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Princess Ida

This table attempts to show how Gilbert’s Princess Ida evolved from Tennyson’s poem. Gilbert uses only one direct quote from Tennyson so this table considers where and how Gilbert uses Tennyson’s ideas. I submit that Gilbert’s Princess Ida and Prince Hilarion are very different characters to those drawn by Tennyson. I provide textual evidence for this contention in my MA dissertation (Open University, 2000). Sullivan’s music does much to restore Tennyson’s dignity to them, particularly Ida.

The storyline of Tennyson’s The Princess is used as the principal text and appears in the left column. This means that much of Gilbert’s Princess Ida will appear out of sequence. The Princess is told in Cantos (parts) by different men; the Cantos are separated by love songs sung by the women. The line numbers in this table refer to the version of Tennyson’s The Princess on the G&S Archive; and to Princess Ida in Bradley’s The Complete Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan (at page 450). I suggest that it is necessary to read them both closely to get the full effect of Gilbert’s very clever “perversion”. I have taken the decision to ignore Gilbert’s earlier play.

I have not attempted to quote lines as this is a comparison of the use of ideas. I have entered no comment where Gilbert appears to have directly applied Tennyson’s idea. A blank indicates that Gilbert made no use of those lines.

A scholarly edition of Tennyson’s poem can be found in the Longman Annotated English Poets Series, Tennyson: A Selected Edition , but different from that on the G&S Archive. At p.221 Christopher Rick's, the editor, quotes a letter sent by Tennyson in 1882 in which T said ‘You have seen amongst other things that if women ever were to play such freaks, the burlesque and the tragic might go hand in hand’. There is an apocryphal story that Tennyson attended the first night of Gilbert’s burlesque ‘per-version’ of The Princess in 1870; perhaps this is what Tennyson was referring to.

Tennyson's The Princess Gilbert's Princess Ida

The Prince Prince Hilarion
The King (The Prince’s father) King Hildebrand
The twins, (Ida’s brothers) Guron and Scynthius
  Other characters as named by Tennyson

This sets the scene at a country house party where the estate workers were invited for a day out. A group of upper class visitors took themselves aside and engaged in a “tale from mouth to mouth” in which the speaker progresses the story from the point their predecessor left it.


1-4 The story is narrated by the Prince.

1.110 Hilarion’s aria “Today we meet” reflects the start of Tennyson’s narrative and sets the scene for WSG’s ‘per-version’.

5-30a The historical background to the Prince’s catalepsy.


30b-32 The Prince and a princess betrothed at a very young age
33-34a They were married by proxy when Ida was “eight years old”

1.115-117 WSG exaggerates the young age of the couple Ida was a twelvemonth old… [and Hilarion]…twice her age”.

34b-39 The Prince has fond memories of the young Ida

1.148-161 A parody

40-49 At the time for the real wedding the Princess’ father could not produce her; she was living alone with other women, determined not to wed.

1.1-160 The opening act adopts this scenario.
1.136-139 A parody

50-56 We are introduced to The Prince’s two friends

WSG keeps this friendship

57-85a The king shows his anger at the Princess’ refusal to wed.

1.29-109 WSG gives this a similar treatment

The Prince asks his father if he can go and try to persuade the Princess. Florian says his sister is with the Princess and Cyril asks to join the trip 1.341 Hilarion’s aria is a parody of T’s sentiments and Hilarion invites Cyril and Florian

85b-88 The king insists on going to Ida and forcing her submission

1.332 Hildebrand threatens to “storm the lady”

89-112 The Prince meditates on Ida’s picture, hears voices telling him he will triumph and sneaks out of the palace with his friends and secretly goes to see Gama

1.148-161 This is another parody that indicates Hilarion’s shallowness and selfishness as opposed to the genuine tenderness of T’s Prince.

