Gilbert and Sullivan Archive



NICK SALES: When you get a brilliant Point and an equally good Elsie together, the second act really becomes something special.

J. DERRICK McCLURE: I'm going to stick my neck out, though some folk will probably try to strangle me with it-I DON'T LIKE ELSIE. She is the only example in the canon of an unfaithful heroine-Gilbert's Cressida, you could call her. As somebody else beautifully expressed it, she's the one spark of light and hope in Jack Point's life, and she throws him over quite callously for the first glamour-boy that crosses her path. All right, she's young and silly-whether she's sixteen or seventeen doesn't make much difference-but the fact remains: she was either betrothed to Point or at least had an understanding, and she dumped him with no regard at all for his feelings.

JUDITH WEIS: Derrick forgets that Jack Point is not too clear on whether they are betrothed or not-he remarks that "there is a limit to my folly"-thus he is not so anxious to marry her either.

J. DERRICK McCLURE: As I've always understood it, Point's "Though I'm a fool, there's a limit to my folly" is just fooling-part of his comic patter and not an expression of his real feelings. He reacts pretty vigorously, and with an unmistakable change of tone, to the Lieutenant's suggestion of Elsie marrying Fairfax, and requires to be fully reassured (tragic irony, alas!) that her "husband" will die almost immediately after the ceremony. Furthermore, in the ensuing song he refers to her as "my promised wife, my lovely bride that is to be"-language as unambiguous as possible-and she makes no demur. It's perfectly clear that he is in love with her and that she at the very least has accepted him as her future husband.

TOM SHEPARD: I think that this is a case, where love and one's future happiness are more important than an old promise, whether stated or implied. Why would any healthy person wish Elsie to be stuck with Jack? There must be limits to one's sense of duty.

No one wants to buy this-and sometimes, because we are all fallible mortals, we promise or imply something which we cannot fulfill or about which we change our mind. Elsie at least has a better shot with Fairfax (granted he's insufferable) than with the aging, not-too-witty, and quite poor Jack Point. I feel very sorry for Point, but has about as much right to claim Elsie as Ruth does to claim Frederic.

GORDON PASCOE: I began musing about the two things we might safely assume about Point and Elsie and how this might determine their characterization.

1. They are living by their wits as entertainers and performers. It seems entirely reasonable to me that Elsie and Jack would grasp a monetary opportunity, even though they have misgivings. To call Elsie an "opportunist" as a character flaw seems hardly fair-it is her livelihood.

2. The second thing is that their opportunism is overlaid over a period of grinding poverty and a desperate need to help Elsie's mother. There is nothing to suggest that "mother" is just some sort of ploy by perpetually lying street-people and that it is anything other than genuine.

It is not surprising that Elsie might have a soft spot for Jack since he is the main hope on her bleak horizon, for all sorts of economic reasons and also because he's not a bad bloke. A perky and lovably-played Elsie should capture the hearts of much of the audience who would understand why Jack falls for her. We then see an Elsie with a more serious side.

Modern-day political correctness might brand Jack as a man taking advantage of the young Elsie-but given their times and circumstances this holds no water for me.

From my comfortable position not only do I not blame either Elsie or Jack for the way things turn out for them-for it seems almost inevitable. And it makes that glorious ending all the more poignant.

One of my favourite lines in all of G&S is when this young merrymaid, full of joy at her forthcoming marriage, takes time to console the moping merryman starting with "but who dropped a tear". I am so pleased that a certain somebody had the audacity to change it from the original out-of-character "laughed aloud". Like Elsie, even the chorus, singing pianissimo, are affected by Jack's sorrow. I once saw a Fairfax, whom I am less sure than some, is a downright bad-egg, "take pause" instead of adopting the usual, it seems to me, un-cavalier disregard of a fellow human's suffering. Certainly, the audiences feel deeply for Jack and can identify with the universal plight of a human being who has "lost" a loved one. We have all been there, or know instinctively that one day we will.

GEORGE TIMSON: I agree, and to my mind the character of Elsie is even more distinctive: she is the only G&S heroine who is never silly.

But why should she be silly, since this is not a comic opera? It is simply an opera, the greatest English opera ever written, In My Humble Opinion. (Handel doesn't count. Britten counts).

THEODORE C RICE: One can then wonder why Phœbe and Meryll sacrifice themselves on the altar of matrimony, while Elsie, once staunch to Point, cheerfully gives him the old heave-ho for another-admittedly younger, more socially acceptable, and wiser. Seems to me that the mantle of "Rosie Roundheels" should be transferred from Phœbe to Elsie...

Page modified 17 June, 2006