Benford's G&S Lexicon Entries for The Gondoliers

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Act I

Stem [Before our flowing hopes you stem]

Dam up or stop.


Fancy, or believe.

Carriage and pair

A carriage drawn by a pair of horses. In those days only people of wealth would be so equipped. See also Patience.

With the King on her left-hand side

This would place the queen at the king’s right hand, the traditional place of honor. There are dozens of Biblical references to that being the place of honor, and this custom carried through to Victoria’s day (287) and even modern times. See Knight (178) for details on the exceptional cases where the king and queen would switch sides. This will give you some idea about how seriously the royal family takes such grave matters. Napoleon, too, paid attention. Castelot (69) tells about an incident that occurred shortly before Napoleon crowned himself emperor. As the Pope approached Paris to attend the magnificent coronation, Napoleon met him and insisted that the Pope join him in Napoleon’s carriage. As the two walked to the vehicle, Napoleon carefully contrived to enter it by the right hand door, leaving the Holy Father to ride into the city seated on his left. Oneupsmanship at its best.

Bear away the bell

Take first prize, or otherwise win the competition. Brewer (56) says the expression dates back to earlier days, before cups were given to winners of horse races, when little gold or silver bells were awarded.

Ebullition [This sudden ebullition of unmitigated jollity]

Pronunciation: EBB-ah-LISH-en

Sketch of Some source of unexplained delight

Outburst of feeling, a welling-up and bubbling over.



Pavilions [to pavilions and palaces]

Open porches, often with tent-like covers, possibly decorated with banners. The word can also mean tents, or small ornamental buildings in gardens. See also Princess Ida.

Chancellor [The Chancellor in his peruke]

A high official of state, probably the Lord Chancellor.

Sketch of a Peruke

A periwig; one of those tailored wigs that were fashionable in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Earl [The Earl, the Marquis, and the Dook]

In England a nobleman ranking above a viscount and below a marquis. See also entry for “Duchesses” in Iolanthe.


Pronunciation: MAR-kwiss

A nobleman ranking above an earl but below a duke.


Dialectical pronunciation of “duke,” the highest order of nobility in the British peerage.

Coutts [The Aristocrat who banks with Coutts]

Pronunciation: Rhymes with suits

This refers to Thomas Coutts (1735-1822) who, with his brother, James, formed the London banking house of Coutts and Company. Its origins, however, date back to 1692 and a company founded by one Thomas Campbell (112, 224). The bank is still in business and prides itself on being bankers to the royal family and privy purse. An article in the New York Times (153) shows a picture of the Queen’s messenger arriving at the bank. It seems he is conveyed there each day in a horse-drawn carriage. Tradition is just as strong within the walls; all male employees must be clean-shaven and wear frock coats.

Plate [The Noble Lord who cleans the plate]

Tableware or ornaments of silver or gold. See also The Pirates of Penzance.

Grate [who scrubs the grate]

Frame of iron bars to hold fuel in a fireplace.

Orthodox [The Lord High Bishop orthodox]

Holding established views.

Box [The Lord High Coachman on the box]

“The driver’s seat on a carriage” (75).

Stocks [The Lord High Vagabond in the stocks]

A frame in which a guilty person is clamped for public ridicule and abuse. See also The Yeomen of the Guard.

Wind [As tell the wind]

Pronunciation: winde

Use the poetic pronunciation to make it rhyme with kind. See also Princess Ida.


Pronunciation: ZEE-beek

Sketch of a Xebeque

A three-masted Mediterranean sailing ship.


Pronunciation: KEY

A landing place for ships built along the bank of a body of water.

Act II

Cup and ball [some … playing cup and ball, “morra,” etc.]

“A toy consisting of a cup at the end of a stem to which a ball is attached by a string, the object being to toss the ball and catch it in the cup … Also the game played with this” (228).


A game for two players requiring not even so much as an old deck of cards. In one version, starting with a clenched fist, the challenger holds up a number of fingers of his hand in an attempt to match the number simultaneously held up by the defender. The two players alternate in the roles of defender and challenger. The one who first succeeds in matching the defender a given number of times wins the contest. Versions of the game have been traced back to the ancient Romans and Egyptians.

Pith [Of happiness the very pith]

The most essential part, or essence.

Beau-ideal [The beau-ideal of its kind]

Model of excellence, e.g., a Savoy opera.

Bereft [of undue pride bereft]



The barest necessities of life (54). See also The Grand Duke.

Ventilate [one little grievance that we should like to ventilate]

To air or bring up for discussion.

Legal fiction

Something assumed under the law even though it is obviously untrue in any literal sense. See also The Grand Duke.