A Victim Must Be Found

Gilbert & Sullivan’s enduring operetta The Mikado is funny because it skewers Victorian British society by allowing us to laugh at the absurdities of the fictive Japanese town of Titipu, where flirting is a capital offense, according to the autocratic rule of the emperor (Mikado).  Nanki-Poo loves Yum-Yum, who is pledged to Lord High Executioner Ko-Ko, an enfeebled big-talker who cannot execute himself for his own conviction of flirting; Pooh-Bah (Lord High Everything Else) plots and schemes; and hilarity ensues.

Trigger-happy Millennials and Democrats may have a hard time understanding this, but here goes: Despite the fact that, in the 19th century, every white man save Abe Lincoln was a racist, W.S. Gilbert was not actually commenting on Japanese culture, and he understood his inventive nomenclature to be exaggerated for comedic effect.  Also, Gilbert chose the vehicle of Japanese culture not because he despised it and wanted to sneer at it, but because Londoners were at the time obsessed with all things Japanese, including a commercially constructed Japanese village on which they showered their shillings.  Furthermore a Japanese emissary was disappointed when he wasn’t afforded the chance to see The Mikado during its first run.

The dilemma for Theater People (not typically a conservative lot) is this: The Mikado is brilliantly written, compositionally exquisite, and...

Join now to access the full article and gain access to other exclusive features.

Get Started

Already a member? Sign in here