Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Arcadian landscape

Arcadian landscape. W. W. Gilbert called the setting of the play’s first act “Arcadian,” and his stage directions indicate a river and a rustic bridge. However, the scene in which the action of Iolanthe begins might be described more truly as Fairyland, a place in which an Arcadian shepherdess can be a ward of Chancery, wooed by a shepherd who is the son of a union between a mortal and a fairy and who is a fairy down to his waist but has the lower half of a mortal. To a picturesque vista of grassy lawns and goldfish ponds, Conservative peers come marching to pay their court to Phyllis, and in this realm of infinite possibilities the stout Wagnerian queen of the fairies has been able to nestle in a nutshell, dive into a dewdrop, and curl up inside a tiny flower.

*Westminster Palace

*Westminster Palace. London home of the British Parliament, where the moonlit face of the clock below Big Ben anchors the play’s second act in the reality of Victorian London. A sentry marches back and forth in precise fashion, meditating on the structure of party politics. The fairies have come to London in support of Strephon, the half-mortal shepherd, and the power they bring from their own magical world upsets the boundaries and expectations of Westminster and the House of Lords. Ultimately, the fairy queen reunites Strephon’s mother with her long-lost husband, the lord chancellor, proposes marriage to the sentry, and pairs off her troops with members of Parliament, who immediately sprout wings, and “away [they] go to Fairyland,” where “they will be surely happier.”

Iolanthe Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Bailey, Leslie. Gilbert and Sullivan and Their World. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1973. Examines the original production of Iolanthe and notes its allusions to Wagnerian opera. Photographs and sketches of early productions.

Dark, Sidney, and Rowland Grey. W. S. Gilbert: His Life and Letters. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Gryphon Books, 1971. Shows Iolanthe’s indebtedness to The Bab Ballads (1869) and considers the development of the patter song in the Lord Chancellor’s songs. Examines the role of the chorus in relation to other Gilbert and Sullivan works.

Dunn, George E. A Gilbert and Sullivan Directory. New York: Da Capo Press, 1971. A comprehensive dictionary that includes references to Gilbert’s many allusions. Shows correlations among various Gilbert and Sullivan works.

Heylar, James, ed. Gilbert and Sullivan: Papers Presented at the International Conference Held at the University of Kansas in May, 1970. Lawrence: University of Kansas Library, 1971. Examines the considerable abridgments made to Iolanthe over the years and the reasons for these changes. Connects the operetta to similar works.

Moore, Frank Ledlie. Handbook of Gilbert and Sullivan. New York: Schocken Books, 1975. Gives an overview of Iolanthe. Places the opera in the pastoral tradition and considers its many allusions to the operas of Richard Wagner.