Benford's G&S Lexicon Entries for The Gondoliers

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Act II

Full Court [for argument before the Full Court]

The formal assembly of a sovereign’s councilors and ministers.

Interim order

An order of court, such as an injunction, permitting or forbidding some action pending the outcome of the case before the court (178).

Indemnify [to indemnify in the event of an adverse decision]

Pay back.

Subscription lists [heading the subscription lists to all the principal charities]

The implication is that they must contribute generously to all those charitable causes. Prestige (245) says that in Victorian times, when charitable appeals were made, newspapers published the names of the donors and the amounts contributed.

Levée [We may hold a Royal levée]

One reference (250) gives three definitions, paraphrased as follows: (i) historically, a reception of visitors upon rising from bed; (ii) in Great Britain, a court gathering held in early afternoon for men only; and (iii) a reception, usually in someone’s honor. In the context, we could expect only men to be on hand, but the timing could hardly have been either upon rising from bed or early afternoon. I therefore vote for the third definition, but you are welcome to reach your own conclusion.

“Shalloo humps!” and “Shalloo hoops!”

Transcription of a drill sergeant’s barked orders. Kravetz (181) thinks these are probably the way the drill sergeant barks, “Shoulder arms!”


Someone who holds great power, usually a sovereign.

Valet [dress our private valet]

Pronunciation: VAL-ee, to rhyme with “generally”

A personal man-servant.

Regalia [we polish the regalia and the coronation plate]

The symbols of royalty such as crown, scepter, and orb.

Coronation Plate

Although each word is easily defined, the combination turns out to be somewhat controversial. Coronation pertains to the ceremony of crowning a sovereign. Plate has many meanings, the most appropriate of which is “utensils for table and domestic use, ornaments, etc., originally of silver or gold” (228). Contrary to popular opinion, plate does not imply plated. So what is meant by “coronation plate”? Here is a list of proposals: (i) State regalia such as the orb and scepter (142). (ii) Ceremonial plate or plates used in communion service during the coronation in Westminster Abbey (257). (iii) Tableware used during the coronation banquet (242). (iv) The service plates (the oversize metal plates that are removed after the soup course) used during the coronation banquet (271). Take whichever suits your royal fancy. See also The Pirates of Penzance.

Titivating [Spend an hour in titivating all our Gentlemen-in-Waiting]

Putting the finishing touches on one’s personal appearance. Hair combed? Sash straight? Medals all in place? Spats buttoned? Monocle screwed in place? Pants buttoned?


The OED (228) defines a gentleman-in-waiting as “A man of gentle birth attached to the household of the sovereign or other person of high rank.” The term “of gentle birth” means that he comes from a family of good social position.

Deputation [Or receive a deputation]

A small group of representatives from a commercial, charitable, or social body, commissioned to place a view before the sovereign, or to present a loyal address (245).

Peer [we possibly create a peer or two]

In England a nobleman of the rank of duke, marquis, earl, viscount, or baron––all hereditary positions. See also HMS Pinafore, Iolanthe, Utopia, Limited, and The Zoo.

Garter [With the Garter or the Thistle or the Bath]

“Badge of the highest order of knighthood in Great Britain” (75). The commonly held belief is that the order dates back to 1344, when Edward II was dancing with a lady, and her garter slipped to the floor. Seeing her embarrassment, the king gallantly put the garter on his own leg and said (in translation), “Shame on anyone who thinks ill of this” (266). See also The Zoo.


The highest order of Scottish knighthood, taking its name from the royal emblem of Scottish kings (56).


“An order of knighthood, the second in rank in Great Britain, so named from the former ceremony of purification at the inauguration of a knight” (75). There are those who doubt this etymology, but they offer no alternative (142).


A colloquialism for “stroll.” See also The Mikado.

Semi-State [toddle off in semi-State]

Attire suitable for ordinary ceremonial occasions (but never mind the crowns or ermine-trimmed robes).


Pronunciation: Rhymes with state

A festival or celebration.

Ever and anon

From time to time (55).

Merciful eclipse

Lowered eyelids.

Having passed the Rubicon

Having gone too far to turn back. This is based on Julius Caesar’s march on Rome in 49 B.C. The Rubicon was the river marking the boundary of Caesar’s assigned authority. When he crossed it he was, in effect, in mutiny.


Gilbert’s baroque word for fingers of the most refined, delicate, and feminine variety.

Cot [Take a pretty little cot]

A cottage.

Dainty [a dainty man to please]

Overly fastidious.

Main [we’ve crossed the main]

Any wide expanse of ocean. In this case, more likely the Mediterranean Sea.

Livery [Ain’t the livery becoming]

The special (and usually fancy) clothing provided by a lord to his household servants.

Sketch of Dance a Cachucha

An Andalusian dance in three-quarter time, usually with castanets accompaniment. It is of uncertain origin, but was made popular in the United States by Fanny Elssler (1810-84), a Viennese who became the lead ballerina at the Paris Opera. One evening while crossing the ocean she found her cabin invaded by a knife-wielding member of the ship’s crew intent on stealing her jewelry. Fanny had other ideas, so she “took a preparation and did a turn during which she hit him with her extended leg with such force that he fell to the floor” –– and died a few days later (75, 83, 84, 159). The authentic Spanish pronunciation {kah-CHOO-cha} is something like a sneeze; but Gilbert, Sullivan, and the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company all pronounced it {kah-CHOO-kah}. Perhaps they thought it was more easily understood that way. (You should know that in some parts of the Spanish-speaking world “cachucha” has become an obscene vulgarism.)


A lively dance in triple time performed by one or more couples with castanets. Bradley (48) gives complete descriptions of these dances and the bolero, in case you are interested.