Benford's G&S Lexicon Entries for The Gondoliers

Click a term to expand the definition; Search for a term; Select other Opera Chapters; Go to the Lexicon menu for introductory and afterword content..

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

Act I


Pronunciation: CORE-d’-vah

Also known as Cordobá, a name shared by a province in southern Spain and its capital city. The mountains referred to are the Sierra Morena.


Agents charged with a secret mission.

Skein [life’s tangled skein]

A skein is a coil of yarn or thread. The image here is of a somewhat snarled coil, and the allusion is to “the thread of life spun and eventually cut off by the Fates” (273).

Canker [Care’s a canker that benumbs]

A spreading sore. (Can such an affliction benumb?)

Wherefore [Wherefore waste our elocution]

For what purpose? Why?


Oratory employing careful enunciation and effective gestures, exactly what Gilbert wanted from his performers.


A puzzling fact or riddle.


Mark of disgrace.

Lyre [String the lyre]

An ancient musical instrument resembling a small harp.

Fancy [Hop and skip to Fancy’s fiddle]

The personification of whimsical thought.

Shrink [That we shrink from giving up]

The word has two meanings: (a) to hesitate, and (b) to reduce in size, as happens to a newly deceased body. Another nifty pun.

Voluble [Voices all voluble]

Fluent, flowing, and rapid.

Goose [Every goose becomes a swan]

“All his geese are swans” is an old expression signifying over-optimism (54).


“An insect … in the quiescent stage before it becomes a butterfly” (75). In short, a pupa.


Excessive pride or boastfulness.


Give up power of office, in this case the throne.

Grand Canal

The main waterway that weaves its way in a giant S-shape through Venice.

Scramble money [scramble money on the Rialto]

Scatter coins on the pavement, usually resulting in a mad competition between all those who happen to be on hand.


Pronunciation: ree-AHL-toe

Sketch of the Rialto

The famous bridge over the Grand Canal at about mid-length.


Impossible to overcome.