Did Gilbert and Sullivan Wear Silk Stockings?

Happy Ides of March! Yesterday, Brad A. Latilla-Campbell ’16 notified me of yet another G&S reference he’d found in The West Wing. Clearly, Aaron Sorkin is a fellow Savoyard. Coincidentally, our blog post this week also features a Gilbert & Sullivan cultural reference, albeit of a … vastly different medium.


Written by Ned Sanger

1868-skirt-lengths-girl-ages-harpers-bazar
Harper’s Bazaar c. 1900

Gilbert and Sullivan show their plump faces all over. I ran into them just recently in a rather unexpected place: chapter five of Ulysses. Leopold Bloom, the book’s protagonist and a cuckold, is perambulating around Dublin when he happens to spot a lady across the street. She is about to get into a cab and he knows she will need to lift her dress when she does it, allowing naughty Bloom to catch a glimpse of her silk stockings, or perhaps even a slice of upper-calf if he is lucky. Promptly he sidles into a better vantage point and focuses his attention—“Silk flash rich stockings white. Watch!”—but his efforts are all for naught: at the very moment of the grand reveal, with Bloom just about ready to combust, a tramcar rounds the corner, obstructs his view, obscures the calf, and deprives him of his peeping pleasures. “Paradise and the peri,” he wails, before slogging the rest of the dreary way to church: “Always happens like that.”
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Mikado 2016 Historical Note & FAQ

Written by Ashley Zhou ’17 and Kat C. Zhou ’17

We distributed this document at the box office during the run of the show. Some of the responses to the FAQ have been revised slightly in order to clarify and enrich my original answers, which were written in haste before opening. 

A Brief Historical Note

The history of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, as with so many beloved Victorian cultural artifacts, is a history of imperialism: Western imperial powers’ thirst for dominance in an economic system they saw as a zero-sum game, the ever-growing urgency to find more trading partners, the dehumanization of non-white peoples as justification for conquest couched in paternalistic rhetoric of civilizing missions and Christianization. Of Commodore Matthew Perry docking gunboats in Tokyo Bay and calling the result of his actions, even to this day, an “opening,” as if to read choice into Japan’s forced entry into Western-controlled systems of trade and to turn away from the violence of that historical moment. Of the political upheaval of the Meiji Restoration, a direct response to this act of U.S. imperialism, and the economic consequences of the new government on Japanese people, many of whom emigrated, in the first large-scale Japanese migration to the U.S., to find opportunities on the West Coast or in Hawai’i, itself under the rule of white settler colonists.

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