Gilbert and Sullivan Archive

Committed for Trial

by William S. Gilbert

Synopsis by Arthur Robinson

Gilbert's comedy Committed for Trial opened on 24 January 1874--his third new play of the month. If the plot seems strangely familiar, that is because it is based on a French play, Le Réveillon, by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, that was also the source for Johann Strauss's Die Flederamus.

The major characters are: Mr. Jonathan Wagstaffe; his wife, Clara; her former suitor, Alfred Trimble, an impoverished musician; Mr. Portiboy, a barrister; and Stubbs, a Sergeant of Police.

Act I

Act I begins with Clara Wagstaffe anxiously awaiting her husband's return from court; he has been charged with having "violently taken a policeman's number with intent to do him grievous bodily harm." Hearing a violinist outside, she reminisces about her onetime beau, Alfred. The next minute the violinist is inside; it is Alfred himself. He assumes that Wagstaffe is safely in prison, but hearing (a) that his old love's husband is "a man of a most violent, even ferocious disposition" and (b) a knock on the door, he prudently flees.

Wagstaffe enters with his lawyer, Portiboy, who explains to Clara that her husband has been committed for trial; he is out on bail now but must give himself up tomorrow morning. Wagstaffe asks his wife to fetch his worst clothes for his anticipated prison stay. While she is doing so he opens a letter from a friend of his bachelor days inviting him to supper with "all the actresses from the Theatre Royal," and decides to celebrate his last night of freedom. He puts on evening dress and eau de cologne, explaining to his wife that this will be "a silent protest against my conviction," and departs.

Alfred enters as soon as his beloved's husband is safely out of the way. He reproaches Clara for marrying another and a wealthier man, but she explains that she did it for him: "I could not inflict upon you the pain of seeing the woman you loved hungry and penniless. Unhesitatingly, and for your sake, I chose Wagstaffe." As she is explaining her noble self-sacrifice, the police arrive to escort Wagstaffe to jail. They assume that Alfred is her husband; she tries to deny it, but is told that "the law don't admit the wife's evidence on behalf of her husband." Stubbs, the Sergeant of Police, orders Alfred to "kiss your good lady and let's be off"; he complies.

Act II

Act II takes place in the jail. Wagstaffe arrives, "rather tipsy," to turn himself in, but Stubbs informs him that he has already been arrested and is now in cell number 12. When Wagstaffe expresses disbelief, Stubbs accuses him of being "an imposter" and threatens to arrest him "for endeavouring to obtain three months imprisonment under false pretences." When Wagstaffe learns that the man in number 12 was arrested at his home and kissed his wife farewell, he demands to see him.

Wagstaffe's lawyer, Portiboy, arrives; Wagstaffe takes his wig and gown so that he can confront the man who has apparently usurped his wife and his prison sentence. Alfred, believing Wagstaffe to be a lawyer, begins telling him his story, seeking to gain sympathy by stressing what a scoundrel Clara's husband is, but finds his lawyer strangely unsympathetic (especially while Wagstaffe is trying to throttle him). When Wagstaffe attempts to find out whether Clara broke her vows, Alfred agrees that she broke them "entirely, completely, and absolutely," and is nearly throttled again until Wagstaffe learns that Alfred is referring to the vows Clara made when she became engaged to him (Alfred), and broke when she ended their engagement and married Wagstaffe instead.

The confusion is finally resolved; Wagstaffe learns the whole story, forgives his wife, and asks her to forgive him when she arrives at the jail. Stubbs, serving as deus ex machina, announces regretfully that neither of the two Wagstaffes can remain in prison, as the grand jury has thrown out the bill against Jonathan Wagstaffe, and all ends happily. (There is no bat in this version.)

Page created 23 Nov 1996