Ruddigore

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Each lord of Ruddigore,
Despite his best endeavour,
Shall do one crime, or more,
Once, every day, for ever!
This doom he can't defy,
However he may try,
For should he stay
His hand, that day

In torture he shall die!
Dame Hannah, Act I

Ruddigore, or The Witch's Curse, described by its author as "An Entirely Original Supernatural Opera in Two Acts," was the 10th of the "Savoy operas" produced by Gilbert and Sullivan. Ruddigore is a parody of the so-called "Transpontine[1] melodramas" of the early 19th century [2], which were performed at theatres south of the Thames -- including their high-flown and archaic language, the extravagances of their plots, and their recurring Stock Characters: the innocent orphaned Village Maiden, the poor-but-honest Yeoman Hero, the sneering, snarling Bad Baronet, the Honest Sailor, the Good Old Servant, the Fallen Woman Driven Mad By A Dark Secret, and, of course, the Ghost -- in this case, a whole Gallery of Ghosts.

Synopsis[edit | hide | hide all]

Act I. In the village of Rederring in Cornwall, a group of the world's only "professional corps of bridesmaids" are urging the heroine, "sweet Rose Maybud" to marry, as none of the young men of the village will marry anyone else until she does. They urge Dame Hannah to marry Old Adam Goodheart, the servant of prosperous young farmer Robin Oakapple, but she reveals that she has sworn to marry no-one since she found out that her true love was one of the Bad Baronets of Ruddygore Ruddigore -- who has died in agonies, as all the Baronets have all been cursed by a witch whom the first baronet burned to commit at least one crime a day or die if they don't do so. Disappointed, the maidens leave; Rose arrives, revealing to her aunt that she has feelings for Robin, but that she cannot ask him, since her book of etiquette, left to her by her dead mother, forbids her to speak until she is spoken to. Dame Hannah departs; Robin enters but cannot nerve himself to ask Rose to marry him. Meanwhile, his foster brother, Richard Dauntless, arrives home; Robin asks him to woo Rose for him -- but when Richard sees Rose, he falls for her himself, and proposes. Rose, guided by her book of etiquette, accepts; but when Robin reveals that he also loves her -- and is, by the way, far more faithful, far more sober, and far wealthier than Richard, Rose dumps the honest mariner and hooks up with Robin. Meanwhile, Mad Margaret, a village maiden driven mad by being loved and cast aside by Sir Despard Murgatroyd, the current Bad Baronet, knowing that his Bad Deed for the Day will be to carry off Rose Maybud, arrives, and hurries Rose away as Sir Despard and his "evil crew" of "Bucks and Blades" [3] arrive, greeted by the bridesmaids. Alone, Sir Despard reveals that he loathes the whole business of committing crimes, and longs to get out of it -- when Richard enters, to reveal that Robin Oakapple is really -- Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd, Despard's older brother and true Baronet of Ruddigore. They reveal this at Robin and Rose's wedding; Robin, as a "pure and blameless peasant," cannot deny it. Rose deserts Robin for Despard, but he, as "a virtuous person, now" decides to marry Mad Margaret -- so Rose takes Richard, perforce. Robin falls senseless.

Act II. Robin, now a Bad Baronet, has been avoiding committing any real crimes by substituting extremely minor infractions. Even when Richard and Rose come to ask his consent to marry, he does not seize her, but yielding to her pleas, allows it and dismisses them. Meanwhile, Despard and Margaret arrive to urge him to repent (for the crimes Despard has committed!) and Robin agrees to do so. Such behaviour does not satisfy his ancestors, who come to life to demand that he commit a crime straightway, inflicting on him hideous agonies when he refuses. He consents, and commands Old Adam [4] to "carry off a maiden – any maiden." Old Adam obligingly carries off Dame Hannah, who aggressively attacks Robin in defence of her virtue -- rousing Sir Roderick, who rebukes him for carrying her off. Suddenly, Robin, by a brilliant stroke of logic, realizes that refusing to commit a crime a day is tantamount to suicide -- but suicide is itself a crime! That being the case, Sir Roderick never should have died at all, and so comes back to life; he and Hannah are reunited; Robin and Rose are reunited; Despard and Margaret are (still) reunited; and Richard will have to make do with Zorah, the chief bridesmaid. All ends with a happy chorus.


