Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Ask The Experts: Alfred Bennett

--> “In 1868 a burlesque, The Merry Zingara, by W.S. Gilbert – a skit on The Bohemian – was produced at the Royalty with a bevy of attractive girls – there were pretty girls in every burlesque but they had to be clever ones as well, not merely manikins …

Burlesques were parodies on plays or stories, written in ten-syllable rhymed lines which, in harmony with the accepted wit of the day, abounded in puns and whimsicalities and were interspersed with songs, choruses and dances borrowed from opera, music-hall or other sources. The music was never original. The hero was always a girl, and there was often a female character depicted by a man, in which respects the wont and usage of pantomime were closely followed …

Incongruities were frequent in burlesque and puns were sometimes more than verbal. For instance, in Burnand’s Paris, Orion was got up as an Irishman with knee-breeches and shillelagh, spoke with a brogue and was called O’Ryan – “the only Irish constellation in the skies.” Topical allusions likewise abounded …

A few specimen lines will show at what our fathers deigned to laugh in their hours of ease. This excerpt from Paris was rendered funny by the makeup and delivery of the speaker, a man in female disguise:

            “Last night he smiles on me, my husband do,
            And says ‘I’m going out.’ Says I, ‘Where to?’
            Says he, which ain’t polite, ‘What’s that to you?’
            ‘Nothing to me,’ I says, ‘I only ask;
            Of course, if ‘ollow ‘arts will wear a mask,
            Then, as the poet says, the time will be
            When, hubby darling, you’ll remember me.’”

… A verse from a set called “What’s a burlesque?” contributed by W.S. Gilbert to one of the magazines, may perhaps fitly wind up this sketch of a by-gone amusement:

            “Pretty princess – beautiful dress:
            Exquisite eyes – wonderful size:
            Dear little dress (couldn’t be less)
            Story confused – frequently used:
            Sillified pun – clumsily done.
                        Dresses grotesque.
                        Girls statuesque.
                        Scene picturesque –
                        That’s a burlesque!” ”

--Alfred Rosling Bennett, London & Londoners In The 1850’s & 1860’s (1924)

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