113-124 Brief description of Gama – “crack’d and small his voice” “a little dry old man” “not like a king” –

1.37-53 & 204-230 WSG’s Gama is a caricature of T’s, exaggerating these two characteristics

and of the amicable meeting between the Prince and Gama

1.233-318 This meeting is far from amicable

125-144 Gama places all the blame for Ida’s ideas onto the Ladies Blanche and Psyche  
145-151a Gama gave her the summer palace for her “University for maidens” 1.293-295 G’s Gama lets her use Castle Adamant

151b-160 Ida sees no men, “not ev’n her brother Arac, nor the twins her brethren” who idolise Ida.

1.310-320 An exaggeration of T.

Gama offers to give letters of introduction to the Prince, but does not think that there is much chance of him being allowed to see her

1.321-329 Gama pokes fun at Hilarion’s intention to visit Ida.

161-181 The three friends go to the village next the university

2.190 The friends go directly to the university.

182-191a they are told that no male animals pass into the university 1.311-320 An exaggeration of T

191b-222a The landlord provides women’s clothes for the three friends who dress up and ride into the university unchallenged

222b-245 The friends say they wish to enrol as Lady Psyche’s pupils and are put to bed within the university  


1-14 song


15-61 The friends are dressed in academic robes and taken to meet Ida who tells them that she resolved never to wed

2.275 The friends conveniently find some academic robes on the ground and
2.303-380 accidentally meet with Ida who explains the rules of the university. WSG parodies T.

62-66 and suggests that they should “cast and fling the tricks, which make us toys of men” to make them equal with men. 2.120-133 A parody by WSG. G’s Ida is an abandoned person (a precursor of Mad Meg?!)
67-68a the friends are overawed by Ida 2.308 They curtsey to Ida but, throughout the play, treat her and her ideals with scorn

68b-85a Ida introduces the female heroines on whom they should base their ideals and
85b-98a begs them to “lose convention”

2.80-89 Ida sings an aria to Minerva – but she is goddess of war as well as of learning
2.120-133 see above

98b-110 They go to Psyche’s class (Psyche has a child)

Psyche’s child does not appear – it would not fit well in Gilbert and Sullivan’s era

111-113 Florian recognises his sister and Cyril is attracted to her


114-143 Psyche’s speech against man

2.428-466 An excellent parody of T (and of Darwin’s theories)

144-167 In this university women can learn whatever men are taught
168-183 and men and women should be equal in all things

2.90-115 A parody, but

2.116-120 this Ida wants supremacy over man, not equality with him.

184-208 Psyche recognises her brother


209-310 the Prince introduces himself as Ida’s affianced, Florian and the Prince remember their youth with Psyche,

2.405-423 A very similar treatment

311-360 Melissa overhears their conversation but will not “give three gallant gentlemen to death”

2.467-520 This is very similar, but Melissa’s reaction is more flighty; and the treatment of Melissa by Hilarion seems harsh as the rhythm and rhyme are very like those used in children’s derogatory playground doggerel

361-382 The friends go hooded about the university classes and listen and learn 2.203-222 The friends parody what they could learn
383-424a Cyril doubts the ladies’ ability to invent but Florian defends their lectures

2.223-267 and they all make fun of the idea of women’s educational and practical abilities

424b-469 The dinner bell rings. The ladies are described as being involved in learned discussions and play. Lady Blanche is described as having “autumn tresses falsely brown”. The friends are enraptured by the ladies. The day closes.

2.605 The dinner bell is rung, and the friends make fun of what they see and hear.
2.581-582 and throughout, Blanche is treated as older and embittered.


1-16 song

17-31 The following morning Melissa confesses that Blanche knows about them from her.


32-57 Melissa reveals how Blanch rails against Psyche each night, and Blanche gradually discovers

2.145-163 Blanche rails against Ida and Psyche

58 “these are men … and you know it”

2.525-545 Blanche discovers their sex

59-65 Blanche resolves to tell Ida and crush Psyche, Melissa tries to persuade the men to leave quickly

2.546-595 Melissa persuades Blanche not to tell Ida

66-77 Cyril vows to save Psyche  

78-96 Melissa explains the feud -- Blanche tutored Ida but feels that Psyche has supplanted her and stolen her theories

2.165-187 A combination of this idea and Canto 3, lines 323-331

97-116 Florian declares his love for Melissa
and the Prince for Ida

This final lines of this speech are more akin to T’s Prince; but the tenor of the whole is G’s chauvinist prince

117-153 Cyril describes how he tried to influence Blanche

2.550-590 Melissa influences Blanche

154-155 “ No rock so hard but that a little wave may beat admission in a thousand years”

3.108-135 Is this the basis for “I built upon a rock”?

