Benford's G&S Lexicon Entries for Trial By Jury

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James the Second [In the reign of James the Second]

The son of Charles I, James II succeeded to the throne in 1685 but abdicated in 1688, when William of Orange forced him out. His was a short, bloody reign, but the Counsel would have us believe that he left his mark on matrimonial law.

Nice [A nice dilemma]

If we interpret nice in the conventional sense we can conclude that the judge is indulging in irony (as in “a nice mess”). On the other hand, as Asimov (11) says, nice is used by lawyers in the older sense of requiring careful thought and examination. That seems the more likely interpretation.

Breach [A breach ‘twill surely be]

A breach of promise: In legal matters, a failure to carry out a promise of marriage. Breach means to break.

Prepossessing [I’m not prepossessing]

Attractive, likely to make a good first impression.


A mitigating factor. This is from a pair of lines that are in the score but are omitted from some versions of the libretto. The complete verse, as found in The Savoy Operas (131), is sung by the jury as follows:

We would be fairly acting,
But this is most distracting!
If, when in liquor, he would kick her,
That is an abatement.

Furies [All the legal furies seize you]

See “Semi-despondent fury” above.

Attorneys [Barristers, and you, attorneys]

At the time the opera was set (early 1870s) the person briefing a barrister in the Court of the Exchequer would have been an attorney. Shortly thereafter, however, the Judicature Act merged the solicitors and attorneys, and the former title was adopted (178).

Shelf [Put your briefs upon the shelf]

This should not be taken literally; the judge is telling both parties to shelve (i.e., lay aside) their pleadings.

Knell [The knell is sounded]

A slow ringing of a bell at a funeral.

Doated [On you he’s doated]

Bestowing excessive adoration.

Moated [To castle moated]

Protected by a deep encircling ditch, probably filled with anything but Eau de Cologne.

Tether [In marriage tether]

A rope or chain used to keep an animal from straying. This is not to be taken literally.

Snob [The defendant is a snob]

Brewer (56) says this means, “not a gentleman; one who arrogates to himself merits which he does not deserve.”

Fob [I’ll reward him from my fob]

A small waistband pocket. Since the pocket is a small one, we may infer that the reward was perhaps only loose change. “Another insult, and, I think, a light one!”