Reception[edit | hide]

Critical reception of the piece was decidedly cooler than that of the preceding operas. Hisses were heard at the initial performance on January 21, 1887; some critics commented unfavourably on the staleness of Gilbert's criticism of melodramatic conventions and "dancing Quakers" [5], some thought Sullivan's music far too heavy and serious for the ghostly capers of "the dead of the night's high noon" (a view privately shared by Gilbert himself) -- even the costumes, on which Gilbert and impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte had taken great pains, were criticized for inaccuracy. [6]

Further, controversies which seem ridiculous to moderns, and were dubious even in Victorian London, attached themselves to the piece. The original title was Ruddygore; an extraordinary qualm was raised because "ruddy" was used as a euphemism for "bloody" -- and "'bloody' was a dirty word!" (This led Gilbert to quip later, "we were within an ace of changing it from Ruddygore to Kensington Gore, or Robin and Richard were two Pretty Men." (Another possible subtitle was Not-Half-So-Good-As-The-Mikado). Still more bizarre was the controversy stirred up by the London correspondent of Le Figaro, a Frenchman with the unconvincing name of T. Johnson, who accused the duo of insulting the Republic with Richard Dauntless's song of the "Poor Parley-voo" -- a song which tells of the flight of a British sloop from the formidable guns of a French man-o'-war! The pair responded with a flowery letter to Le Figaro, disclaiming any intention of deriding la Marine d'une nation aussi brave que chevaleresque[7] and pointing out that French farces regularly used such terms as " 'Rosbif' et 'Goddam' " to refer to British soldiers. Another strange qualm affected the conduct of the piece itself, when Victorian audiences showed themselves squeamish over the Pair the Spares ending which involved the "professional bridesmaids" partnering with the long-dead-but-newly-revivified ghosts of all of Robin's ancestors -- so the ending was altered to resurrect only Sir Roderick and to bring back the "Bucks and Blades" of Act I to make up the numbers.

The opera was not revived by the Savoyards until 1920, when it was played in a shortened and altered version, with an entirely new overture by Geoffrey Toye. More recent productions have more or less restored Gilbert and Sullivan's original (sometimes reversing even alterations made by the duo themselves).


An Animated Adaptation of the opera by British animation company Halas and Batchelor appeared in 1966. There have been three Live Action Television adaptations, in 1972, 1982, and 2005; the 1982 version featured Vincent Price as Sir Despard. Ruddigore is also the focus of the Phryne Fisher novel Ruddy Gore.


Tropes Associated With Ruddigore Include:[edit | hide]

