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THE NATURE OF LOVE
CHARLES SCHLOTTER: What is the nature of Love?
This is a philosophical question which, I hazard a guess, will never become dated and it is a major element of Patience. As he so often does, Gilbert presents a character obsessed with a utopian and unrealizable ideal True love must be unselfish and explores the dire consequences that result from attaining it (or coming close).
Not that there is much actual love, unselfish or otherwise, on stage in Patience. The lovesick maidens really just enjoy posing and follow the nearest handy poseur. Bunthorne appears only to love himself. He may lust a bit after Patience but I suspect her attraction to him is more as a Trophy Wife than as a woman.
TOM SHEPARD: I believe that common parlance would define Bunthorne as a sociopath.
CHARLES SCHLOTTER: He is, however, willing to use logical conceits about love to manipulate her in a cruel fashion.
Gilbert correctly observes an aspect of guru behavior that goes back as far as recorded history and remains true today leaders who demand total, blind adherence frequently use their powers to seduce their followers. Here, Patience is as up to date as next week's headlines.
LISA HAFERKAMP: Patience hardly qualifies as a "Trophy Wife". Didn't Grosvenor say something along the lines of "Be glad you're not cursed with beauty"? (The wording is way off, but the idea remains.)
ELLEN SPEAR: I have no recollection of Bunthorne saying anything remotely like this to Patience.
ARTHUR ROBINSON: Lisa was talking about Grosvenor. When Patience says "I am plain homely unattractive," Grosvenor says "Why, that's true!" (Of course, polite people always agree with what others say.)
MARC SHEPHERD: I've always taken this to be part of the joke: most of the ladies who've played Patience over the years were quite beautiful indeed.
However, given class distinctions of the time, no milkmaid would be considered a trophy wife for a man of Bunthorne's class, no matter what she looked like.
J. DONALD SMITH: That is the satire. The Pre Raphaelites did in fact look for their wives from the lower classes as being the pure embodiments of beauty (etc.), untainted by modern civilization. Morris and Rosetti come to mind in particular.
CHARLES SCHLOTTER: Patience and Grosvenor do love each other in an infantile way but neither seems unselfish about it. Grosvenor is not even willing to give up his lovesick entourage, much as he claims to hate it, until Bunthorne forces him to. Patience experiences a great deal of suffering but not on Grosvenor's behalf, rather in order to satisfy a formulaic definition of love.
ANDREW CROWTHER: Well, yes, but I take it Gilbert's point is that completely unselfish love is an absurdity, since it must be selfish if the lover experiences any satisfaction from it. (It suddenly occurs to me that this is connected to Bernard Mandeville's ideas in his witty philosophical work, The Fable of the Bees: he argued that the vast majority of what we call unselfish behaviour is really selfish behaviour disguised.)
CHARLES SCHLOTTER: As far as I can see, the only lovers who display unselfish behavior are the Dragoons, who are willing to make themselves ridiculous in order to please their lady friends. Oh, and I suppose I should recognize that the Solicitor displays at least a spirit of brotherly love when he convinces Bunthorne to raffle himself off for charity.
ANDREW CROWTHER: You seem to be arguing that the characters in Patience should be condemned for not being unselfish, but Gilbert seems to be saying that it's idiotic to expect humans to behave otherwise. Of course selfishness can be taken to excess, as in Bunthorne, but in moderation it is a natural and healthy thing.
CHARLES SCHLOTTER: Oh dear, I hope I didn't go that far! The only character Gilbert condemns at the end is Bunthorne and even he is not really parted from the one great love of his life. And he isn't condemned for selfishness alone, as you and others have rightly observed, but his combined vices of morbid love of admiration and hypocrisy.
ANDREW CROWTHER: The Dragoons, too, are acting selfishly at bottom, because they only take these extreme measures because they think it is the only way they can get back their ladyloves. (I thought of saying "girlfriends" there, but that sounds idiotic in the context of G&S.)
CHARLES SCHLOTTER: I suppose that after all you can find a whiff of selfishness, even in their apparent sacrifice. But surely the Duke...? No, he has a streak of masochistic self abasement a mile wide. Takes pleasure in it, he does. Therefore, selfishly, but sensibly given his feelings, he chooses Jane who, selfishly but sensibly, drops Bunthorne for a far more devoted, not to mention rich and powerful, suitor.
