Gilbert and Sullivan Archive



HENRY A. STEPHENS: I remember, when I listened to the Martyn Green/D'OC recording of The Yeomen Of The Guard and then saw it on PBS (not the Joel Grey version), feeling very akin to Jack Point.

When he faints or dies at the end, I felt, screw the other happy couples. This is life. It's a tough operetta for me because it's so close to home. I have often been a merryman moping mum, whose soul was sad and whose glance was glum, etc.

C. M. WAIN: Couldn't agree more. Those in the G&S/Dorothy L. Sayers group may recall Wimsey's words: "I used to think 'The Yeoman' sentimental tosh, but it is all too true!"

ANDREW CROWTHER: This leads on to the other hoary old question: Is Point Gilbert? I suspect that there are parts of Gilbert in Point-parts which Gilbert didn't particularly like, the self-pity, the excessive cynicism, the tendency to push away from seriousness. The author stands apart from Point, commenting wryly on his vanities and self-obsession. ("Oh, woe is you? Your anguish sink!/Oh, woe is me, I rather think!") There's a good deal of sympathy there too, of course, but far from uncritical.

ROBERT JONES: In his philosophy of humour, his gilded pills, I'd say yes, he's Gilbert. His cynicism? Maybe not. I think that Gilbert was only a professional cynic, at heart a sentimentalist. Point's cynicism is due to despondency. Possibly there's a parallel between Gilbert's dissatisfaction with his work and Point's outwardly witty but inwardly tormented nature, but I can't quite see it.

LARRY SEILER: The only issue on which everyone seems to have agreed is that Point loves Elsie. Allow me to remedy that curious omission. Point certainly wants Elsie and needs Elsie, but loves her? I don't see it. An essential part of love, I believe, is to care more for the loved one than for oneself.

Point has a lot to say about his plans for Elsie, but does he ever interest himself in what she wants? At the critical moment at the end of Act 1, Point appears greatly offended that Elsie simply says "woe is me". He replies "Oh woe is you? Your anguish sink! Oh woe is me, I rather think!"

Throughout the show, Point speaks of other people's needs and desires only as a means to get what he wants. At the end, he is reduced to crying out an anguished "Attend to me!" But why should they? Point doesn't care for anyone but himself, and he's not even a very good jester. The tragedy is that he doesn't understand this about himself, and continually blames others for his own inherent flaws. Yes, Point is definitely true to life.

HENRY M. ODUM: Can Jack be selfish in his love for Elsie? Yes he can, as evidence by his panicky: "Oh woe is you, your anguish sink! Oh woe is me I rather think!"

Can he also be unselfish in his love for Elsie? Most definitely, as is evident in the line:

"Her mother, old Bridgett Maynard travels with us, for Elsie is a good girl. However the old woman is in bed a fever and we are here to pick up some silver to buy an electuary for her."

The whole reason that Gilbert gives us for Jack to be there, is to help Elsie and her mother. And when they're offered the 100 crowns, he expresses his opinion (after solemn assurances by the Lt.) but defers to Elsie.

So, Jack selfish, Jack unselfish? He can be both (part of what makes him an intriguing figure). He acts under the assumption that his feelings for her are mutual and finds out, towards the very end that this is not so.

TOM GROVES: One wonders what has brought Elsie and Point together in the first place - economic expediency is probably the main reason. Point is looking for a permanent position under a rich patron. Should he find one, what's to become of Elsie, or do they all get to be on the payroll? Would he abandon her and her aged mother? Find a woman less encumbered?

ROBERT JONES: Jack truly loves Elsie (or he wouldn't faint/die/suicide because of her). And remember their entrance: she's half the act.

