Benford's G&S Lexicon Entries for Iolanthe

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Act II

Maravedi [is not worth a maravedi]

An ancient Spanish copper coin worth a fraction of a cent. "Not worth a maravedi" is an old expression meaning worthless (54). The word derives from the Arab family, the Almoravidies, who ruled Cordoba from 1087 to 1147 (266).

In for a penny, in for a pound

Brewer (54) explains this expression as: "Once involved the matter must be carried through whatever obstacles or difficulties may arise -- there can be no drawing back."

[Note on Strephon's song] [Fold your flapping wings]

Note: The next seven entries are from Strephon's seldom-performed recitative and song "Fold your flapping wings." See Allen (3).

Verity [In verity I wield]


Exotic [Crime is no exotic]

Something found only outside one's own country.

Bane [Bitter is your bane]

Something that ruins or spoils. Something poisonous.

Ministry, Cross-Bench, and Opposition

The terms refer in order to the party in power, the Members of Parliament who are unaligned, and the party (or parties) that are out of power.

Drury Lane [Dingy Drury Lane, Soapless Seven Dials]

Drury Lane is in London's theatrical district. The "dingy" speaks for itself. ("Seven Dials" has already been defined.)

Filigree [Fed on filigree]

The literal meaning of the word pertains to delicate, beaded jewelry, which sounds highly indigestible. In Don Juan (65), Lord Byron uses these words, in part, to describe a luxurious Arabian Nights repast:

And fruits, and date-bread loaves closed the repast,
And Mocha's berry, from Arabia pure,
In small fine China cups, came in at last;
Gold cups of filigree made to secure
The hand from burning underneath them placed,
(and so forth).

Those filigrees were presumably intricately woven wire, or ornamentally pierced cup holders (274). In the context, however, the best hypothesis is that Strephon is simply alluding to his fortunate Arcadian background. We may wonder how his mother could have supported him so graciously. After all, she spent her time standing on her head at the bottom of a stream. But, of course, she enjoyed a well-earned reputation for doing surprising things.


Refers to the villainous Fagin of Oliver Twist, who ran a training school for juvenile thieves.

Coffers [with flowing coffers]

Chests for money or other valuables.

But does your mother know you're…

This was a common catch phrase in Gilbert's day: "Does your mother know you're out?" Brewer (54) says it is "A jeering remark addressed to a simpleton." In the present context it has a double meaning.

Suppliant [a suppliant at your feet]

Someone who is pleading. See also The Yeomen of the Guard.

Aiaiah! Willaloo!

Fairy language expressing grief and woe. Take my word for it. It parodies the Rhine-maidens' "Wallala weila weia," etc. in Das Rheingold. The parody is underscored when the Queen of the Fairies is decked out like Brünnhilde.

Duchesses, marchionesses, countesses, viscountesses and baronesses

Pronunciation: The first s in viscountess is silent.

The wives of dukes, marquises, earls, viscounts, and barons, respectively. The same terms apply to their widows, too, but that is certainly not what Celia has in mind

Equity Draughtsman

Equity is a body of laws based largely on general principles of justice to correct flaws in common law. An equity draughtsman is a barrister skilled in drawing up complicated contracts, trusts, and wills (142), especially those involving the subtleties of equity law.

Beaux [two beaux to every string]

The plural of beau, an attentive male admirer. Switch the nouns and you have a first-class pun.