Theatre / H.M.S. Pinafore
H.M.S. Pinafore, or, The Lass that Loved a Sailor
(1878) is one of the most famous Gilbert and Sullivan
operettas, poking fun at the British class system. The eponymous ship is awaiting the arrival of Sir Joseph Porter, KCB
, who has requested the hand of Captain Corcoran's daughter Josephine in marriage. However, Josephine is in love with the simple sailor Ralph Rackstraw, despite her - and her father's - great horror of feeling affection for someone so far beneath her station. After initially spurning his surprisingly eloquent declarations of love, the two decide to elope and marry on land. However, the sinister sailor Dick Deadeye refuses to believe a captain's daughter should lower herself so, Sir Joseph and the Captain insist on the marriage and the bumboat woman Little Buttercup seems to possess a dark secret relating to Ralph and the Captain...Hilarity Ensues
The show was insanely popular immediately on release, and is frequently performed to this day. Shortly after release it was showing in eight New York theaters at once; Arthur Sullivan reported
that New York high society instituted a half-dollar penalty
for gratuitously quoting the show.
Tropes used in H.M.S. Pinafore include:
- A Father to His Men: Captain Corcoran of the titular ship, whose "I Am" Song "I Am The Captain of the Pinafore" has his men singing his praises and he himself complimenting how good of a crew they are.
- All There in the Script: Some character names.
- Beta Couple: Captain Corcoran and Little Buttercup, eventually Sir Joseph and Cousin Hebe.
- Big Book of War: The song "A British Tar" is a list of guidelines on how to be a model sailor in the British Navy, written by a First Lord of the Admiralty who had never so much as set foot on a ship until his appointment to that role.
- Brits with Battleships: Her Majesty's Ship Pinafore.
- Chewbacca Defense: The entire point of "He Is An Englishman." Not that it helps...
- Corpsing: Martyn Green recalled one performance with the D'Oyly Carte opera company that was interrupted when a sudden orchestral Scare Chord in the number "Carefully On Tiptoe Stealing" startled a theater cat, which ran screaming across the stage. The cast might have been able to recover and carry on with the show, if only the next two lines hadn't been:
Chorus: Goodness me, why what was that?
Dick Deadeye: Silent be, it was the cat!
- Desk Jockey: Sir Joseph. It wasn't even a Navy desk - he was a law clerk who passed the bar and became a successful lawyer and eventually bought himself a seat in Parliament. His appointment as First Lord of the Admiralty was a reward for years of loyal service as a machine politician.
- Elopement: Attempted by Ralph and Josephine.
- Evil Sounds Deep: Dick Deadeye.
- Felony Misdemeanor: Played both straight ("He said 'damme'!"), and for laughs. Dick Deadeye's observations that "It's a queer world" and "Captain's daughters don't marry foremast jacks" are greeted with shock and outrage by the other sailors— even the ones who just said the same thing.
- For the Evulz: Dick Deadeye is at his happiest when he is able to foil the elopement plans, for no other apparent reason than to spoil things for the happy couple.
- Foreshadowing: The fact that Pinafore runs on In the Blood as a way to parody class- and caste society makes the Captain's revelation that he can "hand, reef and steer", i.e. possesses the skills to qualify as an Able Seaman, rather indicative that something in his family tree is not quite right.
- The General's Daughter: Josephine, in spite of the fact that her father is a Naval Captain.
- Grumpy Bear: With a name like Dick Deadeye, it's hard to blame him.
- Have a Gay Old Time:
- As seen with Unfortunate Names, Dick Deadeye.
- Additionally the captain mentions how he hardly ever uses a "big D"note .
- Hypocritical Humor: Captain Corcoran agrees that his right good crew are all brave and sober men, however though foes, they could thump any, they're scarcely good company for marrying his daughter.
- "I Am" Song: "I'm Called Little Buttercup", "My gallant crew... I am the captain of the Pinafore," "I am the monarch of the sea."
- "We sail the ocean blue" is basically a We Are song for the crew.
- Incessant Chorus:
And so do his sisters and his cousins and his aunts ...
- Informed Attribute: Josephine knows Sir Joseph "…is a truly great and good man, for he told me so himself…"
- Inter-Class Romance: A double version of this appears. A middle class woman loves a low class man but at the same time a upper class man is in love with her. Also, a lower class woman is in love with a middle class man.
- In the Blood: Some "upper class" characters have distinctly lower class mannerisms. It's both significant and Played for Laughs.
- It Is Pronounced Tro-PAY: Ralph's name is pronounced "Rafe" (rhymes with "safe"). This was standard British usage of the time, but has been known to confuse modern audiences, especially in America.