156-167 He told her that she deserves to be the head before Psyche and Ida. Blanche agreed to think it over

2.550-590 see above

168-182 Ida invites the new girls to join her for an afternoon walk

2.606 The friends are there at the picnic
183-194 The Prince has another seizure during which he has a vision of Ida  

195-322 During the afternoon Ida and the Prince talk of the Prince and his court and the marriage contract. The Prince tries to tell Ida how ‘the Prince’ loves her from afar. Ida denies that this can be. Ida tells of her ideals of equality

2.627-650 Another parody

323-331 “For was, and is, and will be are but is”

2.156-187 see above
332-363 The picnic continues with the men attempting to touch hands with their ladies on the paths.


1-18 song


19-38 The picnic continues and the Prince touches hands with Ida on the path

39-58 A maid sings “Tears, idle tears”  

59-92 Ida denies the sentiments of this song and invites the Prince to sing a song from [his] her homeland.


93-154 He sings of love, falsetto, but Ida makes fun of his singing and of the love poem, and talks of the inequality of love between men and women and invites another song about the women of [his] her land.


155-165 Cyril breaks out into a drunken tavern song, “unmeet for ladies”,
at which the Prince shouts “Forbear, sir”

2.671-694 WSG tells us what the song is!

2.699 Hilarion remonstrates with Cyril.

166-213a Chaos breaks out, Ida charges off and falls into the river.

2.702-715 A truncated version of this is used – necessarily, for stage purposes.
The Prince dives in to rescue her and then leaves the scene.

2.713-714 A typical Gilbertian humorous turn on the situation

213b-257 He meets with Florian who tells him that Melissa has been charged with knowing that they were men, but that Psyche had fled with Cyril  

258-269 Florian and the Prince are caught.

2.726-733 All three are taken

291-372 Blanche speaks against Psyche

2.145-185 This tirade includes both Psyche and Ida

373-415 A girl comes in and she brings letters from the Prince’s father and Gama. Gama tells how he started to come to Ida to plead for the Prince but was taken hostage by his father. The King’s letter told her not to harm the Prince and to give him up or he would storm the castle.

2.755-815 Hildebrand arrives to deliver his own message, accompanied by Gama and Ida’s brothers.

416-450 The Prince tells Ida of his love and
451-465 “except you slay me here according to your bitter statute-book, I cannot cease to follow you…but half without you; with you, whole; and of those halves you worthiest…”

2.734-750 This is the only occasion on which WSG seems to make Hilarion sympathetic towards Ida, but this lyric is still selfishly based on Hilarion’s wants. There is no hint of him looking for a partnership with Ida.

466-494 he gives her Gama’s letter of introduction, but she does not read it and then there is news that the castle is being stormed

2.755-815see above
495-519 Ida reminds the ladies that she is their Head and with stirring speech that she will lead them into battle

3.1-101 WSG exaggerates Ida’s speech and the ladies’ reluctance to fight.

520-454a Ida begrudgingly thanks the Prince for saving her life
— remarks that they looked good in women’s clothes
— but she denies that she will honour the marriage contract

Gama makes this comment.

454b-571 The women guards pushed the Prince and Florian out of the castle and the Prince has another seizure and vision of Ida.

572-597 song, after which the girl “clapt her hands and cried for war” 3.1-10 But this cry for war is made fun of in the subsequent lyrics and dialogue.


1-35 Florian and the Prince reach the King’s tent and everyone is relieved to see them but laugh at their women’s clothes, all torn. They learn that Cyril has told all. Gama is released.

3.294-325 The friends are brought before Gama and his sons. His laughter is in scorn, not hilarity. Hilarion and Cyril’s response is anger, not embarrassment

36-68 Florian and the Prince meet with Cyril and go to see Psyche

69-106 Psyche is distraught at having betrayed Ida and her cause, and having lost her child.

