"Iolanthe" or "The Peer and the Peri" is a comic operetta by Gilbert and Sullivan. It opened at the Savoy Theatre in London on November 25, 1882, and ran for 400 performances.

Iolanthe is among the best and most frequently performed G&S operettas. Perhaps partly because it is easy to persuade half of a bunch of amateur dramatics to dress up as fairies!

The opera is a parody of the parliament of the time, particularly the peerage and centers around a half-fairy, Strephon, his fairy mother, Iolanthe, and his mundane father the Lord Chancellor.


One of Gilbert's best patter songs, sung by the Lord Chancellor, is included in the libretto:

    When you're lying awake with a dismal headache, and repose is taboo'd by anxiety,
    I conceive you may use any language you choose to indulge in, without impropriety;
    For your brain is on fire--the bedclothes conspire of usual slumber to plunder you:
    First your counterpane goes, and uncovers your toes, and your sheet slips demurely from under you;
    Then the blanketing tickles--you feel like mixed pickles--so terribly sharp is the pricking,
    And you're hot, and you're cross, and you tumble and toss till there's nothing 'twixt you and the ticking.
    Then the bedclothes all creep to the ground in a heap, and you pick 'em all up in a tangle;
    Next your pillow resigns and politely declines to remain at its usual angle!
    Well, you get some repose in the form of a doze, with hot eye-balls and head ever aching.
    But your slumbering teems with such horrible dreams that you'd very much better be waking;
    For you dream you are crossing the Channel, and tossing about in a steamer from Harwich--
    Which is something between a large bathing machine and a very small second-class carriage--
    And you're giving a treat (penny ice and cold meat) to a party of friends and relations--
    They're a ravenous horde--and they all came on board at Sloane Square and South Kensington Stations.
    And bound on that journey you find your attorney (who started that morning from Devon);
    He's a bit undersized, and you don't feel surprised when he tells you he's only eleven.
    Well, you're driving like mad with this singular lad (by the by, the ship's now a four-wheeler),
    And you're playing round games, and he calls you bad names when you tell him that "ties pay the dealer";
    But this you can't stand, so you throw up your hand, and you find you're as cold as an icicle,
    In your shirt and your socks (the black silk with gold clocks), crossing Salisbury Plain on a bicycle:
    And he and the crew are on bicycles too--which they've somehow or other invested in--
    And he's telling the tars all the particulars of a company he's interested in--
    It's a scheme of devices, to get at low prices all goods from cough mixtures to cables
    (Which tickled the sailors), by treating retailers as though they were all vegetables--
    You get a good spadesman to plant a small tradesman (first take off his boots with a boot-tree),
    And his legs will take root, and his fingers will shoot, and they'll blossom and bud like a fruit-tree--
    From the greengrocer tree you get grapes and green pea, cauliflower, pineapple, and cranberries,
    While the pastrycook plant cherry brandy will grant, apple puffs, and three corners, and Banburys--
    The shares are a penny, and ever so many are taken by Rothschild and Baring,
    And just as a few are allotted to you, you awake with a shudder despairing--

    You're a regular wreck,
    with a crick in your neck,
    and no wonder you snore,
    for your head's on the floor,
    and you've needles and pins
    from your soles to your shins,
    and your flesh is a-creep,
    for your left leg's asleep,
    and you've cramp in your toes,
    and a fly on your nose,
    and some fluff in your lung,
    and a feverish tongue,
    and a thirst that's intense,
    and a general sense that you haven't been sleeping in clover;

    But the darkness has passed, and it's daylight at last,
    and the night has been long--ditto ditto my song--
    and thank goodness they're both of them over!

(Lord Chancellor falls exhausted on a seat.)

(I'll regret this in the morning...)

I often talk about this opera in the following terms.

There is a fellow, a Lord, who is engaged in diplomacy, with an otherwise 'difficult' part of the globe..We don't have to really talk about it, let's call it "Fairyland". He falls in love with an equally young party planner in the Fairyland court. Now, because of what might be called 'conflict of interest', she is not to have anything but a superficial relationship with any man not from Fairyland who might interest her.

So, he tells her that it doesn't really matter, that Fairyland is going to soon become a British Protectorate, and that, in any case, she shouldn't worry...They get married on British soil.

Except that the deal falls through. Iolanthe is pulled before an angry Queen, who immediately demands her death. She pleads that she is pregnant, and her sentence is commuted to life imprisonment, on condition that she never again speak to her husband. Her friends arrange for her son to be, in the language of the time "brought up by a bank", until the age of 25. He's handsome, charismatic, not-too-bright, but charming, and..well, hello, Dad!

Now, understand, I'm not even talking about the action of the play!Anyway, the son, Strephen, falls in love with Phyllis, the "ward of the state" that his lecherous old father intends on marrying, and then...

The Queen shows up. She explains that well, her son is going to take, as is his right, his place in the House of Lords. And that he's pretty much going to be, with all the coaching he's gotten in Fairyland, one of the best and most persuasive speakers of his generation, or for that matter, ever! And he gets them to pass a lot of important, though otherwise noninteresting, bills. But he still lives for Phyllis. On the other hand, Iolanthe sings one of the best examples of anyone putting the emotional screws on anyone: veiled, she describes to him, not the details of their wedding night, but the contents of their closet. If he cannot understand that his not keeping it in his pants has completely ruined one life, let him let his son marry whom he will.

All is solved when the Queen signs the treaty, and decides on the clause that "all shall be put to death who do not marry a Peer."

Hilarity ensues.

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