- It's Probably Nothing: In HMS Pinafore it was that cat. Specifically, it's that cat-o'-nine-tails wielded by the Captain, who, despite trying to remain concealed, can't disguise his rage when he catches Josephine and Ralph eloping.
- Married at Sea: Inverted. Josephine and Ralph intend to elope and get married ashore.
- May-December Romance: If Buttercup's story is true, then Josephine is literally in love with someone old enough to be her father. And her father is in love with someone at least fifteen years older than he is.
- Mind Screw: Assuming Ralph is not the same age as Captain Corcoran, it would be impossible for Little Buttercup to have nursed them at the same time when they were both babies and accidentally switched them around.
- Modern Major General: Sir Joseph, who's had a multitude of successful careers, but has never been at sea before. He's the Ruler of the Queen's Navee.
- Names to Run Away from Really Fast: The Royal Navy has a fine tradition of giving its ships inspiring names, HMS Invincible, HMS Terror, HMS Royal Oak, and so forth. Not here.
- Oblivious to Love: Sir Joseph to Cousin Hebe.
- Only Sane Man: Dick Deadeye. He's intelligent, highly opinionated, and his purpose is to state what would happen in reality. Of course, since he's ugly, hunch-backed and named Dick Deadeye, he always gets shouted down by his crewmates. He even manages to change the crew's minds by agreeing with them at one point.
- Pair the Spares: Subverted, since the Captain establishes early on that he does indeed like Buttercup and outright states that he'd marry her under different circumstances.
- However it is then played straight with Sir Joseph and Cousin Hebe.
- Patriotic Fervor: "A British Tar" and "He is an Englishman".
- The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: The Royal Navy.
- Precision F-Strike: Although Captain Corcoran says in his Act I "I Am" Song that he "never swears a big, big, D", he is driven to swear in Act 2 when he learns that his daughter Josephine and crewman Ralph mean to elope. The use of this trope at all is itself a parody, given that the Captain (and in fact all but one of the male characters) are sailors who never swear (well, hardly ever).
In uttering a reprobation
To any British tar
I try to speak with moderation,
But you have gone too far.
I'm very sorry to disparage
A humble foremast lad,
But to seek your captain's child in marriage,
Why, damme, it's too bad!
- Rags to Riches: Played straight with Ralph and inverted with the Captain, who were accidentally switched at birth. Both are happy with this development.
- Recycled IN SPACE! / Space Is an Ocean: Star-Trek-themed HMS Pinafore is a thing that happens periodically.
- Running Gag:
- The exchange "Never..." "What, never?" "No, never!" "What, never?" "Well, hardly ever..." recurs a fair few times. Counting its two usages in Captain Corcoran's "I Am" Song as one, it shows itself three times.
- "If you please." pops up thrice as well.
- The Soprano: Josephine.
- Spurned into Suicide: When Josephine turns down Ralph's proposal, he decides to say Goodbye, Cruel World!. Fortunately, that moves her to reveal that she loved him after all.
- Take That: The song, "When I was a lad," is a pointed satire on William Henry Smith, the contemporary head of the Admiralty who actually had no naval or military experience, which was of course popularly considered an outrageous appointment for an island nation that depends on its navy (though in this case, the complaint was less about Smith's inexperience, and more about the blatant favor-trading and "Old Boy"-networking that led to his appointment).
Sir Joseph: I grew so rich that I was sent/By a Pocket Boroughnote into Parliament./I always voted at my party's call/And I never thought of thinking for myself at all!
Stick close to your desks/And never go to sea/And you all may be rulers of the Queen's Na-vee
- W.H. Smith's reputation never really recovered; even Benjamin Disraeli was reported to have referred to him privately as "Pinafore Smith" on occasion, and during one public engagement the Band of the Royal Marines even welcomed the hapless First Lord with the strains of "When I was a Lad" in defiance of a direct order to do nothing of the sort. Gilbert himself sarcastically denied any connection whatsoever:
- A Taste of the Lash: Ralph Rackstraw gets threatened with the cat-o'-nine-tails, although it's never carried out.
- Tenor Boy: Ralph
- Unfortunate Names: Dick Deadeye. Lampshaded in the script:
"You can't expect a chap with such a name as Dick Deadeye to be a popular character— now can you?"
- Vehicle Title
- With Catlike Tread: Carefully on Tiptoe Stealing.
- Wooden Ships and Iron Men: Parodied without mercy. For starts, the ship is named after a little girls' outfit, manned by a crew of completely sober sailors, a captain who doesn't swear and a First Sea Lord who insists on micromanaging everything in spite of never having been closer to the ocean than a partner-ship in a law firm.