3.390-391 It seems that there is no regret on Psyche’s part

107-115a News of Arac approaching. The King tells Arac Ida must agree or there shall be war.

Act 3 turns this around. Gama is the messenger to Ida, and goads the friends into fighting. Hilarion is not given the tenderness of T’s Prince.

115b-119a Gama asks the Prince about war

3.305-325 Gama is trying to induce the fight

119b-143a The Prince does not want war, he wants her love

3.305 Hilarion is easily goaded into fighting

143b-164a but the King pleads for war, and denies Ida’s ideals

2.785-817 Hildebrand wants war

164b-197a but the Prince pleads for the gentle approach “wild natures need wise curbs” a very gentle, thoughtful speech “not war: lest I lose all”

3.316-317 Hilarion has no gentle approach

197b-205 Gama agrees with the Prince “I wish he had our daughter”

3.395-397 Gama only takes this line because all else is lost, and it makes a good joke

206-214 Gama thanks the King for treating him and his land gently
215-222a and suggests that the Prince meets with Arac as friends to resolve the matter peacefully.

3.169-230 Because WSG has caricatured T’s Gama he can make this kindly treatment seem like torture. There is no resolution but war on offer

223-268a The Prince goes with Gama and they get on well together, but Arac and his brothers “such thews of men” were ready for war. But Gama told them of the Prince’s escapades

Throughout the play there is antagonism between Gama and Hilarion
1.182-202 The brothers’ initial song reflects this.

268b and Arac said “what care I, war or no”

1.170-202 This song denies this aspect of Arac

269-291 Arac declares he knows little of politics, but will stand by Ida because “she made me swear it”.

1.170-181 and the first couple of verses are an exaggerated expansion of this passage

292-299 One of the brothers says that “the women’s garment hid the women’s heart” as a taunt at the three friends.

3.294-325 see above

300-317 they reacted and the Prince offered to fight three to three at that point, but the brothers argue that fifty on fifty would be a better fight. Ida is to keep her contract if the brothers lose. Arac was to send the message,

3.311-325 Gama instigates the three on three fight by taunting the friends. Ida agrees only because Gama manipulates her.

318-320 Gama tried to stop the fight.

3.305-325 Gama is trying to induce the fight

321- 340 The King took forces to the castle attempting to get Ida to relent. She would not do so, the Prince became more determined to win her.

2.778-860 Turned into a comic, rather than poignant, scene.

341-360 The Prince told the King about the challenge, and persuaded him to agree.

3.311-325 see above

361-396 Ida’s response to Arac is shown to the Prince. She rants against the harm done to women. She agrees to the contest – expecting Arac to win –

3.230 Ida yields only to please her father

397-398a but asks that the Prince’s life be spared because he saved her life – and his mother lives.


398b-413 but still expects Arac to win


414-456a Ida finds traitors in her camp since the university’s arms failed. She thinks that the women may be better off at home. She has begun to love Psyche’s child

3.1-135 Another parody with lots of typically Gilbertian jokes about the “dispensing chemist” etc.

456b-531 the Prince recounts the battle – or is it a vision brought about by a seizure?
The winners are Ida’s brothers.

3.343-344 Hilarion and his friends win the battle.


1-16 song

17-57 In the aftermath of the battle the Prince is still in a seizure and having visions (?) of Ida  

58-97 Ida acknowledges that their sanctuary has been violated and asks that her brother’s injured friends be brought into the castle for treatment.

3.344-345 WSG is still caricaturing Ida.

98-121 Ida finds the Prince “lying stark, dishelm’d and mute” and thinks him killed by Arac.


122-128 Ida realises the Prince is not dead and asks the King to let her tend him with her brothers – but only because it is the right thing to do!


129-150 As Ida and the King look at the Prince’s body Psyche takes back her child
151-165 but she sees the injured Cyril

166-187 the Prince acknowledges defeat and pleads with Ida to let Psyche have her child  

188-219 Ida rants against Psyche’s betrayal, but asks her to be true to the child

3.346-359 Ida’s rant is against Hildebrand; and she meekly asks Blanche to take over.

