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

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Act I

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.”

Square the press

Bribe some critics to write favorable reviews.

Hoydens [F claims all hoydens]

Boisterous, ill-bred, rude girls (229). The deplorable sort who prefer rock concerts to G&S productions.

Wheelers [wheelers and leaders]

Those horses in a large team that are hitched just ahead of the carriage.


In a large team of horses, those at the front.

Fin [with a wave of his fin]

Slang for “the arm” or “the hand” (115).

Ireland [All Europe––with Ireland thrown in!]

I suppose this is a reflection on the rather bitter tensions between Ireland and England. It also reflects the typical Englishman’s tendency to look upon his nation as being quite distinct from Europe. You may recall the British newspaper’s headline: FOG BLANKETS CHANNEL: CONTINENT ISOLATED.

Troilus of Troy

The tragic hero of Shakespeare’s play Troilus and Cressida, based on a narrative poem by Chaucer, which was in turn based on Homeric lore. Troilus was the son of Priam, king of Troy. His lover, Cressida, was unfaithful to him and Troilus was slain in trying to take revenge on his rival, a Greek.

Throwing it up [there’s no throwing it up]

Slang for “resigning” (115).

Gerolstein [It’s a very good part in Gerolstein]

Pronunciation: GAIR-ohl-sh’tyne

This is a sly reference to Offenbach’s 1867 comic opera The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein (which actually opened more than a century after the specified time of The Grand Duke; but let it pass). Gerolstein is in fact a German health resort in the Rhineland “with a romantic ruined castle” (48).

[Note: Anyone playing the role of Julia should remember that all her lines are to be delivered in a strong foreign accent. As conventionally directed, the accent is German. Hyder (161) argues that a Hungarian accent would be more appealing and would accord with that of Ilka von Palmay, who created the role.]

Rancour [All rancour in my heart]

Deep malignity or spite (75).

Witch [I’d witch and woo]

Bewitch: to enchant with witchcraft (229).

Turtle [Like turtle, her first love confessing]

Turtledove. The “turtle” is derived from the Latin turtur, which Shipley (266) says is echoic of the dove’s cooing call. See also The Yeomen of the Guard and Utopia, Limited.

Mock [That it was “mock,” no mortal would be guessing]

This, of course, is a pun on mock turtle soup –– which is made of calf’s head, or other veal, and flavored to imitate real turtle soup. (Maybe you were better off not knowing.)

Jade [the forward jade]

A term of contempt for a woman (115).

Vernal [aglow with beauty vernal]

Spring-like, youthful.

Diurnal [with joy diurnal]


Histrionic [My histrionic art]

The word has two meanings, both of which would apply: (1) pertaining to actors and acting, and (2) insincere.


This is the name of a skin disease. Asimov (11) extends that to an itching that drives one to distraction. I think it more likely that it is just Gilbert’s made-up word meaning all atwitter.

Agitato [What means this agitato?]

An Italian musical term for something agitated, hurried, or restless.

Eat [A sausage-roll I took and eat]

Pronunciation: Rhymes with yet.

He means he ate it. Stedman (274) points out that in Gilbert’s day that was a common pronunciation.