Benford's G&S Lexicon Entries for Thespis

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Act I


Elevated to the rank of baron.


Elevated to the rank of earl. (You will find a summary of these noble ranks on page 85.)

Rate [though I rate at ’em]

Scold, censure, berate. In short, yell. See also The Grand Duke.


The fabled drink of the gods, conferring immortality.

Rack [a terrible liquor to rack us]

In this case, to cause pain.


Pronunciation: BACK-uss

The god of wine. Bierce (39) defines him as “A convenient deity invented by the ancients as an excuse for getting drunk.”

Sketch of Minerva

Roman goddess of wisdom, equivalent to the Greek Athena.


Polishing paste, for silverware, with chalk powder content. Mercury has made a verb of the expression, meaning to polish.

Jove [Jupiter, by Jove!]

Another name for Jupiter.

Votive offerings [sacrifices and votive offerings]

Offerings to the gods, given in keeping with vows.

Demented [he’s quite demented]


Tartarus [Tartarus is the place]

Pronunciation: TAR-ter-uss

In Greek mythology, the equivalent of hell.

Alpine Club

Upper middle-class Victorians were much enamored of the Swiss Alps, and mountain climbing was a popular sport. The Alpine Club was formed in London in 1857 for the express purpose of fostering this interest and is still extant.

“Cook’s Excursion”

A trip arranged by Cook’s Travel Bureau, not an expedition of chefs. Thomas Cook and Son was the first modern travel agency and created the package holiday (142). In 1841 the company arranged what is believed to have been the first publicly advertised railway excursion in England (284).

En tête-à tête

Pronunciation: on TET ah TET

Literally, “in head to head”: a private conversation, often of a romantic nature.

Claret-cup [A piece of ice-for the claret-cup]

A drink consisting of claret (red Bordeaux wine), ice, carbonated water, lemon, sugar, and other flavorings (56). Samuel Johnson opined claret was so weak “that a man would drown in it before it made him drunk” (45).

Burrage [A bunch of burrage for the claret-cup]

The OED (140) defines burrage as an obsolete form of borage, which is a genus of plants of the family Boraginacae: “Formerly much esteemed as a cordial, and is still largely used in making cool tankard, claret cup, etc.” We understand it is also good in lemonade.

Convivial [you engaged me to play convivial parts]

Festive, merry, jovial and all those other adjectives applicable to a gathering of G&S admirers. Hyder (161) says “convivial parts” is probably a euphemism for “stage drunks.”

Low Comedian

Low comedy is defined as depending “on physical action, broadly humorous or farcical situations, and often bawdy jokes” (250). You can take it from there.


An obsequious servant. In this case simply a contemptible person. See also The Zoo.



A-hate [I a-hate you]

Hate used as a verb. (In melodramas the villain frequently interpolates meaningless syllables to emphasize his exaggerated oratory.)


A riddle, the answer to which involves a play on words. Particularly popular with third grade kids. See also The Yeomen of the Guard.

Misanthropical [It’s a misanthropical question]

Pertaining to one totally lacking faith in one’s fellow man.

Diddlesex junction

From the context we may conclude that Thespis is talking about a railroad line. The “junction” in the name implies that it is a connector between two or more main lines. Turnbull (294) suggests that an 1871 audience would have recognized “North South East West Diddlesex junction” as “any” railway company. He adds that the “Diddle” might be taken to imply shady management.

Affable [For his affable ways and easy breeding]

Friendly, relaxed, and ready for any sort of social intercourse.

Fivers [He tipped the guards with bran-new fivers]

Five-pound notes––about $25 in those days. Turnbull (294) says this would be what a railway guard would earn for three or four days of work in the 1870s.




The word has various meanings. Perhaps the best fitting definition deals with words that arouse deep religious devotion (75).


The fireman in a steam locomotive.