The Yeomen of the Guard, or The Merryman and His Maid, opened October 3, 1888, at the Savoy Theatre and ran for 423 performances. The darkest of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas, Yeomen ends with a broken-hearted main character and at least two reluctant engagements, rather than the usual armful of marriages. However, Gilbert’s “pointed” satire and punny one-liners abound, there are plenty of topsy-turvy plot complications, and many believe that the score is Sullivan’s finest. Indeed, some enjoy Yeomen particularly because of its ever-changing emotional balance of joy and despair, love and sacrifice.
The setting of Yeomen is laid in the Tower of London in Shakespearean times. Colonel Fairfax is sentenced to die in an hour on a false charge of sorcery. To avoid leaving his estate to his accuser, and with the help of the Lieutenant of the Tower, he secretly marries Elsie Maynard, a strolling singer, who expects to be a well-paid widow in an hour. With the help of the Meryll family, Fairfax escapes, throwing the Tower and the astonished Elsie into despair. But the disguised Fairfax woos Elsie, and in the end, she loves Fairfax and jilts her intended husband, the jester Jack Point.