  • Abhorrent Admirer: This is what Dame Hannah thinks Sir Ruthven is
  • All There in the Script: Some characters are given names for no apparent reason, which appear only in the dramatis personae. Of course, that's when the character appears in the script at all; for instance, Ruddigore has a long list of named ghosts in the dramatis personae. The script itself refers only to Roderick by name, and list the others as "1st ghost," "2nd ghost," and so on. The numbers never get high enough to include half the ghosts listed; the rest are presumably just ordinary choristers. The "professional bridesmaid" Ruth is also never named in the script.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: "All baronets are bad…," we are told.
  • Beta Couple: Despard and Margaret, Sir Roderick and Dame Hannah, Richard and Zorah.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Dame Hannah, near the end of Act II.
  • Bowdlerization: Amazingly enough, played straight in Ruddigore, which had its very title changed due to the apparent offensiveness of the original title, Ruddygore (since "ruddy" means "bloody," which was apparently the F-Bomb (B-Bomb?) of the 19th and early 20th century in Britain -- as in Shaw's Pygmalion.) Gilbert found this just as absurd as anyone, and suggested re-titling it Kensington Gore, or, Not So Good As The Mikado.
    • Also, all the ghosts coming back to life to marry the professional bridesmaids was deemed too shocking, so Sir Despard's former retinue returns for no apparent reason and marries them instead. (Though they seemed to be able to get away with one resurrection.)
      • Possibly because Sir Roderick had died recently enough that it seemed reasonable that he should still be alive, if he had not been killed, whereas the idea of, say, Zorah, paired off with a 300-year-old Sir Rupert was just too squicky. Yeah, the Victorians were odd.
  • Burn the Witch: How Sir Rupert Murgatroyd got his line into the mess he did.
  • Catch Phrase: Basingstoke it is! Also, every appearance of the Bridesmaids in Act I is punctuated by outbursts of "Hail the bridegroom! hail the bride!"
  • Christmas Cake: Averted with extreme prejudice by Dame Hanna. She's an old "tiger-cat" who leaps into hand-to-hand combat with her "ravisher" and terrorises him (à la "dainty Dora Stanpipe").
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Mad Margaret
  • Completely Missing the Point: has Richard Dauntless's "I shipped d'ye see" sent French newspapers into such an uproar over the perceived attack on the French that Sullivan was never able to get his works performed in Paris from then on. The song is actually about a British sailor talking about his mates' kindness when their sloop turned tail and fled from a formidable French frigate, which of course they could have taken on... but... um... decided not to, just now. Because fighting them would be mean. Yeah, that's it.
    • Rose Maybud follows etiquette to an excruciating degree, but doesn't seem to understand that the point of etiquette is to keep everyone comfortable. For further details refer to her song, "If somebody there chanced to be."
      • Note that Rose's dependence on her book of etiquette is itself a parody of the melodramatic trope of a character left a Bible by a dead parent and regarding it as a moral guide to be obeyed to the letter. This may be Gilbert's extremely subtle Take That at the Nonconformists in Britain who were noted both for their Biblical literalism and for their opposition to the theatre.
  • Compliment Backfire: "You are Rose Maybud? … Strange -- they told me she was beautiful."
  • Convenience Store Gift Shopping: Rose makes her entrance carrying a basket of gifts, she intends to distribute in a highly inappropriate manner.
  • Crowd Song: All the choruses, which evokes some classic Lampshade Hanging from Mad Margaret, who comments, "They sing choruses in public! That's mad enough, I think."
  • Curse: The catalyst of the whole plot.
  • Cut Song: There are two versions of Robin's second-act patter song (not the trio); neither commonly used. A few D'Oyly Carte revivals in the 20th century also used to cut Rose's part in "Happily coupled are we."
  • Damned By Faint Praise: Used by Robin to reveal Richard's bad character to Rose.
  • Dastardly Whiplash: The Murgatroyd family of Ruddigore, especially Sir Ruthven, parody this character, which was still played straight in the "Transpontine" theatres of the time.)
  • The Dead Can Dance: "When the Night Wind Howls"
  • Deadpan Snarker: When asked casually by a theatre-goer how "Bloodygore" (see Bowdlerization, above) was doing, Gilbert replied, "The name is Ruddigore." "Well, it's the same thing, what?" said the man, to which Gilbert replied, "Then I suppose that if I say, 'I admire your ruddy countenance,' it's the same thing as, 'I like your bloody cheek.' Well, it isn't -- and I don't!
  • Designated Villain: In-Universe, the Bad Baronets of Ruddigore, who are obligated by the family curse to commit one evil deed each day, or else die in agony.
  • Does Not Like Shoes: Mad Margaret is often played this way.
  • Either or Title: Or, the Witch's Curse.
  • Evil Costume Switch: At the start of the second act in productions that don't bump it up to the first act curtain), Robin Oakapple reappears in full Dastardly Whiplash costume, often wearing a cape and generally flourishing a riding crop.
  • Evil Makes You Ugly: "When in crime one is fully employed, your expression gets warped and destroyed." (Source of that trope's Page Quote.)
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Sir Roderick.
  • Flanderization: The original Mad Margret, Jessie Bond from the 1887 production, was a very sympathetic young woman driven almost but not quite to the point of madness. It wasn't until revivals in the 1920s that she became the raving lunatic she is frequently played as now.
  • Fainting: Happens to Robin Oakapple at the end of Act I.
  • For Doom the Bell Tolls: Used in Toye's replacement overture, sometimes.
  • Get Thee to a Nunnery: Ruddigore was considered a very naughty name at the time — "ruddy" and "gore" are two synonyms for "bloody", a cussword that was further beyond the pale even than "dammee," apparently.
  • Ghost Song "Painted Emblems of a Race" and "When the Night Wind Howls (Sir Roderick's Song)" from Gilbert And Sullivan's Ruddigore, during which the ghosts get down.
  • Good Hair, Evil Hair: Generally after Robin turns evil, he appears with slicked down hair and occasionally a pair of side-whiskers he didn't wear before.
  • The Igor: After Robin Oakapple is transformed into Dastardly Whiplash-type Sir Ruthven, his servant, Adam Goodheart (AKA "Gideon Crawle"), spontaneously acquires a hump.
  • Incessant Chorus: The bridesmaids keep on bursting into their chorus ("Hail the Bridegroom -- hail the Bride!") until Robin angrily orders them to leave.
  • The Ingenue: "Sweet" Rose Maybud is a parody of the type, although it turns out she is rather more artful than she lets on.
  • I Have This Friend: Robin and Rose make use of this trope in the song "I know a youth.".
  • I Have You Now, My Pretty: Subverted militantly by Dame Hannah, who when Robin is ordered by his ghostly ancestors to carry her off, turns the tables and begins to pursue him with a large dagger.
  • Intentionally Awkward Title: As mentioned above, the title Ruddigore was rather racy for its day-- even worse before it was changed from the original, Ruddygore-- owing to its similarity to the rude word "bloody."
  • It Is Pronounced "Tro-PAY": "R-u-t-h-v-e-n" is pronounced "Rivven".
  • King Bob the Nth: Several of the ancestors are listed only by which number baronet they are.
  • Knight Fever: Sir, which is a baronet's title as well as a knight's.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Incessantly. (See Crowd Song above, for an example)
  • Lone Dalek/Being Evil Sucks: Every single Baronet of Ruddigore
  • Lyrical Dissonance: "I shipped d'ye see" is a cheery patriotic naval ballad about fleeing from the French.
  • Melodrama: Parodied at every possible moment.
  • Messy Hair: Mad Margaret, who is "an obvious caricature of theatrical madness."
  • Minion with an F In Evil
  • Motor Mouth: Those who sing the Patter Song.
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Sir Despard Murgatroyd.
  • Names to Trust Immediately: Adam Goodheart (subtly subverted, in that in Victorian British English, "Adam" was accented on the second syllable)
  • No Man of Woman Born: Robin's stroke of Fridge Logic frees the Murgatroyds from their curse.
  • Old Retainer: Old Adam Goodheart.
  • The Ophelia: Mad Margaret
  • Pair the Spares: The female chorus is paired off with either the revivified ghosts, or the visiting gentlemen from the city, depending on version. It's kind of set up in Act I, where the women gush over the visiting gentlemen because "The sons of the tillage / Who dwell in this village" ... "Though honest and active, / They're most unattractive". Also, Richard and Zorah, who he's had no lines with before then. Mind, the opera's a deconstruction of bad melodrama plots, so...
  • Patter Song: "My eyes are fully open to my awful situation."
  • Poke the Poodle: The crimes of Sir Ruthven (except, of course, when he shot a fox. Oh, horror!).
  • Power of Friendship: Parodied by Robin's claiming he would never speak a word against Richard, even when the latter is stealing his girl – and then loading him with such backhanded compliments that Rose speedily dumps the hapless mariner.
  • Punch Clock Villain: All the Murgatroyds, but particularly Sir Despard.
  • Quietly Performing Sister Show: It was the team's follow-up to their greatest hit, The Mikado; though it subsequently gained a reputation for being the pair's first "failure," it actually ran for 288 performances, and Gilbert himself remarked, "It ran eight months and, with the sale of the libretto, put £7,000 into my pocket."
  • Really Gets Around: Richard Dauntless, according to Robin.
  • Rearrange the Song: For many years, the opera was not performed with its original (rather weak) overture (not by Sullivan himself, but by his assistant Hamilton Clarke), but with a new one composed by Savoy conductor Geoffrey Toye in 1919.
  • Romantic False Lead: Rose chooses Richard when Robin makes an (enforced) Face Heel Turn in the first act finale, but easily switches back to Robin in the second.
  • Sanity Slippage Song: Despard and Margaret sing a song ("I once was a very abandoned person") all about how crazy and evil they used to be, before they got better.
  • Self-Deprecation: In "My eyes are fully open to my awful situation":'

