|Gilbert > Plays > Princess Toto > Synopsis
Act I takes place in the palace of King Portico, an extremely correct potentate with a great sense of dignity and a morbid fear of appearing ridiculous. He is especially worried about the possibility of the newspapers printing something embarrassing about the royal family (at least one modern monarch might sympathize with him). The king has long wanted to marry off his eccentric daughter, Toto, but Prince Doro, to whom she was betrothed in infancy, inconsiderately got himself eaten by cannibals (or so it was reported), so Portico has chosen the "highly respectable" Prince Caramel to replace him. All are now awaiting Caramel's arrival; he was supposed to arrive for the wedding three days earlier, and King Portico is afraid that the bridegroom will not arrive at all, or, worse still, may arrive ridiculously dressed. Zapeter, his prime minister, loyally promises to go "stark staring mad" if this happens; King Portico requests that he remember to do so with dignity.
A visitor arrives; he turns out to be Prince Doro, who, after ten years shipwrecked "on a savage shore," has come to see if Toto still loves him. King Portico is sympathetic but explains to Doro that he cannot marry Toto, since he is dead. When Doro claims that he is alive, the king points out that if he isn't dead, "I am placed in a very awkward and ridiculous position." He consoles Doro by saying that he hasn't lost much, since Toto is not only absent-minded but excessively romantic; "her head is filled with foolish ideas about gypsies, robbers, actors, pirates, paving commissioners, Red Indians, and outlandish people of that sort," and she now has a crush on the notorious brigand Barberini, treasuring a lock of his wig.
The princess arrives, trying to remember why she is all dressed up. The others remind her that she is to be married, but explain that Prince Caramel hasn't arrived. She insists that they do not wait for him, but hold the wedding now "and get it over"; as she points out, "Who cares about the bridegroom at a wedding?" When the king insists on the need for a bridegroom, she suggests a substitute, such as the stranger with her father. When she learns that this stranger is Prince Doro, she condoles with him for his misfortune in having been devoured by cannibals, and asks whether it hurt. Doro insists that he is still alive, so Toto decides to carry on with the wedding, having forgotten about Prince Caramel completely by now. The king, fearing that Caramel may arrive and make a scene that would "make us appear ridiculous," leaves Zapeter to explain the situation to him diplomatically, and the wedding party departs.
Sure enough, Caramel arrives, making a pair of slippers as a wedding present. He is a mild-mannered young man, but is somewhat upset to learn that his fiancée is too busy getting married to another man to see him, and threatens to interrupt the ceremony. Zapeter persuades him instead to pose as the dashing brigand Barberini, the princess's current ideal, and so dazzle her that she will forget her marriage to Doro. The plan works; Toto is thrilled to meet the ruthless Barberini, and when she comments that he doesn't look like the "ferocious monster" of whom she has heard, Caramel explains that "that's my nasty cunning; it disarms people and puts them off their guard." Toto, forgetting her marriage, is eager to join the brigands and become a brigandess, so they go off as the act ends.
Act II takes place in the mountains, where Prince Caramel's court is posing as a band of brigands. They have taken an old beggar hostage, and are serving him their best food and wine. It turns out that the "brigands" have become so famous for their hospitality that people come from miles around to become their prisoners. Jelly, Princess Toto's maid, reproaches the band for wining and dining their captives and offering them feather beds instead of "cutting them up and sending them home in little bits" as brigands should, and Toto is similarly disappointed in the infamous Barberini's failure to live up to his reputation as a scoundrel. She confides to Caramel that she has had a very pleasant dream about marrying "a beautiful young Prince named Doro," and wishes she could have the same dream again; but nonetheless she agrees to marry "Barberini," and they dance off to the ceremony.
As soon as they have gone, Doro arrives. Desperate at the loss of his bride a few minutes after their wedding, he has determined to enlist in Barberini's brigand band and die an outlaw. Caramel, returning from the wedding with Toto, hints to her that it would be amusing if it turned out that he wasn't a real brigand after all but a respectable man; the princess is not amused, and comments that if she were to find that he had deceived her in this way she would shoot him. Caramel decides to postpone breaking the truth to her.
Doro approaches "Barberini" and offers himself as a new recruit, but is told that there are no openings; "if any vacancy should occur, leave your address, and we'll let you know." Toto insists that this promising brigand should be hired; he recognizes her, but she merely comments that his face looks familiar. When they are left alone he tells her that he is her husband. She explains that she is married to Barberini, but then recognizes him as the husband of her dreams, and informs him that he will disappear when she wakes up. When he at last convinces her that he is real, and that she eloped with another man within ten minutes of their marriage, she begs for forgiveness and promises to stop marrying other men--though she still keeps forgetting his name.
As they go off, King Portico arrives with Zapeter and Jamilek. They are masquerading as Indians, in the hope that their colorful disguises may impress the romantic Toto and lure her into going off with them; Portico alternates between thanking Zapeter for his ingenious strategy and threatening to execute him if news of it should get into the papers and make him appear ridiculous. To assist them in their imposture, Zapeter has "diligently studied the works of Fenimore Cooper" and Jamilek has taken to speaking in the metre of Longfellow's poem "Hiawatha." They hear a soprano voice (Toto's) singing loudly; Zapeter "listens with his ear close to the ground," according to the stage directions, and deduces that it is a woman approaching, which greatly impresses his companions. Toto enters and is intrigued by their appearance. On their assuring her that they are primitive and unconventional, she decides to go with them and "perhaps marry one of the tribe, and become a squaw." They start off; Caramel and his band arrive, and he attempts to get them to pursue Toto and her new companions, but though they are willing to sing "Let us follow, let us follow" in chorus, they prudently stay where they are as the princess escapes.
Act III is set on a tropical island, where King Portico's court is masquerading as Indians (Toto apparently doesn't recognize any of them). Like Caramel in the previous act, Portico is concerned about how Toto will react to learning she has been duped, and has not yet revealed his identity to his daughter. Again as in the previous act, Toto is disappointed in her new comrades; the members of this tribe eat caviar (despite her efforts to get them to hunt wild buffalo), and their tomahawks have "Birmingham" stamps on them.
Portico is alarmed to hear that a boat is approaching, for fear that the visitors may know him and make him an object of ridicule, but Jamilek suggests that he conceal himself in some prickly cactus. The boat contains Caramel and Doro, who have become great friends; each thinks the other is helping him recover his lost bride. Caramel encounters Toto and identifies himself as both Prince Caramel and Barberini; her memory seems to be better than usual, for she asks "Didn't I marry you or something?" She apologizes for her "lapse of memory" and sings a song claiming that she will always love him. Unfortunately she sings the second verse to Doro, not realizing that he's a different person. Confusion ensues, but at last Toto decides that Doro is her real husband and tells Caramel that he is only a dream; he seeks consolation by proposing to Jelly. The princess regrets her errant ways, and says that "young girls should never leave their father's roof with a band of brigands, without first obtaining their father's permission." She recalls her father nostalgically, and at this moment he appears; a sudden rainstorm has washed off half of his Indian make-up, and his daughter finds that side of his face vaguely familiar. All ends happily as Toto prepares to marry Doro (again).
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