Hilarity Ensues, naturally.
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 (and most of those in unauthorized/bootleg productions that didn't pay Gilbert and Sullivan a penny in royalties); 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:
- AcCENT upon the Wrong SylLABle: Several of the lyrics put emphasis on the last syllable of "NaVY," to rhyme it with such phrases as "I am the monarch of the sea." (Gilbert indicates this in the libretto by spelling it "Navee.")
- Adaptation Expansion: H.M.S. Pinafore is based on several of Gilbert's comic narrative poems (known as "The Bab Ballads"). As usual for Gilbert, the original poems are more cynical than the opera, where he toned down the Comedic Sociopathy.
- The basic premise comes from Gilbert's poem "Joe Golightly," where the original version of Ralph Rackstraw is a common sailor who loves a haughty woman above his station and annoys his Captain and crew by constantly singing about his love. The poem ends with Joe getting thrown in the brig for twelve years with "five hundred thousand lashes" every day.
- Little Buttercup is from "The Bumboat Woman's Story" (where she has the same nickname but her real name is Poll Pineapple), where she has a crush on a Navy officer, but it doesn't end well for her.
- "General John" and "The Baby's Vengeance" are both versions of the theme of an upper class man and a lower class man discovering they were switched at birth, and play up the joke that is present but somewhat downplayed in the opera, which is that everyone instantly believes the Switched at Birth story without any evidence (in both poems it's heavily implied that the people telling the story are simply making it up).
- 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 characters are given names for no apparent reason, which appear only in the dramatis personae. They aren't even in the script half the time, because they have more intuitive titles. For instance, Bill Bobstay and Bob Becket, one of whom is the Boatswain's Mate and the other is the Carpenter's Mate (which is which varies depending on which libretto you read) and appear in the script as "Boatswain" and "Carpenter" respectively. The fact that the Carpenter's Mate is the Carpenter's Mate at all also qualifies as an example, as to the audience he's just a part in a trio.
- Alliterative Name: Captain Corcoran, Dick Deadeye, Ralph Rackstraw. Also Bill Bobstay and Bob Becket, the names given to the Boatswain's Mate and the Carpenter's Mate in the dramatis personae, which also mentions a "Midshipmite" Tom Tucker.
- Ambiguously Bi: Some productions make Sir Joseph display touchy-feely behavior toward the crew, giving his description of various members as being "a fine fellow" homoerotic implications. For that matter, and perhaps not surprisingly given the setting, there are productions that give HMS Pinafore's crew a fair dose of campiness.
- 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.
- Changing Chorus: "When I Was a Lad", the Admiral's song from H.M.S. Pinafore, has each repetition of the chorus describe a different "virtue" (polishing handles, copying letters, doing little thinking for himself etc.) for which he was made "the ruler of the Queen's Navy".
- Chewbacca Defense: The entire point of "He Is An Englishman." Not that it helps...
- Chubby Chaser: The captain observes approvingly that Little Buttercup is "a plump and pleasing person!" They wind up together at the end.
- Cuckoosnarker: Sir Joseph. One moment he's inanely rabbiting on about how all sailors should dance hornpipes, another moment he's dropping shade like this:Captain Corcoran: I am the last person to insult a British sailor, Sir Joseph.Sir Joseph: You are the last person who did, Captain Corcoran.
- 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.
- Face–Heel Turn: While Sir Joseph Porter is throughout the entire play made out to be a pompous and inexperienced social climber, he truly becomes villainous near the very end as he discovers Ralph has courted Josephine and therefore sentences Ralph to be thrown into the ship's dungeon. This is even right after he saves Ralph from an enraged Captain Corcoran, making the shift in personality all the more jarring.
- 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.
