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The Yeoman of the Guard

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The Yeoman of the Guard

by W.S. Gilbert

Genre: Melodrama, Operetta
Format of Original Source: Plot summary
Recommended Adaptation Length: Two Hours

Candidate for Adaptation? Promising


Colonel Fairfax has been sentenced to death for sorcery. As he has twice saved the life of Sergeant Meryll in battle, the latter and his daughter, Phoebe, are anxious to save him also. The chance comes when the brother of Phoebe, who has been appointed a yeoman of the Guard, is induced to let Fairfax take his place in the ranks. The latter is brought in to the lieutenant of the Tower and declares his readiness to die, but asks, as he has been condemned for sorcery through the machinations of one of his kinsmen who will succeed to the estate in case he dies unmarried, that he will find him some one whom he can marry at once. Elsie Maynard, a strolling singer, happens along with Jack Point, a jester, and she agrees for a money consideration to be married blindfolded to Fairfax, provided she can leave immediately after the ceremony. She marries him, and then the question arises how to get the yeoman suit to Fairfax in his cell and let him escape, as the keys are in the possession of Wilfred, the head jailer, who is in love with Phoebe. The problem is solved by Phoebe, who steals the keys, releases Fairfax, and returns them before Wilfred discovers their absence. The executioner comes forward, and the first act closes as he is waiting for his victim.


The plot is pure melodrama, but cogent, and at times even potentially exciting, and boasts more onstage action than most of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas (most of which have so many events from the past relayed to us).  You should question what theme in this storyline speaks to you, and see whether you can get the characters to mean something.


A word of caution: This plot summary was written by 19th-century literary critic George Upton, who often mixes personal opinion with summation. You would be advised to consult the original source material, if the general plot appeals to you.


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