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Ruddigore Synopsis

Act I

In the town of Rederring, in Cornwall, a chorus of professional bridesmaids frets that there have been no weddings for the last six months. All of the eligible young men are hopeful of a union with Rose Maybud, the prettiest maiden in the village, yet they are too timid to approach her. The desperate bridesmaids ask Rose's aunt, Dame Hannah, if she would consider marrying, but she has vowed to remain eternally single. Many years previously, she had been betrothed to "a god-like youth" who turned out to be Sir Roderic Murgatroyd, one of the bad baronets of Ruddigore. Only on her wedding day had she discovered his true identity.

Robin's weak crimes stir his ancestral ghosts from their usual haunt of the castle's portrait gallery. The curse requires them to ensure that their successors are duly committing a crime every day, and to torture them to death if they fail. They inquire as to Robin's compliance with this requirement. They are not pleased to learn that the newly-recognised baronet's crimes range from the ridiculous (forging his own will) to the ubiquitous (filing a false income tax return "Nothing at all", say the ghosts, "Everybody does that. It's expected of you.") Robin's uncle, the late Sir Roderic Murgatroyd, orders him to "carry off a lady" that day or perish in horrible agony. After the ghosts treat him to a sample of the agonies he would face, Robin reluctantly agrees. He tells Adam to go to the village and abduct a lady - "Any lady!"

Despard has atoned for his previous ten years of evil acts and has married Mad Margaret. The two of them now live a life of moderately-paid public service. They come to the castle and urge Robin to renounce his life of crime. When Robin asserts that he has done no wrong yet, they remind him that he is morally responsible for all the crimes Despard had done in his stead. Realising the extent of his guilt, Robin resolves to defy his ancestors.

Meanwhile, Adam has complied with Robin's orders but has unfortunately chosen to abduct Dame Hannah. The dame proves formidable indeed, and Robin cries out for his uncle's protection. Sir Roderic duly appears, recognises his former love, and, angered that his former fiancée has been abducted, dismisses Robin. Left alone, he and Dame Hannah enjoy a brief reunion. Robin interrupts them, accompanied by Rose, Richard, and the bridesmaids. He quibbles that, under the terms of the curse, a Baronet of Ruddigore can die only by refusing to commit a daily crime. Refusing is therefore "tantamount to suicide", but suicide is, itself, a crime. Thus, he reasons, his predecessors "ought never to have died at all."* Roderic follows this logic and agrees, stating that he is "practically" alive.

Now that Robin is free of the curse, Rose once again drops Richard and happily resumes her engagement to Robin. Roderic and Dame Hannah embrace, while Richard settles for the First Bridesmaid, Zorah.

  • Note: In the original ending, all of the ghosts came back to life at the end. In the revised ending substituted by Gilbert after the premiere, only Sir Roderic comes back to life.