- Forgotten Trope: In "When I Was a Lad", Sir Joseph's lines "I grew so rich that I was sent/By a pocket borough into Parliament" are a period political jab. Pocket boroughs were British electoral districts that had such a small population that they were disproportionately represented in Parliament and were prone to manipulation as the major landowner could have whoever he wanted easily elected. These were significantly diminished by the Reform Act 1832 and eliminated by the Reform Act 1867. "HMS Pinafore" debuted in 1878 and Sir Joseph could have been elected to the British Parliament at the latest during the 1865 general election (or a subsequent by-election); thus, the way he entered politics was already an anachronism at the time.
- The General's Daughter: Josephine, in spite of the fact that her father is a Naval Captain.
- Go to Your Room!: Sir Joseph orders Captain Corcoran to his cabin on hearing him drop his 'damme' swear: "Go, ribald, get you hence/To your cabin with celerity./This is the consequence/Of ill-advised asperity!" He then interviews Ralph to find out what could possibly have prompted the Captain to do so. On Ralph's admitting that it was his love for Josephine that set him off, Sir Joseph is outraged at his "insolence" at courting his captain's daughter, and orders Ralph placed in the brig in order to teach him "to discipline his affections".
- Gosh Dang It to Heck!: The Captain claims his preferred expletive is "Bother it!", and he "never swears a big, big D—-." Well, hardly ever.
- 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 .
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Sir Joseph, thinking the reason Josephine is hesitant to marry him is that she is concerned about their class difference, makes an impassioned speech arguing that social rank shouldn't count in matters of the heart. In fact, that's the reason she was hesitant to marry Ralph, so Sir Joseph is unwittingly arguing on behalf of his rival!
- Hope Crusher: Dick Deadeye spends most of his time trying to be as much of a wet blanket as possible to Ralph and Josephine's romance, constantly pointing out how it will never work, and eventually even ratting out their elopement plans to the Captain so they can be foiled.
- Horny Sailors: Averted and Lampshaded when the sailors demonstrate their hilariously unstereotypical manners by the fact that they "welcome ladies so politely."
- 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. It also doubles as an Opening Chorus.
- 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…"
- In the Blood: Some "upper class" characters have distinctly lower class mannerisms. It's both significant and Played for Laughs.
- 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.
- Lampshade Hanging: The sailors explain why they don't swear (What, never? No, never! What, never? Well hardly ever!). The real reason being that Gilbert and Sullivan were aiming for good, clean, family-friendly fun (an under-served market in 1870s British theatre).
- 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 and who tended him when he was an infant — likely even nursed him.
- Miles Gloriosus: Sir Joseph Porter "snaps his fingers at a foeman's taunts" but later admits that he has no nautical experience whatsoever, and also that he gets seasick in bad weather.
- 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.
- Minor Character, Major Song: The Boatswain has practically no other role but to sing the solo for "He Is An Englishman", and join in the trio for "A British Tar"— two of the best songs in the show.
- 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.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Sir Joseph Porter, First Lord of the Admiralty,note describes his rise in a song emphasizing his complete lack of nautical experience or knowledge.note Audiences quickly made the connection to W.H. Smith,note who was First Lord of the Admiralty at the time and had a background similar to Porter's. As a result, Smith was known for the rest of his life as "Pinafore Smith".
- Oblivious to Love: Sir Joseph to Cousin Hebe.
- One Dialogue, Two Conversations: "Never Mind The Why And Wherefore" is a song about how differences in social rank shouldn't be a barrier to being with one's love. Sir Joseph and Captain Corcoran are trying to say that it is therefore alright for the middle-class Josephine to marry the upper class Sir Joseph, while Josephine is taking it as permission to marry the lower class Ralph.
- 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.
- Parental Marriage Veto: Captain Corcoran discourages Josephine from pursuing a relationship with the sailor that she is in love with, wishing her to marry up (by wedding Sir Joseph), rather than down in class. When he intercepts her eloping with Ralph, he attempts this. Things very soon conspire to avert the veto by making it unnecessary, the marriage with Ralph actually becoming a case of Josephine marrying up, due to her father and Ralph being made to switch their ranks around.
