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e. A Subtitle for Trial by Jury
f. Wife-beating Then and Now


PHILIP STERNENBERG: ...Also, it doesn't have a subtitle. As I once suggested, how about "The Misery That Edwin Brewed"?

PAUL McSHANE: Whoa, Philip, let's stop here for a minute. Your subtitle is just fine, but I seem to remember that, about 6 months ago, there were a few postings about a suitable subtitle for Trial. Would anyone like to suggest any more, or to recall their previous suggestions for the sake of the archive?

"Edwin's Bride"????

GENE LEONARDI: OK. Here's three:




JAMES BECKMAN: Things are seldom what they seem. There is nothing so fatal to a friendship as to have to explain a joke, or words to that effect. However, let's give credit where it is due. Phil Sternenberg has produced a nice little pun on "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" or I miss my mark. The second suggestion doesn't measure up. (But wait could it be that the second is a pun of such stellar subtlety that I have missed it? In pity's sake, if so, enlighten me!)

PHILIP STERNENBERG: Yes, that's exactly what I had in mind. I'm glad I didn't have to add "With apologies to ..." to emphasize the pun in order to get people to recognize it.

Something like "Edwin's Bride," though, even if it doesn't "measure up", admittedly would be more consistent with Gilbert's subtitles. As brilliant a librettist as Gilbert was, he apparently had little desire, probably intentionally so, to be clever with titles and subtitles. The only clever G&S title, I feel, is Utopia Limited. One could argue, though, that The Pirates of Penzance is a title that could arouse the curiosity of the British Public of 1880 ("What are bloody pirates doing in Penzance, Nigel?"), and that there might be a pun in the title of Patience (besides the milkmaid, it could refer to what the Dragoons could use while waiting for the fad of aestheticism to pass), and that Ruddygore with its original spelling might have been as compelling a title as Psycho, but none of these are "clever" in the same sense as Utopia Limited.

As for subtitles, the only similarly clever one I see is The Peer and the Peri. I think it's a shame Gilbert didn't emulate his own Dulcamara, or, The Little Duck and the Great Quack more often.


BRUCE I. MILLER: This is an issue which may be of some concern in these days of PC, especially on college campuses. Before going further, let me assure SavoyNet this is not a baiting attempt or intended in any way other than to provoke discussion on an issue which may become real for many of us.

There is little doubt that the subject of wife beating figures prominently in Trial by Jury. Edwin sings:

I smoke like a furnace -
I'm always in liquor,
A ruffian - a bully - a sot;
I'm sure I should thrash her,
Perhaps I should kick her,
I am such a very bad lot!

Later, the Judge sings:

The question, gentlemen [note that all the jurors are male] - is one of liquor;
You ask for guidance - this is my reply:
He says, when tipsy, he would thrash and kick her,
Let's make him tipsy, gentlemen, and try!

Counsel for Plaintiff: With all respect
I do object!

Plaintiff: I do object!

Defendant: I don't object!

My take on this has always been that the fact that the Defendant is so brazen as to make the statements he makes is part of the ridiculous state of the court proceedings in Trial, as is the Judge's offthewall suggestion; and the Jury is taken aback:

We would be fairly acting,
But this is most distracting!
If, when in liquor, he would kick her,
That is an abatement.

(This particular number in Trial, particularly this choral section, was heavily rewritten, BTW, I wonder if it was felt necessary to add this rejoinder by the Jury.)

MAUREEN ROULT: In fact, when the Victorian Lyric Opera Company did Trial this spring, that was exactly how the director had us play it. The Judge, in his boredom with the proceedings, had been imbibing liberally from a hip flask and offered the flask to Edwin as he made this suggestion. The public reacted with a mixture of outrage, horror, etc. The jurors were divided between shock and thinking this reasonable.

BRUCE I. MILLER: It is not my impression that wifebeating is in any way sanctioned in this text; that it is actually regarded as abhorrent, and that the fact that it is brought up, with all apparent seriousness, is part of the joke.

But I wonder how some of the SavoyNet women (and men) feel about this, and the kind of reaction which might be expected from a community of college women (and men) who have been so sensitized to the issue of domestic abuse. We are dealing, after all, with a period piece, but given some of the recent reactions the PC police have had to Mikado led me to suspect that a production of Trial By Jury may now have controversial elements which were not an issue 10 years ago.

