The Princess


Original Plays, by W. S. Gilbert

SCENE FIRST.--Court in King Hildebrand's Palace.

KING HILDEBRAND, discovered seated, in gloomy mood--FLORIAN and other COURTIERS discovered looking off through telescopes--CYRIL standing by the KING.

HILDE.See you no sign of Gama?
FLORI.None, my liege.
HILDE.It's very odd indeed! If Gama fails
To put in an appearance at our court,
Before the sun has set in yonder west,
And fails to bring the Princess Ida here--
To whom our son Hilarion was betrothed
At the extremely early age of one--
There's war between King Gama and ourself.
(Aside to CYRIL) Oh Cyril, how I dread this interview!
It's twenty years since he and I have met.
He was a twisted monster--all awry,
As though Dame Nature, angry with her work,
Had crumbled it in fitful petulance!
CYRILBut, sir, a twisted and ungainly trunk,
Often bears goodly fruit--perhaps he was
A kind, well-spoken gentleman?
HILDE.Oh, no--
For, adder-like, his sting lay in his tongue!
His bitter insolence still rankles here,
Although a score of years have come and gone!
His outer man, gnarled, knotted as it was,
Seemed to his cruel and cynical within,
Hyperion to a Saturday Review!
CYRILOh, bear with him--he is an old, old man.
Old men are fretful--peevish, as we know.
A worm will sometimes turn--so will the milk
Of human kindness, if it's kept too long.
FLORI.(looking through glass). But stay, my liege; o'er yonder mountain's brow
Comes a small body bearing Gama's arms;
And, now I look more closely at it, sir,
I see attached to it King Gama's legs;
From which I gather this corollary--
That that small body must be Gama's own!
HILDE.Ha! Is the Princess with him?
FLORI.Well, my liege,
Unless her ladyship is six feet high,
And wears moustachios, too, and smokes cigars,
And rides en cavalier, in coat of mail,
I do not think she is.
HILDE. (excited) Come, bustle there!
For Gama, place the richest robes we have!
For Gama, place the coarsest prison dress!
For Gama, let our best spare bed be aired!
For Gama, let our deepest dungeon yawn!
For Gama, lay the costliest banquet out!
For Gama, place cold water and dry bread!
For as King Gama brings the Princess here,
Or brings her not, so shall King Gama have--
Much more than every thing--much less than nothing!


HILAR.Well father, is there news for me, at last?
HILDE.My son, King Gama's host is now in sight:
Prepare to meet the fascinating bride
To whom you were betrothed so long ago.
Why, how you sigh!
HILAR.My liege, I'm much afraid
The Princess Ida has not come with him.
HILDE.And why?
HILAR.I've heard she has forsworn the world,
And, with a band of women, shut herself
Within a lonely country house, and there
Devotes herself to stern philosophies.
HILDE.Then, I should say, the loss of such a wife
Is one to which a reasonable man
Would easily be reconciled.
HILAR.Oh no--
Or I am not a reasonable man.
She is my wife: has been for twenty years.
HILDE.That's true--you were a baby in long clothes
When you gained Ida's heart and she gained yours.
HILAR.Yes--I remember--each of us was won!
I think I see her now! (looking through telescope).
HILDE.Ha! Let me look!
HILAR.In my mind's eye, I mean--a blushing bride--
All bib and tucker--frill and furbelow!
How exquisite she looked as she was borne
Recumbent in the monthly nurse's arms!
How the bride wept!--nor would be comforted
Until the hireling mother-for-the-nonce
Administered refreshment in the vestry.
And I remember feeling much annoyed
That she should weep at marrying with me;
"But then," I thought, "these brides are all alike!
Cry on, young lady--brides are bound to cry.
You cry at marrying me? How much more cause
You'd have to cry if it were broken off!"
These were my thoughts--I kept them to myself,
For, at that age, I had not learnt to speak.
HILDE.Your memory is singularly good.
HILAR.Do you remember, too, the wedding feast--
Rolls steeped in milk, and other softened food,
Fit for our undeveloped little gums?
And talk of drink, I never shall forget,
How merrily we passed that nursing bottle!
A curly headed patriarch of three--
The Princess Ida's uncle--then proposed
The happy couple's health--the bridesmaids, then,
Fifteen in number--each six weeks of age,
Began to weep--the fifteen groomsmen, too
(The eldest of them eighteen months or so),
Wept also--then, remembering they were men,
Dashed from their eyes the unaccustomed brine!
We parted then--and since, for twenty years,
We have not met. It seems quite strange that she
Should have become a woman in the while!
She speaks a hundred languages I'm told.
HILDE.Your late mamma had mastered only one,
Yet she was never at a loss for words!
HILAR.But think how useful is a wife who can
Express her fancies in a hundred tongues.
HILDE.You will find one, of average length, enough.
HILAR.I've heard she hopes to make all women swear
That they'll abjure, for aye, the tyrant Man!
She's far before the age in which she lives!
HILDE.At all events she's singular in that;
Most grown up ladies of our court give out
That they are several years behind their age!
HILAR.A woman thus endowed should have been born
A century hence, at least!
HILDE.The day will come
When you will most devoutly wish she had.

Enter CYRIL.

CYRILMy liege, King Gama's train is at the gate,
And prays admission.
HILDE.Cyril, show him in.
Though Princess Ida wore a Gorgon's head,
He shall not tamper with King Hildebrand!

