The operas by playwright W. S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan have been considered some of the most popular and successful pieces of musical theatre in the English language. While their joint creative output neared perfection, Gilbert and Sullivan's working relationship was fraught with conflict. The two men's opposing personalities led them to favor disparate styles and work towards different goals. However, the ability to balance contrasting tones, such as sarcasm and sympathy, resulted in their overwhelming success. I analyze this "winning formula" by looking at the influence of feminism, especially the "New Woman" literary movement, on the works of Gilbert & Sullivan. Gilbert frequently used common female stereotypes and gave his female characters humorous yet demeaning flaws that kept the audience from fully admiring them. Sullivan, on the other hand, countered Gilbert's derisive attitude by composing sophisticated music for the female characters, granting emotional depth and a certain level of respectability. The struggle between Gilbert's mocking tone and Sullivan's empathetic music led to the men's ultimate success. I examine Gilbert's female characters, explore the counteractive effect of Sullivan's music, and analyze Princess Ida—their opera most directly related to the New Woman—in depth.
College and Department
Fine Arts and Communications; Music
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Zurcher, Heather Dawn, "Feminism and the New Woman in the Gilbert & Sullivan Operas" (2012). Theses and Dissertations. 3537.
Gilbert & Sullivan, the New Woman, Victorian feminism, Princess Ida