Richard Temple as the Mikado in the original opera production.

I'm terribly sorry for you all, but it's an unjust world, and virtue is triumphant only in theatrical performances!
~ The Mikado, to Ko-Ko, Pooh-Bah and Pitti-Sing on their sentence of death.

The Mikado of Japan is the main antagonist of Gilbert and Sullivan's opera "The Mikado".


He is the supreme rule of a mythical version of Japan expressing truly sadistic and ruthless characteristics. He even enforced a death penalty to be adminstered towards any citizen found guilty of flirting. Despite his psychopathic nature, he is an affable figure stating he is not in the least angry to discover that Ko Ko "The Lord High Executioner" compassed the death of the Heir Apparent though his vicious personality is reinforced by ordering the execution of Pitti-Sing and Pooh Bah as the result of their association. 

"My Object All Sublime"

The Mikado describes himself as the most humane emperor Japan has ever had. His ambition is to create a justice system in which every offender is punished in a way that fits the crime. As part of this, he creates a new position of Lord High Executioner, combining judge and executioner, so every judge can enforce his own sentence.

Although the setting is nominally Japan, the Mikado is more based on British morals and politics of the time. His solo, A More Humane Mikado, includes references to Madame Tussaud's Waxworks, Railway trains, Music-hall singers and billiard sharps, things found more often in Britain than in feudal Japan.

He is essentially a caricature of the self-important British bureaucrat, who follows the law to the last detail, no matter how ridiculous it may be.


The Mikado's son, Nanki Poo fled from the imperial court when he was forcefully betrothed to the eldery Katisha. Under the disguise of a second trombone, he arrives at the Town of Tittipu where the beautiful maid "Yum Yum" resides. Apparently, her fiancee "Ko Ko" was condemed to death for flirting but was reprieved at the last moment and appointed as the Lord High Executioner according to Pish-Tush, a noble lord. The Mikado was also struck by the fact that no executions have taken place in Tittpu for a year and unless no executions are carried out within a month, Ko Ko's position will be abolished and the city will be reduced to the rank of a village. When Nanki Pooh attempts suicide, Ko Ko advices him to be formally beheaded. Nanki Pooh accepts on condition that Nanki Poo may marry Yum Yum for a month.

As a result of Ko Ko's impatience, a false statement is conveyed in which the wife of a deceased man must be burried alive. As a result the marrage is cancelled. Unfortunatley a last-minute mishap occours where The Mikado arrives and instead of executing Nanki Pooh on the spot, Ko Ko decides to instruct him to leave Japan and never return. When Ko Ko welcome The Mikado, he is informed that an execution was performed. The Mikado politely requests Ko Ko to describe it. After Ko Ko, Pitt-Sing and Pooh Bah describe the improvised tale, Katisha reads the certificate of the criminal's death and they discover that Nanki Pooh was executed. As punishment for compassing the death of the heir apparent despite the various defences of ignorance and absence, The Mikado sentences the three to death. When Ko Ko encounters Nanki Pooh on his way out of the country, the drastic circumstances are brought to his immediate attention. Nanki Pooh then proposes that Ko Ko persuades Katisha into marrying him which means Nanki Pooh will never induce the risk of facing death. Ko Ko gradually succeds. 

At the execution, The Mikado both recieves the news about Katisha's recent marriage and Nanki Pooh storms into the scene. After a long, nonsensical explanation, The Mikado accepts it and all of the characters are free to marry their true loves. 


Stratford Festival 1982 -- "The Mikado" A More Humane Mikado

The Mikado's entrance and solo number, "A More Humane Mikado," from the 1989 Stratford production.

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