220-227 Arac tells Ida that she is harder on her women than she is on men.  

228-270a Gama joins in and rebukes Ida’s heartlessness.
270b-282a the King takes over and says that he cannot let such a hard woman tend his son.

WSG develops this idea of Ida’s heartlessness throughout the play – even taking it into the sub-title and applying Castle Adamant to Ida herself

282b-294a Ida relents towards Psyche
294b-307a and asks the King to let her take care of the Prince.

3.390-395 WSG turns this into a joke about the battle of the sexes.

307b-379 Ida agrees to Cyril and Florian, and relatives of other undergraduates, being tended in the castle.

3.344-345 see above

319 — “we break our laws with ease”  


1-15 song


16-28 By ministering to the men the ladies of the university became more fair

3.358-369 WSG parodies this with jokes about abjuring man and the lack of a posterity to exalt her name.

29-44 but Ida became depressed by her failure but eventually found peace tending the sick


45-86 Love blossomed between the nurses and the nursed; Ida tentatively assented to Cyril being with Psyche


87-100 Gama continued to press the Prince’s claim on Ida but the Prince was still in a coma


101-118 But love began to blossom as Ida tended the Prince

3.346-349 This Ida just gives in, all too easily. Is Gilbert wresting the topsy turvy ending back from Tennyson? This Ida is acting totally out of character

119-173 The Prince recovered consciousness but slipped back again, believing that she loved him


174-296a Ida reads “Now sleeps the crimson petal”, and “Come down, O maid, from yonder mountain height” - love poems - to the Prince and they converse about their ideals. They discover that they are the same – equality in love, not master and servant.


296b-305a Their ideal is true equality where each fulfils defect in the other, two persons but a single being.
305b-360 the Prince’s ideals have always been thus, taught to him by his mother, and are in complete accord with Ida’s

3.375-406 Hilarion is seen to be a typical Victorian chauvinist. This ending is more in line with the Victorian status quo than is T’s, and is typical of all the G&S operas. This Ida meekly submits to her husband.

354-357 The Prince says: “O we will walk this world, yoked in all exercise of noble end, and so through those dark gates across the wild that no man knows. Indeed I love thee: come.” 3.403-406 This is the only quote that G uses from T’s poem. BUT it is given to the wrong character and in the wrong context. In T’s version the Prince is exhorting Ida to believe that he is in sympathy with her ideals and in love with her as an equal. This Ida is just saying “OK, you win, I lose; come on.”


The tale has ended. The narrator sets the closing scene and makes comment on what has been told and happening.


9b-17 “What style could suit? / The men required…/…mock-heroic gigantesque,/…/The women…/…wrestle with burlesque,/ And drove us, last, to quite a solemn close”

Did these lines provide the idea for WSG’s “per-version”?

19-20 “a noble princess – why / Not make her true-heroic – true-sublime?”

Gilbert’s text generally makes this Ida hard and unyielding, Sullivan’s music reverses this and restores the dignity and splendour given to her by Tennyson.

60-68 “the king is scared, the soldier will not fight,/ …/ A kingdom topples over with a shriek/…/ In mock heroics…/…
Too comic for the solemn things they are, / Too solemn for the comic touches in them.”

Was this too good a dichotomy for WSG to ignore?

I think that the basis of Tennyson’s poem is Reason and Equality. I think that the basis of Gilbert’s play is Conflict and Ridicule.

II.64-66[Ida speaking]

Some future time, if so indeed you will,
You may with those self-styled our lords ally
Your fortunes, justlier balanced, scale with scale.


Prin. …
A hundred maidens here have sworn to place
Their feet upon his neck

and 3.356-369

Prin. ……Oh, I had hoped/…all women…/… [would] abjure tyrannic Man!/ [and] at my exalted name Posterity / Would bow in gratitude!
Hild. … If…women…/…abjure tyrannic Man,/…How / Is this Posterity to be provided?
Prin. I never thought of that!

Contributed to the Archive by David Fidler

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