This particularly rapid unintelligible patter
Isn't generally heard, and if it is it doesn't matter!

  • Shaggy Frog Story: "You pity me? Then be my mother! The squirrel had a mother, but she drank and the squirrel fled!"
  • Shout-Out To Shakespeare: Robin quotes "Alas, poor ghost!" Also, his faithful servant Adam is named after a similar character in As You Like It.
  • Spooky Painting: The ghosts of the former Bad Baronets emerge from their paintings to torment the current inheritor of the family curse.
  • Survival Mantra: Played for laughs; saying the word "Basingstoke" [8] always succeeds at bringing Mad Margaret to her senses.
  • Talk About the Weather: Robin Cannot Spit It Out to Rose, so he talks to her about the weather instead.
  • Twice Shy: Rose Maybud and Robin Oakapple, making this one Older Than Radio.
  • Villain Song: Subverted in "Oh, why am I moody and sad" -- Despard is complaining about being the Designated Villain because of his Curse. Also "When the night wind howls" and "Henceforth all the crimes" (er, sort of).
  • Vindicated by History: Ruddigore didn't do too well at its initial run but this was mostly because The Mikado was a very tough act to follow. However the work did enjoy some success later in the run. Unfortunately it was either never or else hardly ever revived during Gilbert's life time. It was however restored to the canon in the 1920s where it has remained ever since, and if anything it has grown in popularity since the close of the D'Oyly Carte company.
  1. Latin trans pontem, "across the bridge"
  2. such as East Lynne, or The Earl's Daughter; Maria Marten, or The Murder in the The Red Barn; The Face At The Window; Sweeny Todd, or The Demon Barber of Fleet Street; and Crimes At The Dark House
  3. originally costumed by Gilbert in the correct uniforms of twenty different distinguished British regiments, c. 1815
  4. in Gilbert's original version, renamed "Gideon Crawle" at this point; this proved confusing to audiences, so Gilbert cut the change -- though he forgot to cut all references to it in the libretto
  5. a reference to Sir Despard and Mad Margaret's dance in the second act -- which was, however, praised for its drollery by other critics, though even those were inclined to give the credit to the performers, Rutland Barrington and Jessie Bond
  6. For instance, Sir Despard's hat would "surely have been made of beaver or otter, rather than glossy silk."(!)
  7. "The navy of so brave and chivalrous a nation"
  8. a small town in northeast Hampshire, at the time noted mainly for a series of riots against the Salvation Army by employees of the local breweries