza released him to go to King Phanor's Court and the Princess. The Princess begs Mirza to let her have Philamir, and Mirza says she will go away. She says she will tell the Prince. The Princess leaves and the Prince comes in. He has read a page from Mirza's diary. She ends up confessing her love for the Prince and adding that she is going away. The Princess reenters unobserved, and is much moved by Mirza's speech. Zeolide goes forward and puts Mirza's hand in the Princes's and sets him free. She says "I'm but a chapter in your book of life, I who had thought to be the book itself! The chapter's ended, and to Zeolide the book is closed for ever! Philamir, When you are tempted to do Mirza wrong, turn to the chapter--read it through and through." What nobility of character to give up this schnook. She exits weeping.

After some tender embracing and schmaltzy words, the Prince wants to give Mirza a pledge of his love. He gives her a ring. All he asks of her is a handkerchief or a glove. She brings forth a handkerchief from her pocket and a crystal box falls out with it. The Prince seeks that for his token. Mirza wants it back and must tell that it is the talisman. If she doesn't get it back she must also tell that she is false--that her morality is all assumed. She will also have to tell that she took it from the King and put another in its place. The King comes in and Mirza hurries off.

The Prince says he "thought he knew the ways of women well, had still to learn that in one woman's body there is place for such a goodly show of purity, and such unequalled treachery of heart!" The King and Chrysal and Zoram enter. The King takes the box from the Prince's hand. More of the Court assemble, the Queen, Gelanor, Azema and Mirza.

The King tells the Queen she has been found philandering at night with Gelanor. He asks if their meeting was innocent. The Queen truthfully says that it was. The Queen then asks the King if he had a rendezvous with Azema and, because he has the talisman, he is able to say with a straight face, "Emphatically I deny the charge!" The Queen apologizes.

When the Princess returns the Prince admits he has been a fool. The King give the talisman to the Prince and tells him to woo her with words again: she will believe him. However, the Princess overhears them and when the Prince goes to her he says a speech from his heart and gives her the talisman. She takes it and listens as he tells her the truth from his heart and kisses her.

The Queen, taking a no-nonsense attitude, takes the crystal box and breaks it with a loud crash. At the noise Aristaeus enters. Old Gelanor says that since the box is broken the palace is no longer enchanted. The King announces that "We have learnt a lesson that should last us till we die--We've learnt how matrimonial constancy by causeless jealousy is sometimes tried." and he looks at the Queen. A recap of the lessons each has learned are expressed. The Prince says "Now that that power no longer reigns above, I ratify the accents of my love." and the Princess responds demurely with the familiar refrain, "I love you, Philamir - be satisfied!"

Well, what do you think? We made it to the curtain. The cast will take their bows. We will leave thinking that this story is pertinent today and why Hollywood doesn't do a movie of it. It's very contemporary. Go, watch what you say, and be good persons!

(Ed. note. Maybe she's out of line to say so, but after reading over the synopsis and the play, it struck S/A Cole that, with a little editing (to bring the language "up to speed" for the present century) and clever staging (modern dress, even), local amateur theater groups could have a lot of fun putting on The Palace of Truth. It's a lot more entertaining than most of the Neil Simon-type plays she's had to sit through, and allows for a bigger cast (more relatives for the audience).


This article appeared in Issue 38 (summer 1993) of Precious Nonsense, the newsletter of the Midwestern Gilbert & Sullivan Society. Text was taken from Plays & Poems of W. S. Gilbert, New York: Random House, 1932. Posted by permission of Sarah Cole, Society Secretary/Archivist. For information on Society membership write to: The Midwestern Gilbert & Sullivan Society, c/o Miss Sarah Cole, 613 W. State St., North Aurora, IL 60542-1538.

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