Benford's G&S Lexicon Entries for Utopia, Ltd.

Primary tabs

Click a term to expand the definition; Search for a term; Select other Opera Chapters; Go to the Lexicon menu for introductory and afterword content..

Enter part of a term; e.g., "gill" for Gillow's.

Act II

Risky [Of “risky” situation]

Bordering on indecency, i.e., risqué.

Brewers and Cotton Lords

Businessmen who have grown rich in their trades (and who hope to be created peers in recognition of their public service). Bradley (48) explains that the Conservative Government had such strong links with the “drink trade,” that the honors bequeathed were referred to as “the beerage.” Goodman (143), on the other hand, believes it was the Whigs who were so dubbed.

Thackeray [Earl of Thackeray]

William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-63): English novelist. Like Gilbert, he was trained as a lawyer but then turned to literature. He wrote extensively for Punch and was the author of Vanity Fair. See also Patience.

Dickens [Duke of Dickens]

Charles Dickens (1812-70): Probably England’s best-known novelist, the author of such famous novels as Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, and A Christmas Carol. Gilbert adapted Great Expectations for the stage, and looked upon Dickens as one of his favorite authors (240). See also Patience and Ruddigore.

Fildes [Lord Fildes and Viscount Millais]

Sir (Samuel) Luke Fildes, famous English painter (1843-1927). He was knighted in 1906 –– beating Gilbert by a year. He had the honor of painting the official portraits of King Edward and Queen Alexandra.


Pronunciation: mill-A

Sir John Everett Millais (1829-96): Another famous English painter, who (with others) founded the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood. Baronetted in 1885, he was president of the Royal Academy at the time of his death. Goodman (140) states that Millais and Sullivan were good friends, so it is not surprising that Millais was called upon to paint the portrait of Sullivan that hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London.

[Note on stage directions] [Dignitaries in presentation scene]

The next nine entries occur in the stage directions pertaining to the dignitaries who appear in the big presentation scene.

Master of the Horse

“An official having charge of horses, hounds, etc., of a sovereign of England. He is there a member of the ministry and the third dignitary of the court” (105). In modern times the post is entirely ceremonial (142). Terry (286) says he is in charge of carriages, limousines, and mounted processions as well as the royal stables. We are unable to discover who is in charge of sweeping the street after the royal procession.

Lord Steward

The officer in charge of arranging state banquets and other important ceremonial events (154). Terry (286) adds that the appointment is only on an ad hoc basis.

Lord in Waiting

“A nobleman in attendance on a British monarch or the Prince of Wales” (250).

Groom in Waiting

“Any of several offices of the English royal household” (105). Terry (286) mentions that he is like a Lord in Waiting except that he is not a peer.

Field Officer in Brigade Waiting

Terry (286) defines him as the liaison officer between the household troops and the sovereign.

Gold and Silver Stick

George (123) explains that these are officers of the Court who, on major ceremonial occasions, carry distinctive gold and silver mounted batons, which are about the length of walking sticks. Gold Stick is usually honorary Colonel of one of the two Household Cavalry Regiments, while Silver Stick is taken in turn, on a monthly basis, by the two Commanding Officers. There are certain other officers who, depending on the nature and place of the occasion, are also eligible for the honor of being a Gold Stick. Bradley (48) offers further details. (Since Gilbert has left Stick in the singular form, we must assume that the two Utopian positions have been combined.)

Gentlemen Ushers

These are the officials who introduce people into the presence of the sovereign (75). Terry (286) says they have varied duties at Court and in Parliament.

Pages of Honour

Boys in the service of the Royal Court. According to Terry (286) these are sons of distinguished citizens (as we might have guessed) and may be called upon to serve as train-bearers to the king as well as queen or princesses.


Ladies “in Court circles appointed to attend on a Queen or Princess” (75).

Débutantes [to embrace all the débutantes]

The young ladies being presented to the Court.

Undress wigs [dressed as judges in red and ermine robes and undress wigs]
Sketch of Undress wig

These are “forensic” wigs, the short periwigs worn in British courts of law, in contradistinction to the “full-bottomed,” shoulder-length numbers worn on ceremonial occasions. The judge in Trial by Jury is sometimes portrayed in a long wig, but that is professional license carried too far. In British law courts the barristers wear wigs with three horizontal curls running all the way round. The judges wear wigs that are similar except that they have one vertical curl just above the tail instead of the three horizontal curls (103). See two Gilbertian cartoons (129).

Blank verse

Unrhymed verse, often set down in iambic pentameter style. The libretto for Princess Ida is a lovely example.

Winding-up Act

The law governing procedures for going out of business as arranged by the Act of Sixty-Two (also in Utopia, Ltd.).




Pronunciation: Disobedient.

Pas de trois [With pas de trois we will conclude]

Pronunciation: pah-d’TWAH

Dance step for three.

Bring the people about his ears

The expression “about one’s ears” means causing trouble. The allusion is to a nest of hornets buzzing about one’s head (54).

Put him to bed

This may be short for “Put him to bed with a pickaxe and shovel,” meaning to bury him (115). Stedman (274) says “Oh go to bed” is another way of saying “Shut up!” Here the meaning is “take him away.”

Drivelling [You’re a drivelling barndoor owl]

Talking nonsense.

Barndoor owl

The standard references are silent on the subject of barndoor owls. The closest I have come is a reference as follows: “Barn-door fowl: a mongrel or cross-bred specimen of the common hen; a dunghill or barn-yard fowl” (70). Barker (25) suggests “a fatuous turkey.” My hypothesis is that a barndoor owl is a cross-bred bird, one-third barn owl, one-third wayward hen, and one-third Gilbertian imagination.

Vapid [You’re a vapid and vain old muff]

Lifeless and insipid.

On the Tapis [It’s still on the tapis]

Pronunciation: tah-PEE

“On the table cloth, under discussion or consideration” (228). Notice how the meaning of the term “to table” a matter changes as it crosses the Atlantic. In England when you table a matter you bring it up for discussion. In the States when you table it you postpone discussion.