Benford's G&S Lexicon Entries for The Grand Duke

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Act I

Rate [Should he rate you, rightly –– leftly]

Berate, scold. As Samuel Johnson (165) puts it: “To chide hastily and vehemently.” See also Thespis.

Rightly –– leftly


Solicitor [As solicitor to the conspiracy]

Legal adviser. If you want a more complete definition, see entry for “Barrister” in Trial By Jury.

Wedding breakfast

In Roman Catholic practice, weddings were formerly held in the morning and, being masses, no meals were eaten after the previous midnight. Consequently, the first meal after the wedding ceremony would literally break (a) fast. The celebratory meal would be of a festive nature and not just a normal breakfast.

Troilus and Cressida

Shakespeare’s play about the Trojan war. Burgess (60) comments that it is seldom performed, and rightly so.

Tiled [we’re all tiled, here.]

(Some editions of the libretto omit this line.)

It means pledged to secrecy as in a fraternal order. Brewer (54) explains the term “to tile a lodge” as follows:

“In Freemasonry, is to close and guard the doors to prevent anyone uninitiated from entering.” Barker (26) says that in former times Freemasons’ secret meetings were guarded by a door-keeper called a “tiler.” Gilbert and Sullivan, incidentally, were both Masons (142, 163, 275).


A pastry baked around a small sausage. You will, of course, recall the wise little poem:

The Germans fill the body cavity with food of great specific gravity.

Bilious [But it’s bilious on the whole:]

Pertaining to bile: the bitter, greenish fluid secreted by the liver. Here it means anything that upsets the liver. See also Patience.


Pronunciation: Make it rhyme with tasty, although in other settings rhyming it with <em>nasty</em> is equally acceptable.

A pastry-enclosed pie baked without a dish (75).

Gorges [Our offended gorges rise:]

Throats. (Ingesting an excess of heavy, greasy sausage rolls tends to make a conspirator throw up.)

Agamemnon [King Agamemnon, in a Louis Quatorze wig]

Agamemnon was the king who led the Greek troops in the war against Troy. He was featured in such classical plays as Aeschylus’s Agamemnon and Euripides’s Hecuba.

Louis Quatorze wig

Pronunciation: lew-EE kah-TORZ

Sketch of Louis Quatorze wig

One of those shoulder-length wigs worn by Louis XIV of France for state occasions or for having his portrait painted. We need hardly add that such wigs were rather rare in Homeric Greece, or even in Shakespearean England. Stedman (274) notes that they were worn in classic plays in the French theater. Goodman (142) says such wigs were the height of fashion at the Restoration of 1660 and for 40-50 years afterwards.

[Note on libretto differences] [pipes, citharae, and cymbals]

In some editions of the libretto the next three entries first appear early in the first act, and then again at the start of the second. In other editions they appear only in the second act.

Citharae [playing on pipes, citharae, and cymbals]

Pronunciation: SITH-are-uh

Plural of cithara, an ancient Greek lyre (a harp-like instrument). The word is related to both zither and guitar.


Pronunciation: eh-LOW-ee-uh

This is apparently a made-up Greek-sounding word. Judging from its context it must pertain to joy.


Pronunciation: oh-POP-oh-nax

Sketch of Opoponax seal

You can interpret this as also being expressive of joy. It is actually a variant on opopanax, Greek for “all-healing,” and the name of a plant once believed to have that property (229). In Gilbert’s day Opoponax was the trade name of a line of perfumes that were widely advertised in journals. Gilbert presumably thought it sounded right for his Greekly chorus, and we shouldn’t try to read any deeper meaning into it. Cameron (66) adds that ancient Greek playwrights frequently coined words in imitation of animal calls, “like tio tio tio tinx (in The Birds), brekekekex (in The Frogs) and otototoi (nearly everywhere).”

Plump [His entire company has promised to plump for him]

To vote for but a single candidate when the ballot allows you to vote for more than one. By thus depriving the other candidates of your vote, you increase the probability that your favorite will garner the greatest total.

Tuppenny [this tuppenny state]

An Englishman’s way of saying “two-penny.”


Should we balk at these supposedly German characters discoursing in terms of British coinage? Of course not! This is a light-hearted comic opera and the language is intended to be easily understood by a British audience. If it’s accuracy you want, curl up with an encyclopedia. Let me also mention that The Grand Duke is saturated with anachronisms. I am not going to slow the pace by pointing them out, but you might see how many you can spot.

“All right at night”

Partridge (237) says “all right on the night” (meaning opening night) is “an actors’ catch phrase applied to a bad … dress rehearsal.”