Gilbert and Sullivan Archive



ARTHUR ROBINSON: Why didn't Ruthven die the first day he went crimeless after Sir Roderic's death? I guess because Despard was committing crimes for him by proxy, as the Act II dialogue suggests. But if Despard had not committed a daily crime, who would have died - Ruthven or Despard? For the matter of that, since Ruthven points out at the end of Act II that nobody should have died at all . . . There's an unbounded field of speculation, which could leave me lying awake with a dismal headache.

LISA BERGLUND: The curse falls upon the heir, regardless of the nature of his descent. As we see in the opera, it may pass from uncle to nephew. Brother Despard may still inherit, as may his children or grandchildren, if Ruthven dies childless. Indeed, given that there have been 21 Baronets in only two centuries, or roughly one every ten years, obviously several brothers, cousins and other contemporaries have inherited the curse from one another (possibly, in centuries when communication wasn't swift enough, because a day of blameless virtue passed before the heir was informed of the need to commit a crime. As we see, the ghosts aren't what one might call prompt). It is not clear whether women can inherit the baronetcy (if any did, they were not succeeded by their own children, or their husbands changed their names to Murgatroyd, or they married cousins with the family surname).

If women cannot inherit, and if the baronetcy expires in default of heirs male, then the curse might have to acknowledge defeat, but not as long as any male heir may be traced, even if one has to go back to the distant relations of the unfortunate Rupert, and work down to the present again. I don't think a woman can be a baronet in her own right (as some duchies, earldoms, and so forth may be inherited) but I'm not sure.

Anyway, Ruthven cannot disinherit his son from the title, but only from the property.

MICHAEL NASH: I've often wondered why it is that Despard and Margaret come to Sir Ruthven and try to persuade him to abandon his life of crime. OK, they may have become virtuous and hate the thought of a criminal in the family, but if Sir Ruthven takes their advice to heart and refuses to commit his daily crime, he will die, and Despard will inherit the title, leaving him back where he started. Or is it that after a week of a "blameless" life, he hates it and is regretting marrying Margaret, and longs for the halcyon days of being a bad Baronet again?

LISA BERGLUND: As a virtuous person, perhaps Despard possesses such a strong sense of duty that he cannot, in conscience, allow Ruthven to persist in a career of vice, regardless of the fact that the consequences will be most disastrous to himself. Just as Robin, when a pure and blameless peasant, must acknowledge his identity, so Despard, as a Reformed Character, cannot be so selfish as to consider his own interests..

Despard may even believe that, should he resume the baronetcy upon Ruthven's death-by-recovery-of-forgotten-moral-senses, he, too, will be virtuous enough to repent. However, we know perfectly well that he would do no such thing.

Do you think that Despard and Margaret are supposed to evoke Mr. and Miss Murdstone from David Copperfield?

MICHAEL P. WALTERS: (Why Despard encourages Ruthven to give up his life of crime) This has puzzled a lot of people over the years. There was a paper in the Gilbert & Sullivan Journal on precisely this point.

GEOFF DIXON: From Baronet to Basingstoke - Gilbert & Sullivan Journal. Vol.VIII, No.16. 1965. p.269

Page created 4 October 1997