- Patriotic Fervor: "A British Tar" and "He is an Englishman". The latter is in fact a devastating satire of patriotic jingoism: The Insane Troll Logic claim is that Ralph deserves great credit for being an Englishman, because it means he has actively resisted the temptation to be a person of any other nationality. Not that he just so happened to be born in England or anything like that.
- The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: The Royal Navy is never engaged in battle.
- 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!
- Purple Prose: Ralph indulges in this for laughs.Ralph: I am poor in the essence of happiness, lady—rich only in never-ending unrest. In me there meet a combination of antithetical elements which are at eternal war with one another. Driven hither by objective influences-–thither by subjective emotions-–wafted one moment into blazing day, by mocking hope—plunged the next into the Cimmerian darkness of tangible despair, I am but a living ganglion of irreconcilable antagonisms. I hope I make myself clear, lady?Josephine: Perfectly. [aside] His simple eloquence goes to my heart.
- 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.
- Here are clips from productions in Los Angeles (“Kind Captain, I've important information”), Southampton (“A British tar”), Toronto (“I am Canadian”), and the California Bay Area (“I am the captain of the Pinafore”).
- The first Pinafore/Trek mash-up was possibly Heydt and Anderson’s “HMS Trek-A-Star”, which premiered in the late ‘60s! It answers the question: “What if TOS had a musical episode?”
- Meanwhile "A British Tar" was actually used in Star Trek: Insurrection, sung by Captain Picard, Worf, and Data, as an important plot point.
- Red Herring: Dick Deadeye is consistently built up as the main instigator of evil on the ship and makes a determined effort to foil the love affair between Ralph and Josephine, even going as far as to reveal their secret plan to elope to an enraged Captain Corcoran. This might give you the impression that Deadeye's antics are what precipitate the final conflict, but his role as the antagonist is very abruptly supplanted by Sir Joseph Porter in the finale, who orders Ralph to be tossed in the dungeon for wooing the admiral's intended.
- Replacement Flat Character: Captain Corcoran's "I Am" Song firmly establishes him as a flat caricature—proud, formal, obsessed with good language, a bit susceptible to sea sickness—but rather than flanderizing those characteristics, the scene that follows gives him more depth and nuance. Ready to see what happens when he meets somebody who really is as pompous and pedantic as he initially seemed? Enter Sir Joseph Porter.
- Running Gag:
- Spoof Aesop: Stick close to your desk/And never go to sea/And you too may be ruler of the Queen's Navee!
- 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.
- Swear Jar: A meta-example; Sir Arthur Sullivan once told the story that H.M.S. Pinafore was so popular in New York that polite society established a fine for gratuitously quoting it:"My dear old friend Frederick Clay was in church one Sunday morning with the Barlows, one of the best known families in New York, and the preacher concluded a most eloquent sermon with the impressive words, 'For He himself hath said it.' Clay whispered into Sam Barlow's ear the continuing line: 'And it's greatly to his credit,' promptly took out half a dollar and silently placed it in Mr. Barlow's hand!"
- 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).note 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!/I thought so little, they rewarded me/and now I am the ruler of the Queen's Navee![...]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. In some productions, Dick Deadeye gets whacked when the Captain swings the "cat" around.
- 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?"
- Uptown Girl and Uptown Guys: 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.
- Vehicle Title: The play is named for the ship. Even this is a parody, as Pinafore— a type of little girl's outfit— is a pretty sissy name for a warship.
- 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 Lord of the Admiralty who insists on micromanaging everything in spite of never having been closer to the ocean than a partner-ship in a law firm.
- Worm in an Apple: As a metaphor for Hidden Depths in the first spoken dialogue, in response to the Boatswain calling her "the rosiest, the roundest, and the reddest beauty in all Spithead," Little Buttercup says:Buttercup: Red, am I? and round—and rosy! May be, for I have dissembled well! But hark ye, my merry friend—hast ever thought that beneath a gay and frivolous exterior there may lurk a canker-worm which is slowly but surely eating its way into one's very heart?