NEIL ELLENOFF: Why would anyone want to marry Jack Point? He goes through life thinking and saying "Poor me". With apologies to those of you who don't understand Yiddish, he is the ultimate Kvetch. (I think you can get the meaning from he sound)

JUDITH WEIS: Moreover, Jack Point (at the risk of offending those among us who would sanctify him) is quite self-centered. At the end of Act 1, when Elsie finds her unknown husband has escaped, does he offer sympathy? No! Thinking only of himself, he sings "oh woe is me I rather think." This cannot help endear him to her.

ROBERT JONES: OK, he's got a few mild personality disorders, but I'm sure he'd make a good husband for someone, possibly Elsie.

LARRY SEILER: Doesn't it strike anyone else that Yeomen is, in essence, a Greek tragedy? One might argue about various characters being nice or nasty, but ultimately, Jack Point isn't destroyed by Fairfax or Elsie-he is destroyed by the chance that brings him and Elsie the offer of 100 crowns if she will marry a condemned criminal. Once Jack and Elsie accept this deal, nothing can save him.

LISA BERGLUND: If you define a Greek tragedy as one in which the hero or heroine comes to confront his/her inescapable doom, then I would say Yeomen is not a Greek tragedy. Unlike the end of Oedipus or Antigone, for example, Point's end is not determined by an external omnipotent fate, but by the weaknesses in his character. Moreover, in Greek tragedy the

hero possesses tremendous moral and social stature, whereas Point is quite insignificant. Given that fact, I would say that Yeomen is not so much a Greek as a modern tragedy. Point resembles Arthur Miller's Willy Loman much more than Agamemnon or the Trojan women. What's tragic, in this reading, is Point's very unimportance to his society.

One could make the case that Point is merely pathetic, and this argument has substantial force. After all, the qualities normally associated with the tragic hero-magnificence, pride, a resolute defiance of fate-are absent from Point. He doesn't do anything we admire (note that the main character of a tragedy is not a tragic protagonist, but a tragic hero). But two things do, for me at least, suggest that he may qualify as a kind of tragic hero. One is his capacity for suffering, an element that Shakespeare introduces into tragedy when he approaches the Greek genre as a Christian writer. Hamlet, Othello, even Macbeth, all suffer profoundly, and it's in the greatness of their suffering that we recognize their heroism. The other factor is our feeling that Point's death (or "insensibility") bereaves the world of a person who essentially enriched it. The sense of insufficiency that characterizes all the Shakespeare tragedies, at the end when Fortinbras or Malcolm or Edgar shows up, emerges because the world, without the tragic hero, is empty. In that way, despite his manifold weaknesses, Point may function as a tragic hero, because the loss of his capacity for love, however misdirected or incompetent, impoverishes the society that he leaves behind.

In thinking about the jester as tragic hero, I've been reflecting a little on Rigoletto, on whom chance also plays a cruel trick (though Verdi's jester is not a victim of chance alone, any more than Point is a puppet of fate). The death of his daughter Gilda punishes Rigoletto for his venomous nature and his aiding and abetting of the Duke; her death, of course, fulfills Monterone's curse. Similarly, we can see Point's loss of Elsie as punishment for his willingness to allow her to marry Fairfax, or for his self-absorption. So if losing Elsie is an ironic judgment, the reprise of "who loved her lord, and who laughed aloud" should remind us of the reprise of "La donna e mobile" as Rigoletto gloats over what he thinks is the Duke's body.

THOMAS DRUCKER: Ordinarily I should not venture into the thickets of literary criticism, but on the subject of fools all of us have practical experience. One way of looking at the character of the fool is that it subverts all the norms of society including those that make tragedy possible. The network of social obligations that encompass the rest of us when we are not playing the fool do not catch the fool, who drifts in and out like Tom Bombadil in Lord of the Rings.

It could also be argued, however, that Point does not quite rise to the stature of the fool. He is, after all, rather unsuccessful as a jester and may not have earned the license to play the fool. It may be that he could have lived a long and happy life in a profession closer to his talents (say, that of torturer). I doubt that there was much ambiguity about Shadbolt's end when it came.

Page created 6 June 1997