DAVID CRAVEN: I don't see why. The particular bit is a condemnation of wife beating, not supporting wife beating. And I don't see how this could be construed, in any way, as advocating this.

GWYN AUBREY: Just to add to further confusion of the OOTW :), it seems that Edwin throws in this part about wifebeating as a vain and desperate attempt to paint himself as a thorough rogue, and thus less likely to be saddled with a wife he doesn't want.

BILL McCANN: Precisely!! We should read no more than this into it.

DAVID CRAVEN: We have someone trying to avoid legal obligations. To do this he wants to show that he is a complete cad. To do this he wants to show that he engages in the worst possible conduct. Did Gilbert propose cheating on taxes, forging a will or a check or shooting a fox? No. He suggested getting drunk and beating one's spouse. The only people who agree with this are a clearly incompetent judge and a jury driven for blood. No, even the most fervent advocates of PC will not have a problem with this. Even our humourless reviewer from Berkeley, even if she is completely brain dead, could not find this wrong.

GORDON PASCOE: Fervent advocates of PC, and humourless / brain dead reviewers should never be underestimated! They may, however, be ignored. How they would hate that!

ARTHUR ROBINSON: Clearly Edwin never HAS beaten Angelina (he uses the conditional case), and is only trying to bluff the Jury (as Angelina has just done with her hypocritical proclamation of love). What's less clear (to me) is whether Edwin's "I don't object!" means that he would actually beat Angelina if it would save him from having to pay heavy damages, or whether he just wouldn't object to being made tipsy.

Personally, I find some modern jokes about spousebeating distasteful (if they seem to treat it as something natural), but think the Trial by Jury lines are not only funny but inoffensive - the situation is so absurd (the JUDGE is proposing this experiment). Of course, people who have had personal experience of spousebeating may find it offensive and unfunny.

By the way, the 1959 musical Fiorello contained the following lines in the heroine's song "I'll marry the very next man who asks me":

"And if he likes me,
Who cares how frequently he strikes me?
I'll fetch his slippers with my arm in a sling
Just for the privilege of wearing his ring."

Obviously this is intended as comic, and there were apparently no objections in 1959, but recently there have been, so Sheldon Harnick, the lyricist, has rewritten the lines. So maybe there WILL be some objections to Trial by Jury especially if a certain reviewer in California sees it.

DAVID DUFFEY: [Regarding an all-male jury] It could not be otherwise at the time. Women were not enfranchised and juries then, as now, were called from electoral rolls.

BRUCE I. MILLER: Something of which I am well aware. You don't think I was arguing against you, I hope.

DAVID DUFFEY: Was it not Gilbert who made the comment about the women's suffrage campaign, that he would chain himself to the railings of Queen Charlotte's Maternity Hospital and cry, "Babies for men"?

In 1875 jurymen would have been persons of some substance. The electoral rolls in London were made up from evidence of payment of rates of more than forty shillings per annum (2 British pounds). A juryman would therefore be the head of a household (i.e. the one responsible for payment of the rates) worth at least 40 pounds p.a.

Outside the metropolis the situation was (in 1875) much more complicated, with in some areas only those holding their property freehold being enfranchised.

BRUCE I. MILLER: My point in bringing this up is that certain "enlightened" people and groups will, I am afraid, begin making the same kinds of accusations against Trial by Jury (insensitivity to male violence against women) that they already do against Mikado (insensitivity to nonEuropean cultures). I do not agree with this kind of thinking, but I believe it is a growing reality.

What I really am curious to learn is how people on Savoynet, who feel strongly about domestic violence, perceive Trial By Jury. Edwin may be throwing up the defense simply to get off the hook (he hasn't done anything to her yet), but when the Judge (however incompetent he may be, and I agree that his incompetence is a good reason for discounting any merits his suggestion may have) proposes getting Edwin drunk to see if he actually will do what he threatens, and he doesn't object, I can see the picket lines forming already.

When women's groups have already picketed against productions of South Pacific (because of "There is nothing like a dame"), when they picket against The Fantasticks ("It depends on what you pay"), which now has an alternate song written by the authors to avoid having to deal with these protesters), when certain student government associations have banned The Mikado from being financed at their colleges, one can see the handwriting on the wall.

All of the logical refutations which have been offered here (I notice only one of the numerous replies has been written by a woman) mean nothing to humorless ideologues with an agenda. And, unfortunately, they are taken seriously in certain environments. One might call this "neoMcCarthyism."

