Benford's G&S Lexicon Entries for The Yeomen of the Guard

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Act I

Strolling players

Small troupes of performers who rove the countryside seeking appreciative audiences willing to toss a few coins.

Interludes [playing brief interludes]

Among other possibilities: “any intermediate performance or entertainment, as between acts of a play” (158). These would presumably be comedies or farces (178). Are Jack and Elsie a t the Tower of London to keep the boorish bourgeoisie from becoming beastly bored between beheadings?

Bridget Maynard

Like Secretary Poltwhistle, Elsie’s mother never appears on stage. She is introduced to head off any inference that Elsie and Jack Point are traveling without benefit of chaperone. Furthermore, Elsie’s marrying for money to save her dying mother is a noble deed well suited to a Victorian heroine (64).


“A medicine compounded with honey, syrup, or conserves to disguise the taste” (75). Brewer (54) says it comes from a Greek word meaning to lick up, and applies to any sweetened medicine.

Out of place [like some of my jests, out of place]

Inappropriate. A second meaning is unemployed –– as Jack Point happens to be at the moment.

Marry [Marry, sir, I have a pretty wit]
Sketch of A pretty wit!

Indeed, or why, to be sure. Stedman (273) notes that the word is an abbreviated derivative of an oath involving the Virgin Mary, and is often thrown in to add gentle emphasis.

Extempore [I can rhyme you extempore]

Without previous thought or preparation.


“A riddle, the answer to which involves a pun or play on words” (250). See also Thespis.


Bitter, scornful, mocking, and so forth.


A sneering comment.

Crank [and quip and crank]

A twist of language of the sort Frederic loved to hear until he found the joke was on him. Milton used the expression “Quips, and cranks, and wanton wiles” (266).

Aim my shaft

Select my figurative target.

Winnow [winnow all my folly]

Sift through to separate the valuable from the useless parts.

Whim [I can wither with a whim]

This could be interpreted as a flippant rejoinder.

Gild [always gild the philosophic pill]

Brewer (54) claims that pills used to be gilded, i.e., lightly covered with a layer of sugar, to make swallowing less unpleasant. The expression is now taken to mean “to make a disagreeable task less offensive.”

Archbishop of Canterbury

The primate (chief dignitary under the monarch) of the Church of England. Prestige (245) mentions that the Archbishop of Canterbury is “Primate of All England,” while the Archbishop of York is “Primate of England.” Gilbertian, what?

Stocks [and set me in the stocks]
Sketch of Stocks

An instrument of punishment consisting of a wooden framework with holes for clamping the ankles (and perhaps wrists), so as to expose the offender to public ridicule and abuse.

Scurril [a scurril rogue]

Johnson (165) offers several definitions. Among these the one most likely to put a jester in the stocks is “lewdly jocose.”

Lief [I had as lief not take post again]

Gladly. In other words, he would rather not take post again.

Dignified clergy

Bradley (47) explains that the “dignified clergy” were those occupying senior positions within the hierarchy of the Church of England. That left the term “undignified clergy” to be applied to parish priests and curates. We trust they did not take the words too literally. Stedman (274) thinks Point merely wants to avoid stuffy clergymen who have underdeveloped senses of humor.

Expunged [anything objectionable is expunged]


Helped [what is underdone cannot be helped]

Served. As the lieutenant observes, that manner of thing would be somewhat irritating.

Do you take me?

Catch on? (An elbow in the listener’s ribs is the proper accompanying gesture.)

Brain-pan [a cook’s brain-pan]

Skull. Halton (147) claims that he once asked Gilbert for the answer to the riddle involved here. Gilbert’s reply was, “Fred, your guess is as good as mine!” Well, let’s not give up. How about this, as ascribed to David Eden by Stephen Turnbull (294): One is under a meal-making brain; the other under a wheel-breaking strain.

Odd freak

An unexpected occurrence.

Fain [I would fain have espied them]

Willingly, gladly.

Espied them

Spied on them.

A live ass [a live ass is better than a dead lion]
Sketch of A live ass is better than a dead lion

Phoebe has her sayings mixed up. The Bible has it (Eccles. IX:4) that a living dog is better than a dead lion; whereas the Italians assure us that a live ass is worth more than a dead doctor (54). No matter; she has a good point.

Unbosoming [a torrent of impulsive unbosoming]

Revealing innermost thoughts.

Wag [I am a mad wag]

Johnson (165) defines this as anyone who is “ludicrously mischievous; a merry droll.”