In the sort of bad melodrama that Gilbert loved to mock, this kind of enlightened self interest would be cause for revulsion but does Gilbert condemn Jane for seeing a good opportunity and taking it? Not at all. She pairs off with the tenor, no less, for the final chorus and bows. Good for her.
Imagine her life as Mrs. Bunthorne, vainly attempting to fill his infinite hunger for admiration, as opposed to her life as the Duchess Dunstable, wed to a moneyed aristocrat desperately anxious to dance attendance upon her and feed her the excess toffee that society expects him to eat.
To return to the point of my original post it is amazing how timeless the "What is Love?" aspect of Patience remains to this day. It helps to explain why, despite the apparently (but only apparently) dated satire of a particular literary movement at a particular time, the operetta continues to hold the stage.
J. DERRICK McCLURE: Will somebody please tell me what the devil a Trophy Wife is? Or why any doubt should be cast on Bunthorne's love for Patience?
Bunthorne is a conceited ass he loves admiration, but he also loves the skill he shows (or thinks he shows) in playing his aesthetic part to the hilt so that he gets it but even a conceited ass can be in love, albeit in a patronizing way (why has nobody called him an MCP yet?) And as to her being a Trophy Wife, if I may conjecture what that's supposed to mean since he can afford to live in a castle and she's a humble milkmaid, I'd say that his love for her, given Victorian attitudes to class distinctions, is quite a major redeeming feature in his character.
BARRI SOREIL: A "trophy wife" is generally acknowledged to be a man's second wife (acquired after dumping his first generally long term wife of his approximate age group) for a much, much younger model (generally 20 25 years his junior) with a figure generally referred to by men as a female "built like a brick pagoda!"
J. DERRICK McCLURE: This answers my question what a "trophy wife" is but not why anybody should imagine that Bunthorne sees Patience as one. Has he been married before? Nothing to suggest it. Is he so much older than Patience? No he's a "young man", probably a lot younger than many of our favourite stage Bunthornes have been.
ELLEN SPEAR: Bunthorne's love of Patience seems to me to be merely a caprice, or infatuation, or a need for variety, but I always had the impression he truly found her at least physically attractive (she doesn't adore him, is not of his class, and is not his intellectual equal what other reason could he have to love her?). Patience is a simple, natural, sweet young thing (compare Ruddigore: "...so come, Amaryllis, come Chloe and Phyllis, your slaves for the moment are we...").
HENRY ODUM: I think that's why Bunthorne is so attracted to her. He may be the embodiment of Aestheticism in the world of the play, but in the entire "Am I Alone and Unobserved.." recit, he confides to us, the audience, his true feelings that he hates aestheticism! "Let me confess, I'm an aesthetic sham!" And therein, for me at least, lies the comedy!
He then proceeds to list off various sundry aspects of the aesthetic movement, only to tell us how he dislikes it all! And yet he goes on to confess to us that he is nevertheless motivated out of a "morbid love of admiration" to continue to play the aesthetic game and as he goes on to tell us in song, he plays it well.
So, it's perhaps inevitable (and makes for great comic irony) that he'd be drawn to Patience's simplicity and practicality much to the disapproval, and bewilderment, of his lovesick followers! But then, they would be confused since unlike we, the audience, they aren't "in on" his secret dislike of aestheticism.
It's just as inevitable though that Patience would not be interested in him... although he is quite ready to drop aestheticism if it means he can win her over and stay ahead of Grosvenor in the all important popularity game but he miscalculates, and is left holding the lily... (or Li-ly).
LOUIS WERNICK: And by the way, isn't the whole idea of the Dragoon's claiming to continue to pine for a lost love longest yet another of the endless Georgian references in Patience? I refer, of course, to Captain Harville's principal discourse in Jane Austen's novel Persuasion, certainly set in a period when blue and white china was used "for best" by people without affectations.
I still wonder if the number of references from the second decade of the eighteenth century, one very popular in period pieces today, is not one of the things that people less familiar with the people and places in Victorian England on which the operetta is supposed to be based don't particularly enjoy in Patience?
