Benford's G&S Lexicon Entries for The Gondoliers

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Act I

Grosser clay

“Clay” refers to one’s body, as distinct from one’s soul. A person of grosser clay is simply one of less noble blood.

Tether [May join in temporary tether]

A means of keeping together.

Feigning [a course of feigning]

Pronunciation: FAYning


Arraign [So much the bitterer their arraign]

This is from a second verse of Luiz and Casilda’s duet used on opening night (3), but since cut. The term is short for “arraignment” and can be taken to mean the threat of punishment.


This is explained under the entry “Grand Inquisitor” above.

Retrospectively [to act retrospectively]

In the past.

Thrall [Each in the other’s thrall]

Literally, serfdom. Let us interpret it as their being completely devoted to one another.


Funeral music, from the Latin Requiem aeternam dona eis (Grant them, O Lord, eternal rest).

Abstracted [so thoughtfully abstracted]
Sketch of Abstracted

Separated. (The Grand Inquisitor shortly applies the less euphemistic “stole” to his action.)


Slender and elegant. The term is of Scottish origin (229).

Access of dignity

Elevation to exalted position. See also The Grand Duke.


From the French timonier: a helmsman or steersman, and by poetic license, a gondolier.


A small brat, or child (contemptuous).

Tippling [his terrible taste for tippling]
Sketch of A taste for drink, combined with gout

In Gilbert’s day this simply meant drinking alcoholic beverages to excess (115, 229). Today it more often means taking small, but frequent, intoxicating drinks (75, 250). “He sometimes drinks a little –– if that’s all that’s left in the bottle.“

Stripling [the Royal stripling!]

A teenager. A boy on the verge of becoming a man. (The clear implication of the narrative is that the prince was still a baby at the time, but let’s consider the exigence of rhyme and be forgiving.)


A portable frame or stand for carrying a body to a grave.

Gout [combined with gout]

An arthritic affliction associated with acute swelling and painful inflammation of the smaller joints, especially of the big toe. Baptisto Palmieri’s taste for drink may be in part to blame for his affliction (106). Gilbert himself suffered from gout. He presumably realized that, though the disease is not fatal, its torment can drive a man to ruin his liver through excessive resort to the bottle. We show Gilbert’s self-portrait while enduring gout in both feet. The note says “They call it ‘gout’, and I can’t g’out.” (From the Gilbert and Sullivan Collection, Pierpont Morgan Library, courtesy F.W. Wilson.)

Doubled him up

A slang term meaning to punish or cause to collapse (115). (Picture a hearty blow to the solar plexus.) Adding “forever” implies killing.

Modulated [that delicately modulated instrument]

Regulated. In musical terms, “to modulate” means to pass from one key to another. (The Grand Inquisitor can’t resist a little sarcasm.)


A highwayman, or thief, or both. Most often found in mountains or forests.