The Yeomen of the Guardor, The Merryman and His Maid
Book by W. S. Gilbert
Music by Arthur Sullivan
In Tudor England, the Tower of London, a prison for political prisoners as well as common criminals, is guarded by the Yeomen Tower Warders (the Yeomen of the Guard), semi-retired military pensioners. Heroic Colonel Fairfax is imprisoned in the tower, wrongly condemned to death by a political rival. Young Phoebe, daughter of Sergeant Meryll (one of the Senior Yeomen), secretly loves handsome Fairfax. Phoebe is loved by Wilfred, the cruel and dim-witted head jailer of the Tower. Wilfred harbors a jealous, tormented passion for Phoebe which, unsurprisingly, is not reciprocated. The middle-aged Yeomen arrive, to the admiration of the crowd, and reminisce about their more martial youth. The Tower's housekeeper, Dame Carruthers enters, hushing those who would criticize the injustices inflicted at the Tower, such as the pending execution of Fairfax. To Carruthers, the stability represented by the centuries old massive tower far outweighs the human cruelty taking place within.
As Phoebe and Meryll despair at Fairfax's doom, Leonard, Phoebe's brother and Meryll's son, arrives to join the Yeomen. As no one has yet seen Leonard arrive, they cook up a scheme to sneak Fairfax out of his cell, dress him as a Yeomen, and pretend that he (Fairfax) is actually the newly arrived Leonard. As Leonard hides, Fairfax enters, philosophical and resigned to his fate. His only concern is that if he dies unmarried his fortune will fall to the rival who unfairly condemned him in the first place. Leonard Cholmondeley, an old friend, agrees to find a bride for an emergency marriage. Enters then vagabond jester, Jack Point and his assistant Elsie. They entertain the crowd with the story-song about the "Merryman (Jester) and the Maid," where a young lady realizes that her fantasy love for a Lord was absurd compared to the true love for the honest jester. When the Lieutenant realizes that poor Elsie is in desperate need of money he sets her off for a blindfolded marriage to Fairfax. The Lieutenant also hires Point as his personal comic. Meanwhile Phoebe and Meryll, unaware of the secret wedding, steal the jail keys from Wilfred and help Fairfax escape into the identity of Leonard. The Yeomen are delighted to meet their newest member, brave Leonard Meryll. Wilfred, distrustful of Phoebe's flirtatious nature, is happy to entrust her in the care of her gallant "brother." The mood changes dramatically as the headsman appears to perform the execution of Fairfax. The Lieutenant sends "Leonard" and two others to fetch the condemned man; they rush back with the astonishing news that Fairfax has escaped! Confusion reigns as the Yeomen march out to capture the escaped prisoner.
Two days later, the Yeomen assemble, completely discouraged in their efforts to recapture Fairfax, and castigated by Carruthers and the other women. Jack Point, too, is bitter; his intended bride, Elsie, is married to the escaped Fairfax. Wilfred is under a cloud for letting Fairfax escape. Both Fairfax and Elsie are alarmed that each is married to an unknown spouse. Phoebe is sad that she has lost her secret love, Fairfax. Sgt. Meryll has bad news awaiting him. As each tries to untangle the web, they are only caught up deeper and deeper. Eventually, though, everybody lives happily ever after, more or less, except for Phoebe, Meryll — and poor Jack Point!