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‘The Mikado’ By William Gilbert And Arthur Sullivan: The Vast Effects Of Satire On Modern Society

950 words - 4 pages

As Lady Mary Wortley Montagu once said “Satire should, like a polished razor keen, wound with a touch that’s scarcely felt or seen”. By this, Montagu addresses satire as a praise undeserved that effects its reader with sudden, sharp accuracy. Satire ultimately raises awareness and challenges the social conscience of society.
Welcome all distinguished guests. As per this year’s topic for the open forum at the University of Queensland, we will explore the role, and vast effects of satire in modern society. “Fools are my theme, let satire be my song” is a famous quote by Lord Byron relating to the role of satire in society. ‘Fools are my theme’ is referring to the common fool in a satirical text that is the target and is being mocked for the entertainment of the viewer. ‘Let satire be my song’ is similarly addressing how satire can be both enjoyable, but with a clear message for society. To better define this insightful quote, I will apply its meaning to a renowned satirical text, ‘The Mikado’. William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan created The Mikado as a love story between two forbidden loves; Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum.
The son of the Mikado and heir of Japan, Nanki-Poo, has run away to the small town of Titipu from his soon-to-be wife, Katisha. He has become a mere strolling minstrel who has caught the eye of Yum-Yum, a maiden, ward of Ko-Ko. Because Nanki-Poo is unable to marry Yum-Yum he tries to commit suicide, but Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner, stops him explaining his dilemma with the Mikado, and a needed victim of the axe. After much discussion, the Lord High Everything Else, Pooh-Bah, has bargained with Nanki-Poo and forged a false death certificate given to Katisha, who passes on the news to the Mikado. This ironic love story is highly effective in satirising its common fool. Gilbert and Sullivan are not specifically attacking certain public figures through the characters in The Mikado, but rather mocking the elaborate system of values that defined the higher class of the Victorian era. In Victorian times, correct social behaviour was of utmost importance. So Gilbert has attempted to conform these crazy and unnatural rules making characters often use duplicitous behaviour to form their unique and hilarious ways of bending the rules. For example, in the small town of Titipu, flirting is punishable by decapitation, an ironic commentary on the emotional and sexual prudery that defined the Victorian era. They also enjoyed displaying the discrepancy between outer appearances and inner reality. Many of the characters in The Mikado are hypocrites or lead double lives: Ko-Ko is a tailor trying to be a public executioner, Nanki-Poo is a prince who disguises himself as a minstrel, Pooh-Bah’s public respectability conceals his greed and lack of ethics. This extract of Pooh-Bah displays his social...

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