MARY FINN: I, for one, have always assumed that Edwin means he doesn't object to getting tipsy. On very rare occasions, neither do I.

Speaking in general, I have long since resigned myself to the fact that many of my favorite musicals and operas, even many of my favorite roles, portray sexist behaviour and attitudes as being normal, and even good. Tough luck. Such shows are the product of their times, and it would be pointless to expect them to conform to present day sensibilities. I enjoy watching and performing them as period pieces, and I let my principles take a vacation. If I cringe inwardly now and again, it's a small price to pay for the joy of performing some classic roles.

I don't advocate "updating" these shows in an attempt to make them more palatable. Let me clarify that: I DO think, for example, that the "Nword" should be expunged from productions of The Mikado . Its use in no way connects to character or plot, and I see no reason to gratuitously enrage the audience. Certain scenes in Showboat, however, would lose their punch if the racist attitudes and language were cleansed from the production. When it comes to sexism, I think that very few shows could be "sanitized" without doing violence to the plot or characterization.

Trial by Jury has never bothered me too much. On the other hand, my voice teacher tells me I should learn "Batti, Batti" from Don Giovanni, and that lyric DOES make me feel a little queasy.

RICA MENDES: I think that, save that dimwitted reviewer, most (mind you not all) PC fans can see that the TONE is not a malicious one. I can see more argument against Ida for mysogynistic undertones than against Trial.

Trial is really theater of the absurd. Ida could be seen as more realistic or, like a fairy tale, using makebelieve characters and places to tell a realistic story. (Not that I am saying that Ida should be burned in the name of Political Correctness quite the contrary). But I digress.

At Oberlin, they did Trial by Jury and, as far as I was told, no one batted a politically correct eyelash.

As to the question of would Edwin beat Angelina in court (I don't believe that he physically beat her prior to the Trial, FYI), I bet that he would to: a) win the suit, and b) demonstrate to Angelina how little he cared for her at this point. It's amazing how violent previously calm people who are kind by nature can become when trying to prove a point to someone they are trying to get rid of.

GENE LEONARDI: Poor Edwin, to have stirred up such a ruckus! My 02 cents sees his wifebeating comments as just an example of quick footed thinking designed to get himself out of any monetary claims submitted by Angelina. He may be a "cad" but he's an honest one with absolutely no hidden agendas. Which cannot be said for most of the rest assembled.

THEODORE C. RICE: I don't think that Edwin either has beaten, thrashed, or kicked Angelina... his language is reasonably clear on the point when he says," I'm sure I should thrash her, perhaps I should kick her..." Both these imply that he has never offered her violence.

So far as in the future, the character that comes thru is that Edwin is a ladies' man; to have such a mark on his record would, if nothing else, severely limit his field. He would also get such a reputation that no gentleman would associate with him for fear of staining his own rep. He would probably, also, get thrown out of any club to which he had been elected, and become unsuitable as a member of any to which he might aspire.

No, Edwin is only trying to get out of a sticky situation. He probably wouldn't even go so far as to get drunk; if he did so, he could be sure that any move to thrash or kick Angelina would be thwarted by Counsel, at least. He's perfectly safe!

MAUREEN ROULT: I agree with those who say that Edwin is proposing this to portray himself as so unsavory that Angelina is better off without him. As in so many cases, the director's interpretation will largely determine how the audience interprets this.

RICA MENDES: Of course, there is a whole other way to look at the beating in Trial by Jury...

Perhaps he is trying to win over one of the Bridesmaids who, in the course of the Trial, has suggested to Edwin that not only is she interested in him, but in a little "rough love". So, Edwin sees an opportunity to prove that he is a cad and that Angelina is much better off without him, but also to win points with this kinky Bridesmaid.

The Judge, obviously into entres nous, is quite the voyeur and, since he does have a thing for Angelina, would really enjoy seeing the object of his fantasy get a good beating all in the name of "fun".

However, Angelina, being the closet submissive, is not "into" an "open" scene in the courtroom, and, since she was brought up in a good, clean way (her mother is in the public box) refuses to save her reputation (though she really wouldn't mind a good whipping from Edwin the love and caressing that she would be missing).

Of course, none of this would be objected to by the PC crowd since they are more than open and accepting of alternative lifestyles.

Page updated 27 June, 2006