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Battle Scene in Act I
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This was the third (or, depending on your arithmetic, the fourth) of Gilbert's so-called "fairy comedies" — blank-verse plays set in remote places. The blank verse is probably their main defect, as it robs Gilbert's style of much of its vitality. But none of the fairy comedies is entirely unrewarding, and, speaking personally, I find The Wicked World the most interesting of the set.

It is loosely based on a short story of the same title which Gilbert wrote in 1871. The plot clearly fascinated him: first we have the short story, then this play; in the same year (1873) he co-wrote a parody of it, The Happy Land; and as late as 1909 he returned to it to create a libretto version, Fallen Fairies (set to music by Edward German).

Scene from the Illustrated London News, 8 February 1873, scanned by Adam Cuerden.
(Click on image for larger picture.)

The only other historical point worth mentioning is that Gilbert sued The Pall Mall Gazette over it. The Gazette had published a review and a letter, both of which called the play indecent because there are one or two points in the dialogue which seem almost to come within half a mile of mentioning the process by which our species propagates itself. Gilbert lost the case, but had the satisfaction of having his play found inoffensive in a court of law.

Andrew Crowther

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Page modified 13 August, 2011