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Iolanthe

or, The Peer and the Peri Show Logo

Book by W. S. Gilbert
Music by Arthur Sullivan

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Twenty-five years ago, the fairy Iolanthe committed a capital crime by marrying a mortal; however, the Queen of the Fairies commuted her sentence of death to lifelong banishment "on condition that she left her husband and never communicated with him again." Now, the Queen is persuaded to pardon Iolanthe altogether, and the other fairies rejoice at having their sister restored to them. Iolanthe now reveals that, shortly after separating from her husband, she bore a son — his name is Strephon and he is an Arcadian shepherd, in love with the shepherdess Phyllis. But Phyllis is a ward of England's Lord Chancellor, and her guardian has refused consent to her marriage with a lowly shepherd lad.

Indeed, the Chancellor himself is in love with Phyllis, as is the entire House of Peers, who now come to her rural home to pay her court. She refuses their suit because her heart is already given to Strephon, but the Lord Chancellor angrily separates the young lovers. The despondent shepherd turns to his mother Iolanthe for consolation; the two of them are embracing when Phyllis enters and leaps to the wrong conclusion — like all fairies, Iolanthe remains forever young and Phyllis refuses to believe that a maid who appears to be 17 years old could possibly be Strephon's mother. Renouncing him, she now engages herself to Lords Tolloller and Mountararat, "the richest and rankiest" of her noble admirers. Strephon summons his fairy aunts to relieve his plight but the Lord Chancellor, unaware of their supernatural identity, badly insults them. In retaliation, the Queen of the Fairies pronounces a curse on the Chancellor and all the Peers: she will send Strephon into Parliament where, backed by the magical powers of the fairies, he will strip the Peers of their prerogatives and cause "a Duke's exalted station" to be thrown open to "competitive examination." The Peers beg for mercy as the curtain falls on Act I.

Act II opens before the Houses of Parliament, where the sentry on duty (Private Willis) soliloquizes on the virtues of the party system. But the fairies and Peers now enter to reveal that Strephon has rendered the party system irrelevant, as all members of Parliament are now compelled by fairy magic to vote "just as he wishes them to" on "any bill he chooses." The Peers are angry over all this, while the fairies — despite their attempt to remain sternly vindictive — find themselves increasingly attracted to the noblemen. The Queen of the Fairies rebukes them for their weakness, reminding them of the law under which Iolanthe was once punished; at the same time, she confesses the "extraordinary effect" that Private Willis has on her. The scene is next occupied by Phyllis and the two noblemen whom she is engaged to, with Tolloller and Mountararat deciding that they would rather renounce their claim to Phyllis than destroy their friendship with one another. Love for the shepherdess is more of a problem for the Lord Chancellor, who tells of the Iolanthe — 1985 f nightmares that his emotional agitation has led to. Tolloller and Mountararat encourage him to take heart and apply once more for his own consent to his own marriage with his own ward. Meanwhile, Strephon and Phyllis met, and he finally settles her doubts about his fidelity by explaining that his mother is an ever-young fairy — reconciled, the lovers plan to marry at once and beg Iolanthe to plead their case to the Lord Chancellor. Iolanthe now reveals to Strephon that the Chancellor is his father and her husband, with whom she has sworn never again to communicate. Still, she puts on her veil and attempts to move the Chancellor — however, he responds by announcing his intention to marry Phyllis. Iolanthe has no alternative but to reveal to him that she, his wife, is still living. So Iolanthe has once again incurred the sentence of death, and the Queen comes on to execute it; she is stopped, though, when the fairies reveal that all of them have violated fairy law by marrying all the Peers. It appears that the Queen will have to "slaughter the whole company" — but now, the Lord Chancellor steps forward to propose a legal solution to the problem.

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