Benford's G&S Lexicon Entries for The Sorcerer

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About the Opera

The Sorcerer

Having shown what could be done with Trial by Jury, Carte found financial backers and organized the Comedy Opera Company to pursue his dream of English musical theater. He then contracted with Gilbert and Sullivan to write their first full-length comic opera: The Sorcerer, which opened at London’s Opera Comique on November 17, 1877. The opera was at least moderately successful and ran for 178 performances.

The Sorcerer is historically significant in that it set the pattern and style that made the succeeding operas so successful. Gilbert’s control over the acting company and his firm insistence on disciplined teamwork were innovations that were then badly needed in British theater. He also brought into the company such stalwart performers as George Grossmith, Rutland Barrington, and Richard Temple. These performers (and soon others) stayed with the company for many years, and Gilbert and Sullivan obligingly wrote many roles specifically to suit their talents.

The Sorcerer’s plot involves an engaged couple who want everyone to be as happy as they, and so the groom-to-be brings in a “family sorcerer” to administer a love potion to the entire village. As you might expect, the love potion works, but everyone falls in love with the wrong partner. All is made right in the end, however, as the sorcerer breaks the spell by the expedient of giving himself up to the powers of evil –– in an appropriate puff of smoke. (You will soon learn that the Gilbert and Sullivan operas do not hinge on strongly convincing conclusions.)



A person who is supposed to exercise supernatural powers through the aid of evil spirits (250).

Pointdextre [Sir Marmaduke Pointdextre]

Pronunciation: POIN-dexter

This is a family name that implies a thoroughly Norman, hence presumably noble, ancestry. Nobility is further implied by the fact that the name is actually a heraldic term. Bradley (47) informs us that “the dexter point is the top right-hand corner of a coat of arms as carried by its bearer; i.e., the top left-hand corner as seen by a spectator.”

Baronet [an Elderly Baronet]

A baronet holds a hereditary position ranking between a knight and a baron, but without privilege of sitting in the House of Lords. See also Ruddigore.

Grenadier Guards

A grenadier was originally a soldier trained to throw grenades. The grenades were carried in a shoulder bag and were rather heavy. Moreover, the grenadiers were often called upon to lead the charge. For these reasons British grenadiers had a reputation for both strength and bravery. When the grenade ceased to be used, the grenadiers maintained their existence as crack companies of their battalions. According to the 1910 edition of The Encyclopædia Britannica (103), “In the British service the only grenadiers remaining are the Grenadier Guards.” Prestige (245) reveals what is perhaps most important, which is that, “officers in the Grenadier Guards were drawn from the aristocracy, and needed a substantial private income. Alexis is thus wealthy and aristocratic.”

Vicar [Vicar of Ploverleigh]

There are various definitions of this term just within the Church of England. Let us simply say that Dr. Daly is the clergyman of the local parish.


Also known as a notary public, this is a public officer authorized (among other duties) to certify documents and to record the fact that certain persons swear that something is true. Some authorities (47, 245, 274) believe the signing of the marriage contract (in which the notary plays an important part) is a take-off of similar scenes in grand opera, such as The Barber of Seville and Lucia di Lammermoor.

Betrothed [betrothed to Alexis]

Informally pledged in marriage. In the first act Alexis and Aline advance their intent to marry from a moral commitment to a legally binding, irrevocable contract (18). Going as far back as Roman times we find that betrothals were not to be taken lightly (27). The same was true in the fifteenth century. Fry (121) states that Edward V, just two months after succeeding to the throne, was declared illegitimate because his father, Edward IV, had been betrothed to Lady Eleanor Butler when he married the boy’s mother, Elizabeth Woodville. The teen-aged Edward V and his younger brother were shortly taken by their uncle (Richard III) to the Tower of London for “safe keeping,” and shortly thereafter disappeared.


Pronunciation: SANG-ah-zhoor

Lady Sangazure’s family name throbs with vibrations suggesting royal lineage. It means “blue blood” in French. Her title, Lady, implies any of a long list of possible noble associations.

