Benford's G&S Lexicon Entries for The Gondoliers

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Act I


Pronunciation: ZEE-beek

Sketch of a Xebeque

A three-masted Mediterranean sailing ship.


Pronunciation: KEY

A landing place for ships built along the bank of a body of water.

Act II

Cup and ball [some … playing cup and ball, “morra,” etc.]

“A toy consisting of a cup at the end of a stem to which a ball is attached by a string, the object being to toss the ball and catch it in the cup … Also the game played with this” (228).


A game for two players requiring not even so much as an old deck of cards. In one version, starting with a clenched fist, the challenger holds up a number of fingers of his hand in an attempt to match the number simultaneously held up by the defender. The two players alternate in the roles of defender and challenger. The one who first succeeds in matching the defender a given number of times wins the contest. Versions of the game have been traced back to the ancient Romans and Egyptians.

Pith [Of happiness the very pith]

The most essential part, or essence.

Beau-ideal [The beau-ideal of its kind]

Model of excellence, e.g., a Savoy opera.

Bereft [of undue pride bereft]



The barest necessities of life (54). See also The Grand Duke.

Ventilate [one little grievance that we should like to ventilate]

To air or bring up for discussion.

Legal fiction

Something assumed under the law even though it is obviously untrue in any literal sense. See also The Grand Duke.

Full Court [for argument before the Full Court]

The formal assembly of a sovereign’s councilors and ministers.

Interim order

An order of court, such as an injunction, permitting or forbidding some action pending the outcome of the case before the court (178).

Indemnify [to indemnify in the event of an adverse decision]

Pay back.

Subscription lists [heading the subscription lists to all the principal charities]

The implication is that they must contribute generously to all those charitable causes. Prestige (245) says that in Victorian times, when charitable appeals were made, newspapers published the names of the donors and the amounts contributed.

Levée [We may hold a Royal levée]

One reference (250) gives three definitions, paraphrased as follows: (i) historically, a reception of visitors upon rising from bed; (ii) in Great Britain, a court gathering held in early afternoon for men only; and (iii) a reception, usually in someone’s honor. In the context, we could expect only men to be on hand, but the timing could hardly have been either upon rising from bed or early afternoon. I therefore vote for the third definition, but you are welcome to reach your own conclusion.

“Shalloo humps!” and “Shalloo hoops!”

Transcription of a drill sergeant’s barked orders. Kravetz (181) thinks these are probably the way the drill sergeant barks, “Shoulder arms!”


Someone who holds great power, usually a sovereign.

Valet [dress our private valet]

Pronunciation: VAL-ee, to rhyme with “generally”

A personal man-servant.

Regalia [we polish the regalia and the coronation plate]

The symbols of royalty such as crown, scepter, and orb.

Coronation Plate

Although each word is easily defined, the combination turns out to be somewhat controversial. Coronation pertains to the ceremony of crowning a sovereign. Plate has many meanings, the most appropriate of which is “utensils for table and domestic use, ornaments, etc., originally of silver or gold” (228). Contrary to popular opinion, plate does not imply plated. So what is meant by “coronation plate”? Here is a list of proposals: (i) State regalia such as the orb and scepter (142). (ii) Ceremonial plate or plates used in communion service during the coronation in Westminster Abbey (257). (iii) Tableware used during the coronation banquet (242). (iv) The service plates (the oversize metal plates that are removed after the soup course) used during the coronation banquet (271). Take whichever suits your royal fancy. See also The Pirates of Penzance.