Gilbert and Sullivan Archive


The Characters

5.1 - General feelings about the characters

Tom Shepard: The characters are not charmingly quirky; they are mostly very driven and very humorless. Fitzbattleaxe is apparently flawless, which makes him ineffably boring.

David Craven: ... In Utopia one of the problems may be that the villains are some of the least credible. The two wisemen are clearly outmatched against Fitzbattleaxe from the start and the Public Exploder is more of a clown than a real threat to the king...

5.2 - Who's the baddest baddy?

Bruce Walton: I'm not so sure that there is a single out-and-out baddie in the entire Savoy Canon who is nearly as bad as Scaphio and Phantis. They're spiteful, vindictive and selfish, and all the others have redeeming features:

Derrick McClure: Scaphio and Phantis, now, are in a different category: their prolonged and calculated humiliation of the King is like nothing else in Gilbert, whether he's meaning to be serious or humorous: it is mental cruelty in a very nasty form, and, however you look at it, not in the least appropriate to a comic opera.

Robert Jones: On the contrary, I consider Scaphio & Phantis to be very credible villains, in that villainy is all we see in them. We are given no insight into any other facet of their personalities (cf. Fairfax), nor do they receive any opprobrium (cf. Deadeye) except very weakly at the very end. Even Rudolph is almost likeable because he shows his weaknesses genuinely. No, Scaphio & Phantis are unlikeable villains, therefore credible, but not effective as characters.

Paul McShane: In the first printing of Utopia's libretto, about 3 months before opening night, Fitzbattleaxe shows himself as a prig after having outwitted the two wisemen: 'There! Have I not managed it cleverly?' but Zara is sorry for the Wise Men, and sings an aria about youth and old age. This left Scaphio and Phantis seeming not quite as nasty as they actually turned out.

David Craven: I wanted to come to the defense of the public exploder and the two wise guys. I don't think that they are intended to be the true "villains" of the piece. Rather, I submit that it is the Flowers of Progress generally and Goldbury in particular, which are the true villains of the piece.

First lets deal with the Public Exploder. I think that the public exploder is intended to merely represent a system of government which is totally foreign to the British, but which, at least for its own people works. Is a despotism by dynamite any more unusual (aside from the fact that it has never happened to my knowledge) than proclaiming a very young child a major religious leader because he is the reincarnation of an earlier leader? The selection of a leader merely because he is the son or daughter of a prior leader? The selection of a leader because he was able to advertise better than the other prospective leaders?

In fact, the "democracy by dynamite", in many ways, makes more sense than most of those systems because the public exploder must temper his or her actions by the fact that they then become a target. Much like the situation in America today in which both parties have attacked the certain actions of other parties to such a degree that they, themselves, soon thereafter, become targets. Acting in accord with the proper dictates of the governmental system clearly does not make one evil.

The Two Wise Guys are a little bit harder to defend. They have both admirable traits and unadmirable traits, but on the balance, they weigh out on the positive side.

Certainly their mutual desire for the Princess Zara is out of line, particularly when they could just as easily demanded the twin princess, thereby keeping each other at the same relative position. But they did eventually back down.

Their conduct against the King and the Flowers of Progress, at least to some, was admirable. Victors write the history. What would one call individuals who stand up against a leader? You call them Freedom Fighters and Patriots if they are on the winning side (at least from a PR standpoint). In such cases, invariably, the deposed leader is characterised as someone who abused their power and ignored the laws. If they lose (again from a PR standpoint), they are invariably called traitors and terrorists. In this case, the two wiseguys stood up to the Flowers of Progress whose ill-conceived ideas were ruining the local economy, the local arts climate, and the overall health and well being of the people of Utopia.

How do we view someone who has personal flaws but great public vision. Well Winston Churchill had a number of significant personal character flaws, but a great public vision. He is viewed as a great leader and his personal flaws are overlooked. Jimmy Carter, in contrast, has a very strong character, but at least as President, he was not very successful. His great personal character did not overcome his perceived deficiencies as a leader. Similar examples exist throughout history. Using these tests on the wise guys, I submit that their personal flaws are overcome by their successful efforts to prevent the State of Utopia from slipping into anarchy through their stick-to-it-ness in resisting the flowers of progress.

The Flowers of Progress. The Flowers of Progress, while not personally evil, were certainly misguided. They imposed radical changes on a country without understanding the consequences of their actions. History is replete with such actions. (For example, the Hill Country of Texas, when settlers first arrived looked like an Eden with abundent rain and fertile soil. The settlers moved in and discovered that the rain had been a freak occurrence and that the fertile soil was very thin. Once the native vegetation was removed, what little good soil that was there was washed away by what little rain that fell, resulting in great sorrow and pain for all of the settlers.) But, particularly Goldbury, being men of Education they should have seen what was going wrong with Utopia as a result of their actions and they should have acted at this point, instead of carrying on as if the whole plan was working. The initial actions were misguided, not evil, but the subsequent actions were evil.

And the greatest of these villains is, of course, Goldbury as it was his actions which brought the greatest ruin in the most obvious manner, but rather than solving the problem, he is running around seducing young girls. (And the least evil are probably Fitzbattleaxe and Corcoran whose "innovations" merely created extra work for the people of Utopia, but probably did not result in any major harm...)

Bruce Walton:

So Down with them! Down with them,
with Scaphio and Phantis
Down with them, down with them,
they're worse than the rest of Gilbert's!

5.3 - "You gotta have a patter man"

Mike Nash: From Sorcerer onwards (although Trial goes some way towards it - I don't know enough about Thespis) G&S set up certain conventions which helped the operas' success - a "formula", if you like. That doesn't mean that all the operas were the same, of course, but there were elements which would guarantee at least partial success, and one of these was the role of the patter baritone. People look forward to hearing a chap rattle off a rapid, funny and often topical song. It's especially odd that in Utopia Ltd., a show about politics where one would expect some sort of topical patter song, there isn't one. Nor, strictly speaking, is there a patter baritone role; instead we have the "comedy duo" of Scaphio and Phantis, with Tarara as a sidekick. (BTW, I think these characters are the only true "baddies" in the whole of G&S, unless you count Colonel Fairfax as a baddie.) IMO, this dilutes the effectiveness of each of them, rather than enhances it. Might it have been better to have had just one Wise Man who was Public Exploder as well (shades of Pooh-Bah, Lord High Everything Else here), who was King Paramount's nemesis, and who could deliver a pretty nifty piece of patter?

Updated 20 January 1999