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Headscratchers / The Pirates of Penzance

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  • No one noticed enough people missing from the House of Lords to crew a pirate ship? And none of them was recognized when they attacked a more powerful vessel, presumably crewed by the Royal Navy?
    • They did. That's why the police charged them to yield in queen Victoria's name at the end.
    • In any case, a lot of the Lords were traditionally poor attenders of the actual House - preferring to stay at home and manage their estates.
    • Or, alternately, they weren't from the House of Lords at all and everyone just goes along with it. Observe the daughters insistence that they are "all gentlemen who have gone wrong" even though they have no way of knowing that.
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    • Another option is that they were all the sons of Lords. So while they would (eventually) inherit their Father's seats they were not currently seated in the House of Lords.
    • They can't have been the sons of living Lords - because they were all orphans. But, perhaps the circumstances of their orphan-ing also contributed to their being separated from civilised society, thought dead. So, there'll be a lot of cousins and so forth suddenly finding they're not the next of kin after all.
    • Perhaps it's a hidden Take That! against the House of Lords, that if they went away, nobody would really notice.
  • If the show begins with Frederic's twenty-first birthday, then it must be the first of March. How, then, can the ever-rolling river be swollen with the summer rain, the summer rain?
    • Technically, the show starts a year after his fifth birthday, hence all of act II. I'd just chalk this up to Gilbert and Sullivan not being sticklers for detail.
    • That song was actually a Cut Song from their first operetta, Thespis (nothing else of which survives except a synopsis). It doesn't make much sense that there'd be rocky mountains near the beach, either.
      • Well, the Cornish coastline is pretty rugged in places. Not near Penzance, admittedly, but just because the Pirates hail from Penzance doesn't necessarily mean they hang around the place all the time, and General Stanley may live a bit further up the coast.
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    • Nor that the show begins just before midnight on Frederic's birthday, yet 15 minutes later the girls are singing "How beautifully blue the sky". Perhaps it's best to assume that an unspecified amount of time passes between the pirates departing, and Ruth finding Frederic again.
    • Most performances interpret "Half-past eleven" as being in the morning. Seeing as Frederic apparently didn't know when his birthday was, it stands to reason that they wouldn't have been that precise about the end of his services.
    • For that matter, if the story takes place on February 28th/March 1st as the second act insists, why were the General's daughters going out to the beach? It's winter! The water they were going to paddle their feet in would be freezing!
      • When the girls Talk About the Weather, it starts with "How beautifully blue the sky, the glass is rising very high." It's an unusually warm day.
      • The recent Seattle-based production transplanted the action to Victorian British Columbia, which deftly explains the proximity of the rocky mountains, the river, and the beach...but makes the girls' eagerness to "paddle" in the freezing spring runoff even more inexplicable.
  • Why is this Gilbert & Sullivan's most performed work today? It's clearly their weakest major work.
    • ''Clearly.''
    • From a technical aspect, at least, this is one of the best examples of Sullivan's skill in setting English text to music. That, and his brilliant use of counterpoint, twice, in "How Beautifully Blue the Sky" and "When the Foeman Bears His Steel", which is triple counterpoint, two solos and a three-part chorus. Even more impressive is that in both cases, the two tunes set against one another are in different time signatures. There is a very good reason he is called Sir Arthur.
    • No, it's not. The Grand Duke, which was the last collaborative work of Gilbert & Sullivan, could be considered the 'weakest', due in large part to it's overly-complex storyline, repetitiveness and length (it's three acts, which is longer than any other G&S production). It's rarely performed, even by professional or amateur theater groups.
      • Surprisingly many people like The Grand Duke. And it's in two acts.
    • Because it's got pirates.
      • That probably actually is the reason. Almost every theater troupe has pirate costumes (or can fake them, since all you really need is a sword and a bandana.) Things like the Japanese costumes necessary for The Mikado are more rare.
      • Additionally it's got more overt humor than a lot of the others. Compared to some of the others it's less important to understand the cultural background to get the jokes.
      • Well, The Mikado is the most played of the Savoy operas...but regardless of that, Pirates is so popular because the music is timeless—but more importantly, so is the humor. Watch the 198...3? to understand. It's still funny. The Mikado was full of more topical humor, and was a political commentary of the time. Pirates is more accessible.
      • The Pirates add a lot. Basically, the way it works is this: G&S got some fame with The Sorcerer and then hit the monumental big-time with Pinafore. Riding high on their fame (and frustrated with the lack of royalties they were receiving from "pirated" productions of Pinafore, they wrote Pirates on a wave of creativity to gently satirize the situation, and then simultaneously premiered it in New York and London to avoid a similar issue with copyright. Pirates then became a smash hit of about the same degree as Pinafore. Then came a period of lesser successes, until Princess Ida flopped, being too long (during a London heat-wave) and being seen as repetitive. After some squabbling, some pressure from D'Oyly Carte (and his wife, Helen, who doesn't get the credit she deserves) and Gilbert putting aside a libretto draft Sullivan deemed unacceptable, they put together The Mikado, which is actually their biggest and most-performed hit. Their next collaboration, Ruddigore, received mixed reviews and deterioration followed. So we're left with the "Big Three," of which Pirates is simply the most fun. Pinafore and Mikado are solved through legal machinations, while Pirates is bald-facedly ludicrous and rollicking. And also contains numbers like "Hail Poetry" and "The Major-General's Song." Really, the only G&S operetta to gain significant ground in popularity along the way has been Ruddigore, though that is still not nearly as often reprised as the Big Three.
      • Though Yeomen of the Guard is also frequently performed.
    • Because it's pretty fun to perform? This troper has seen a couple of productions of Pirates and both times the actors were clearly having a blast.


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