Flourish--Procession. Enter CYRIL, FLORIAN, and COURT, ushering KING GAMA, and one ATTENDANT.

GAMASo this is Castle Hildebrand?--well, well--
Dame Rumor whispered that the place was grand;
She told me that your taste was exquisite--
HILDE.Oh, really, king--
GAMABut she's a liar! Why, how old you've grown!
Is this Hilarion?--why you've changed, too!
You were a singularly handsome child!
(to CYRIL) Are you a courtier? Come, then, ply your trade!
Tell me some lies: how do you like your king?
Vile Rumor says he's all but imbecile--
Now that's not true!
CYRILMy lord, we love our king:
His wise remarks are valued by his court
As precious stones.
GAMAAnd for the self-same cause!
Like precious stones the wit of Hildebrand
Derives its value from its scarcity!
Come now, be honest, tell the truth for once,
Tell it of me! Come, come, I'll harm you not!
This leg is crooked--this foot is ill-designed--
This shoulder wears a hump--come, out with it!
Look, here's my face--now am I not the worst
Of Nature's blunders?
HILAR.Nature never errs.
To those who know the workings of your mind,
Your face and figure, sir, suggest a book
Appropriately bound.
GAMAWhy, harkye, sir!
How dare you bandy words with me?
HILAR.No need
To bandy aught that appertains to you.
GAMA(to HILDEBRAND). Do you permit this, king?
HILDE.We are in doubt
Whether to treat you as an honored guest,
Or as a traitor knave who plights his word
And breaks it!
GAMAIf the casting vote's with me
I give it for the former.
HILDE.We shall see:
By the terms of our contract, signed and sealed
You're bound to-day to bring the Princess here
To join her spouse. Why is she not with you?
GAMAWhy? Come, I'll tell you, if you'll answer this:
What think you of a wealthy purse-proud man
Who, when he calls upon a starving friend,
Pulls out his gold, and flourishes his notes,
And flashes diamonds in the pauper's eyes--
What name have you for such an one?
HILDE.A snob!
GAMA Just so: King Hildebrand, I am no snob
The girl has beauty, virtue, learning, wit,
Grace, humor, wisdom, charity, and pluck.
Would it be kindly, think you, to parade
These brilliant qualities before your eyes?
Oh, no, King Hildebrand, I am no snob!
HILDE.But hang it, man, the contract that we signed
Some twenty years ago--
GAMAWhy, here's good news!
(to Court) At last your king is going to redeem
His lengthy list of broken promises--
And very properly, as wise men should,
Begin at the beginning!
HILDE.Stop that tongue,
Or you shall lose the monkey head that holds it!
Oh, I'll be even with you, yet, for this.
GAMABravo! Your king deprives me of my head,
That he and I may meet on equal terms!
HILDE.Of this anon--we'll try the force of arms--
Where is she now?
GAMAIn Castle Adamant--
One of my many country houses. There
She rules a woman's University,
With full five hundred girls who learn of her.
CYRILFive hundred girls! Five hundred ecstasies!
GAMABut no mere girls, my good young gentleman!
With all the college learning that you boast,
The youngest there will prove a match for you!
CYRILWith all my heart, if she's the prettiest!
Fancy--five hundred matches--all alight!
That's if I strike them, as I hope to do.
GAMADespair your hope--their hearts are dead to man.
He who desires to gain their favor must
Be qualified to strike their teeming brains,
And not their hearts! They're safety-matches, sir,
And they light only on the knowledge box,
So you've no chance!
HILAR.We'll try, at all events.
I'll take no soldiers, father, in my train--
Cyril and Florian here will go with me,
And we will storm them ere the week is out.
GAMAThat's brave! They're only women--storm away!
HILAR.Oh, don't mistake us, sir, we mean to storm
Their eyes and hearts, and not their citadel.
With sighs we'll charge our mines and counter-mines,
Dance steps shall be our scaling ladders, with
Those croquêt mallets for our battering rams.
Fair flowers shall bear the only blades we wield,
Our eyes shall be our very deadliest darts,
And bon-bon crackers our artillery!
GAMAAnd so you think to conquer them with sighs?
My good young gentleman, a sigh, to them,
Is simply an exceptionally marked
Contraction of the intercostal muscles!
Croquêt is interesting only when
It illustrates familiar theories
Of incidental and reflecting angles.
Fair flowers, to them, are mere embodiments
Of calyx, pistil, stamina, and petal.
Expressive eyes would have their charm, no doubt--
HILAR.Of course!

GAMABut only, be it understood,
As illustrating theories of vision!
But here are letters--take them if you like--
Perhaps she's tired of disobedience,
And may admit you.

HILDE.Good: Hilarion, go,
Take Florian and Cyril, as you say,
King Gama, we detain you pris'ner here,
As hostage for the safety of our son.
GAMAA prisoner? Why, what should I do here
At Castle Hildebrand? I am not mad!
HILDE.You can amuse yourself by fancying
That there's an execution in our house,
And you're the party in possession--or
That we are dead and you've succeeded us.
In short, suppose whatever state of things
Would offer you the greatest happiness;
GAMA(to HILARION). You run a risk my friend; so take good heed,
For no one knows her temper but myself:
(to KING) Since her betrothal, king, until the day
When she abjured all male society,
I was the only man she ever saw!
HILAR.Oh, that explains the mystery at once,
And simplifies our task--come, Florian,
And we will show these maidens what they've lost.


Introduction | SCENE SECOND

Last updated November 9, 1997