Partlet [Mrs. Partlet –– a Pew-opener]

Mrs. Partlet’s personality and social standing both are implied in her family name, which the OED (229) defines as “A word used as the proper name of any hen, often Dame Partlet; also applied like ‘hen’ to a woman.” Bosdêt (43) says the name first surfaced in English literature as “Pertelate” in Chaucer, and has medieval connections with a village priest’s mistress. Surely this racier reference has nothing whatsoever to do with the good, virtuous and amiable Zorah Partlet.


Partridge (233) gives us a clue. He defines a pew-opener’s muscle as one in the palm of the hand “because it helps to contract and hollow the palm of the hand for the reception of a gratuity.” From this we infer that a pew-opener was an impoverished parishioner who was allowed to gather tips by escorting well-heeled worshipers to their family pews and holding the pew doors open for their benefit. (If you don’t already know the word, a pew is an enclosed church bench.)

Act I

Elizabethan [Sir Marmaduke’s Elizabethan mansion]

Pertaining to the time of Elizabeth I, who reigned from 1558 to 1603. Elizabethan architecture is described as a mixed style, transitional between Gothic and Renaissance, with classic designs worked into the decadent Gothic style (75).

Knells [Forget your knells]

The sound of slowly rung bells at funerals or other mournful occasions.

Lay [Of mournful lay]

A song.

Green [at the feast on the green]

Since the setting is given as the exterior of Sir Marmaduke’s mansion, we can infer that this particular green is his palatial lawn.

Plighted [plighted to Aline]

Firmly committed, implying that Alexis and Aline have a formal understanding that marriage will ensue. That is not yet legally binding, but will be as soon as the party can be convened and the agreement signed and notarized (18).

Amatory numbers [charged with amatory numbers]

Amatory pertains to love, or anything causing love, or anything having to do with lovers. Numbers refers here to musical compositions or poetry.

Madrigals [soft madrigals]

A madrigal is a song with parts for several voices, sung a cappella (that is, without accompaniment).

Curate [I was a fair young curate then!]

Pronunciation: CURE-uht, but CURE-ate sounds better in the context

Sketch of I was a pale young curate then

In the Church of England, an assistant to a rector or vicar.

Parish [then half a parish trembled]

A district that has its own clergyman.

Gilded [Fled gilded dukes and belted earls before me]

Associating nobility with gold belts apparently dates back to Roman times. Gibbon (124) mentions that in the time of the Emperor Constantine military commanders called dukes and counts were distinguished by gold belts. Even today a “gilded youth” is defined as a young man of wealth and fashion (75). That definition could as well apply to dukes, even old ones. Dukes, earls, and other noble titles are comprehensively dealt with under “Characters” in Iolanthe.

Belted [belted earls]

“This refers to the belts and spurs with which knights, etc., were invested when raised to the dignity” (54). In addition see above for Edward Gibbon’s observation.

Stepped [as good a girl as ever stepped]

Mrs Partlet presumably means Constance is as good a girl as ever set foot on this earth. Gillette (135) reminds us that in H.M.S. Pinafore we find Ralph loyally speaking thus of Captain Corcoran: “A better Captain don’t walk the deck.”

Take [Oh, I take you.]


Fogy [I am an old fogy now]

Brewer (56) says that properly speaking the term applies to military pensioners, but Dr Daly simply means he’s an old goat.

Comely [the young maidens of the village are very comely]

Pronunciation: KUMM-lee


Tush [But tush! I am puling!]

Pronunciation: Make it rhyme with gush.

“An expression of impatience, contempt, or rebuke” (115). We might say “pshaw!”


Pronunciation: Rhymes with fueling.

Whining, whimpering, or needlessly complaining.

Plighting [most auspicious plighting]

Act of becoming engaged to be married.

Obleege [will you obleege me]

Oblige, i.e., do a favor.