Benford's G&S Lexicon Entries for The Sorcerer

Click a term to reveal or hide the definition. Use the Search box to find a term. Select other operas in the Chapters menu. Go to the Lexicon menu to read the Preface, Introduction. and other material.

Enter part of a term; e.g., "gill" for Gillow's.

Act I

Aurora [As Aurora gilds the day]

Dawn, after the Roman goddess of morning.

Apostrophe [I find some satisfaction in apostrophe like this]

An address, usually a digression, to some person or personification that may or may not be present.

Portal [Take me to thy portal]

The expression means “Take me as thy bride.”

Execute the deed

We are indebted to Evans (111) for this explanation. “To execute a deed is to sign, seal and deliver the legal document. To sign speaks for itself. To seal is to impress your own personal seal … on sealing wax … (you then) place the forefinger of your right hand on the seal and say ‘I deliver this as my act and deed.’ Until you do that the deed has no legal effect. If you are a tenor or soprano you may sing the words.” The modern meaning is simply to sign a legal document with the intention of being bound by its contents (142).

Deliver [I deliver it as my Act and Deed]

This expression is explained in the immediately preceding entry. Knight (179) notes that what is being delivered symbolizes a legal “deal” rather than a physical handing over of the property itself. Shakespeare used it in a sense of stating, reporting, or making known (82).

Quiver [See they sign, without a quiver]

Without hesitation.

Maxim [the truth of that maxim]

A general rule or proverb.

Panacea [the panacea for every ill]

Pronunciation: pan-uh-SEE-uh

A cure-all.

Evangel [oh, evangel of true happiness]

One who bears good news.

Mechanics’ Institutes

Rees (251) explains the term as follows:

“Mechanics” were not technicians but simply labourers at or near the very bottom of the social scale. The institutes … were charitable establishments where these people were taught to read and write and where the rudiments of Victorian education were instilled. A variety of penny publications was brought out weekly by several organisations dedicated to the purpose, and there were of course the “penny readings.” Alexis’ speech commencing with “I hope so …” is a parody of the wide range of subject matter offered in these places to largely uneducated and frequently illiterate audiences. It is really all a matter of terminology: Bottom the weaver and his companions in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a carpenter, a joiner, a bellows-mender, a tinker, and a tailor, were all “mechanicals.”

George Grossmith, the original D’Oyly Carte comic baritone, started his career as an entertainer in mechanics’ institutes. In his autobiography (146) he offers a good description of them. Bosdêt (43) adds that the institutes were established with funds donated by Queen Adelaide, wife of William IV (who reigned from 1830 to 1837).

Workhouses

Poorhouses (no longer in use in England).

Navvie [I have addressed navvies]

Pronunciation: Rhymes with have ease

Laborers on the construction of roads, canals, and other civil works. The word is a truncation of navigator, the name given at first to the men who dug the canals, then called “navigations.” The term was later extended to apply to laborers in other civil works (55, 115, 251).

Countesses [what do the countesses say?]

In Britain a countess is the wife of an earl.

St. Mary Axe

A street in the older part of London. Wells refers to it later as “Simmery Axe,” that being its common pronunciation. Terry (285) mentions that the street at one time housed conjurors’ shops. The peculiar name comes from a church that was built on the street some time before 1197. The church was called St Mary the Virgin and St Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins.

Duffy (99) and McCann (206) relate two versions of an ancient tale about a certain king of England who gave his daughter Ursula and 300 (one says 11,000) of her handmaidens permission to travel abroad (one says to marry Atilla the Hun). In any event, while on the continent Atilla slaughtered them all with three axes. Bosdêt (43) says the atrocity occurred in A.D. 393, and one of the axes was brought back to London as a souvenir of the second Crusade. The church was built to enshrine the relic but it was dedicated to St Mary as well as Ursula. The church was converted into a warehouse in the sixteenth century and later destroyed. What happened to that revered axe remains a mystery. For the sake of scholarly integrity I have to add that Tillett (291) has reason to believe the story about Ursula is mythical in its entirety.

Philtre

A love potion. (Now we’re getting into the heart of the plot.) At this point Gilbert drags in a laborious pun on the word filter: an earthenware jar for purifying drinking water. When the opera was written (1877), theater managers were in the habit of leaving the house lights up. Audiences could buy copies of the librettos, which they were fond of reading word-for-word throughout the show. Being thus informed, they could tell the difference between philtre and filter. Modern audiences cannot, and directors could do us a favor by omitting that particular exchange altogether.

Steep [to steep the whole village]

Saturate.

Hercules

In classical mythology Hercules was a hero noted for gigantic strength and virility. The role is traditionally played by the smallest member of the troupe, perhaps a child.

Necromancy

Magic. Specifically a supernatural procedure for foretelling the future by communicating with the dead.

Wishing caps

In folklore, caps that empower the wearer to make wishes come true (75).

Divining rods

Hand-held devices, often hazel or willow twigs, for locating subterranean water or minerals, such as gold, silver, or pirates’ chests. Everything else having been tried without success, one wonders if divining rods might not be used to locate the lost music for Thespis.

Pages