decorated initial 'A's W. S. Gilbert was drafting the sketch that would become Trial by Jury, social and specifically legal reforms were transpiring that would change not merely the practice of law but the role of women. The major universities opened law schools (i. e., at Oxford in 1850, and at Cambridge in 1858), replacing the old system of attending twelve "terms" at one of London's inns of court (which, in effect, meant dining at the law school a few times month). Another key step in the professionalization of legal practice in Victorian Britain was the institution of bar exams in 1872. The Second Reform Act of 1867 had recently extended suffrage to the lower middle class (as reflected in the chorus of jurymen), the last public execution had been staged, and the practice of criminal transportation (specifically to Australia, as in Dickens's Great Expectations) had been abolished. Two years earlier, John Stuart Mill had presented his "Women's Suffrage Petition" to Parliament, and the year prior to that (1865) Cambridge had officially opened its local exams to women. Thus, Angelina's honourable middle-class identity as Edwin's bride who will indulge in the idyll of happy-ever-after matrimony was being interrogated by Victorian society. By the time that D'Oyly Carte partnered Gilbert with Sullivan women were being permitted to sit surgeons' exams, become National Savings Bank clerks, and serve as Poor Law Guardians. By 1878, the University of London was admitting women for degrees, so that, by the close of the 1870s, Angelina no longer needed Edwin to complete her identity, or her legal or social standing.

The immediate theatrical context of Trial by Jury is the domestic "cup-and-saucer" dramas of Tom Robertson: Society (1865), Caste (1867), and School (1869). Gilbert's earlier theatrical writings had been of the pantomime, burlesque, and farcical variety. Tom Taylor (1817-1880) had written the popular melodrama of crime and punishment, The Ticket of Leave Man, only five years before Gilbert wrote "Trial by Jury" as a sketch. By the time that the sketch was transformed into an operetta, Taylor was the editor of the original London magazine of social and political humor, Punch, rival to the magazine Fun in which Gilbert often published under the pseudonym "Bab."

Related Materials


Evans, Ivor H., ed. Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. New York: Harper & Row, 1981.

Magnusson, Magnus. Cambridge Biographical Dictionary. Cambridge: Cambridge U. P., 1990.

Marshall, Gail. "Timeline of key events and publications. " Victorian Fiction. London: Arnold, 2002. Pp 143-149.

Mitchell, Sally, ed. Victorian Britain, An Encyclopedia. London and New York: Garland, 1988.

25 March 2005