Gilbert and Sullivan Archive



Douglas Whaley: I love the Nightmare Song, but one thing about it has always bothered me. In the introduction, the Lord Chancellor sings that love is the source of his nightmares, and that "Love . . . weaves itself into my midnight slumbers."

After that one would expect that love would have something to do with the nightmare the LC describes---perhaps Phyllis would be chasing him across Salisbury Plain on a bicycle---but love is never mentioned in the body of the song. Wouldn't it be funnier if the song was about the nightmare aspects of love?

Lisa Berglund: Perhaps the Nightmare song incorporates the LC's subliminal reluctance to marry Phyllis by presenting a weird version of the ceremonial, financial and other consequences of the wedding: having to feed a ravenous horde of friends and relations (wedding dinner), contractual negotiations with attorneys, going on a honeymoon (crossing the channel), etc. I admit that I can't figure out how the sprouting retailers fit in--someone else's ingenuity is required here.

Andrew Crowther: I imagine that dreadful old rogue Sigmund F. would say it was all to do with sexual anxiety. That's all that needs to be said on that point, I think.... But I seem to remember Jane Stedman says in her WSG biography that some doctor has seen in the Nightmare Song a list of all the classic symptoms of migraine - she relates this to Gilbert himself.

My view of the original question, about why the recitative talks about love interfering in dreams, and the song proper doesn't. Notice that in the recit. the LC talks about "me", but in the main song he says "you" throughout. So clearly only the recit. is about his personal state of affairs - "When you're lying awake" is meant to be more impersonal, a comic relaying of symptoms. It's clearly designed simply as a comic turn - like a stand-up comic's "observational humour" routine: "You know when you can't get to sleep, and the sheets won't cooperate? Don't you _hate_ that??" etc.

Harriet Meyer: The doctor would be Oliver Sacks (misspelled in the biography as Sachs), neurologist and writer of intelligent popular works in his field, including _The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat_, _The Island of the Colorblind_(the most recent), and _Awakenings_ (which became a movie with, I think, Robin Wiliams & Dustin Hoffman). Stedman cites his book _Migraine: Understanding a Common Disorder_ as a *for instance* indicative that Gilbert suffered, at least at one time, from migraine (p137). I inferred that (1) if Sacks' book is a for instance, there _may_ be other supportive evidence of Gilbert possibly having migraine and (2) that Sacks' provides support for his assertion about Gilbert in his book on migraine--but I haven't gotten around to reading it.

Samuel M. Silvers: The truth of the matter is that G&S is not, unlike opera, primarily about love. The nightmare song is about the various parts of life that annoy upper middle class people. Public transportation, relatives, incompetent (11 year -old) attorneys, business rivals, bad investments, etc.

Although each of the Savoy operas has a pair or more of lovers, the most important character is the patter baritone who shares many of Gilbert's own frustrations and shortcomings.

Therefore, even when a part of the Savoy operas is ostensibly about LOVE, Love is just an excuse to bring up the things that make middle class people laugh.

In romances, there is comic relief. In G&S there is romantic relief.

Updated 28 November 1997