Gilbert and Sullivan Archive


"I Have A Song To Sing, O"

HENRY M. ODUM: I've always thought it was no mere coincidence that the secondary title, "The Merryman And His Maid", is also the title of the song that introduces us to Jack Point and Elsie Maynard.

It is a classic case of the dramatic device of foreshadowing. A device especially used in Theatre prior to this century, and always used in a significant way.

If we listen to the song, it foretells their fate-particularly when one keeps in mind Elsie's original parting words to Jack in the finale i.e. the "laughed aloud" words.

So-I feel-in the work itself Gilbert is telling us up front what his opinion of the nobleman (Fairfax) is, and just what the fate of Elsie will be, as his wife.

He is a "peacock popinjay bravely born" and the lower class Elsie's fate is that he will " ...turn up his noble nose with scorn at the humble heart that he did not prize."

Leaving Elsie in the future to beg "on her knees with downcast eyes for the love a Merryman, moping mum."

TOM SHEPARD: I never before made the connection quite so literally, but I can easily see your point. And if this is so, then it would also follow that WSG did not think of Fairfax as a true hero. But then the implication is that Fairfax will eventually reject Elsie, the humble heart that he did not prize, and would in fact abandon her at which juncture she would return to Point.

I am not saying that this interpretation is off the wall, but I would suggest another one: that this folksy happy ending to the song provides a (false) ray of hope for the despondent Point, who must face Elsie's singing: "who loved her lord but who dropped a tear..."

JOHN SHEA: If anything, I think that the lyrics of "The Merryman and His Maid" give us the story as Jack Point would like the real lives of Elsie and himself to turn out, but Gilbert saw matters in a more realistic light than that. Besides, I don't think Gilbert wrote his operas to be decoded. It would not occur to someone in the audience in the theatre to make an interpretation so entirely at variance with what the play presents emphatically.

Page created 7 June 1997