Benford's G&S Lexicon Entries for The Gondoliers

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Act I

Access of dignity

Elevation to exalted position. See also The Grand Duke.

Timoneer

From the French timonier: a helmsman or steersman, and by poetic license, a gondolier.

Bratling

A small brat, or child (contemptuous).

Tippling [his terrible taste for tippling]
Sketch of A taste for drink, combined with gout

In Gilbert’s day this simply meant drinking alcoholic beverages to excess (115, 229). Today it more often means taking small, but frequent, intoxicating drinks (75, 250). “He sometimes drinks a little –– if that’s all that’s left in the bottle.“

Stripling [the Royal stripling!]

A teenager. A boy on the verge of becoming a man. (The clear implication of the narrative is that the prince was still a baby at the time, but let’s consider the exigence of rhyme and be forgiving.)

Bier

A portable frame or stand for carrying a body to a grave.

Gout [combined with gout]

An arthritic affliction associated with acute swelling and painful inflammation of the smaller joints, especially of the big toe. Baptisto Palmieri’s taste for drink may be in part to blame for his affliction (106). Gilbert himself suffered from gout. He presumably realized that, though the disease is not fatal, its torment can drive a man to ruin his liver through excessive resort to the bottle. We show Gilbert’s self-portrait while enduring gout in both feet. The note says “They call it ‘gout’, and I can’t g’out.” (From the Gilbert and Sullivan Collection, Pierpont Morgan Library, courtesy F.W. Wilson.)

Doubled him up

A slang term meaning to punish or cause to collapse (115). (Picture a hearty blow to the solar plexus.) Adding “forever” implies killing.

Modulated [that delicately modulated instrument]

Regulated. In musical terms, “to modulate” means to pass from one key to another. (The Grand Inquisitor can’t resist a little sarcasm.)

Brigand

A highwayman, or thief, or both. Most often found in mountains or forests.

Cordova

Pronunciation: CORE-d’-vah

Also known as Cordobá, a name shared by a province in southern Spain and its capital city. The mountains referred to are the Sierra Morena.

Emissaries

Agents charged with a secret mission.

Skein [life’s tangled skein]

A skein is a coil of yarn or thread. The image here is of a somewhat snarled coil, and the allusion is to “the thread of life spun and eventually cut off by the Fates” (273).

Canker [Care’s a canker that benumbs]

A spreading sore. (Can such an affliction benumb?)

Wherefore [Wherefore waste our elocution]

For what purpose? Why?

Elocution

Oratory employing careful enunciation and effective gestures, exactly what Gilbert wanted from his performers.

Enigma

A puzzling fact or riddle.

Stigma

Mark of disgrace.

Lyre [String the lyre]

An ancient musical instrument resembling a small harp.

Fancy [Hop and skip to Fancy’s fiddle]

The personification of whimsical thought.

Shrink [That we shrink from giving up]

The word has two meanings: (a) to hesitate, and (b) to reduce in size, as happens to a newly deceased body. Another nifty pun.

Voluble [Voices all voluble]

Fluent, flowing, and rapid.

Goose [Every goose becomes a swan]

“All his geese are swans” is an old expression signifying over-optimism (54).

Chrysalis

“An insect … in the quiescent stage before it becomes a butterfly” (75). In short, a pupa.

Vain-glory

Excessive pride or boastfulness.

Abdicate

Give up power of office, in this case the throne.

Grand Canal

The main waterway that weaves its way in a giant S-shape through Venice.

Scramble money [scramble money on the Rialto]

Scatter coins on the pavement, usually resulting in a mad competition between all those who happen to be on hand.

Rialto

Pronunciation: ree-AHL-toe

Sketch of the Rialto

The famous bridge over the Grand Canal at about mid-length.

Insuperable

Impossible to overcome.

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