DAVID DUFFEY: An interesting light is shed on the mores of the time by the attitude of characters to one impelled by a sense of duty. Frederic, wrong headed donkey that he is, does not receive the abhorrence piled on Patience ("You shameless one, you bold-faced thing, away you, etc.", with musical contrast to match) because he follows the dictates of his conscience.
It seems a man may act irrationally at duty's stern dictation, even though that duty is perceived only by him, whereas a woman, whose duty can only be concerned with matters such as whom to submit to, receives the condemnation of the majority.
ANDREW CROWTHER: I always thought the Chorus called Patience a "boldfaced thing" because she proposes to Bunthorne instead of meekly waiting for him to pop the question in the approved Victorian manner.
DAVID DUFFEY: Agreed. But as soon as Patience was given the idea that "love was a duty" she resolved to fall in love at once. Love of Grosvenor being pleasurable and therefore inconsistent with duty she gives herself to Bunthorne out of duty. In doing so she acts according to her idea of duty and in doing so breaks the bounds of convention.
THOMAS DRUCKER: In the allotment of maidens to the officers in Patience, why is the Major allowed to take Saphir once the Duke has taken Angela? Presumably as a matter of rank the Colonel would be allowed to choose after the Duke. Then the only way the Major would get Saphir is if the Colonel would rather have nobody than Saphir. This does not accord well with his getting Saphir rather than Angela when both are available (both in the conjectural allotment by the Duke and in the action of the play). Perhaps the Duke's authority runs, not only to his own choice of bride, but to his right to determine who gets the others as well.
I have certainly seen productions in which the Colonel and Angela spend most of their time together until the final "distribution". Is this just to bring out how topsyturvy the resolution is? I don't remember seeing a production, however, in which Angela and Saphir look unhappy with the final result (nor the Colonel and the Major, for that matter).
KENTON L. CHAMBERS: This may be one of those little elements in G&S that don't quite hold up to close scrutiny. When I played Major Murgatroyd, I was paired with Saphir for the sextet, "I hear the soft note" but ended up with Angela after the quintet "If Saphir I choose to marry". In his spoken lines just before the latter song, the Colonel proposes three alternatives: "If you (Duke) take ... then I take .... and Major takes ..." but in the song itself, where the Duke allots the girls to the officers, the results are all different from the Colonel's proposed matchups.
So it is a total jumble, and we are led to think that the men and women involved have "no preference whatever". Perhaps Gilbert's joke is that the marriages in this play are all just fun and games anyway, and that none of the characters are deeply in love with anybody (except Grosvenor with Patience, and vice versa?).
ARTHUR ROBINSON: Also Grosvenor with Grosvenor.
ERNIE FOSSE: Especially Grosvenor with Grosvenor. No one is as fond of Grosvenor as he, himself. ("I'm such a Narcissus.")
KENTON L. CHAMBERS: Since the Rapturous Maidens have switched their "love" from the soldiers, to Bunthorne, to Grosvenor, and back to the soldiers, and Jane happily switches from Bunthorne to the Duke, we can readily accept the mix and match pairings of Angie and Saphir with the two officers.
ERNIE FOSSE: It has always seemed to me that this section points directly at the old custom of arranged marriages, where people sit down and try to determine who should marry whom, based on sound, logical, rational reasoning. Love and affection never enter into the equation. In this particular case, the conversation is so blasé that it seems more like: "We should, probably, each marry somebody... let's draw straws."
Perhaps Gilbert had heard stories about his own parents' arranged marriage. (I am imagining, here. I have no citation for or against the previous sentence.) I can envision (again, with, admittedly, no sociological evidence whatsoever) several parental couples sitting around deciding their children's future mates. It's probably even likely that one of them is thinking: "My parents visited this curse of a spouse on me... and there's no way I'm going to let my child have it any better."
(I can envision a number of other scenarios, as well. But, those wouldn't serve to illustrate my point. <grin>)
Keep in mind that the concept of a "dysfunctional family" is relatively recent coinage. In many parts of the world, it has been the norm for untold generations.
Page Created 21 August, 2011