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Trivia / The Pirates of Penzance

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  • Accent Depundent: An Overly Long Gag in the first act depends on people confusing the words "orphan" and "often." The pun only really works in a very posh British accent, and even then it's a bit of a stretch.
  • Ashcan Copy: Pirates had its premiere on Broadway to secure American copyright. (This was before international copyright law.) But Gilbert & Sullivan still needed a British premiere for copyright back home, and couldn't be rehearsing two casts at once. Solution? Just before the Broadway opening, they had a (no doubt bewildered) touring company of H.M.S. Pinafore throw together a "British premiere" of Pirates, with one day's rehearsal, at an obscure theatre in an English seaside town.
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  • Defictionalization: Since 1945, there have been real Pirates in Penzance...or, at least, a rugby team.
  • Genius Bonus: The Major General Song is loaded with them:
    • The original song, on top of identifying him as a poor Major General also includes a great deal of meaningless accomplishments:
      • "Sing the croaking chorus from The Frogs of Aristophanes." The entire chorus is "ribbit". (Or, in the original Greek, Βρεκεκεκὲξ κοὰξ κοάξ. Which is, naturally, Greek for "ribbit".)
      • "can tell at sight a Mauser rifle from a javelin." Pretty sure anybody could do that.
      • "quote the fights historical from Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical" — He has only read about them in The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World: from Marathon to Waterloo but can't even remember the timeline.
      • "can tell undoubted Raphaels from Gerard Dows and Zoffanies" — Raphael painted religious iconography heavy with symbolism while Dow and Zoffany painted photorealistc scenes from life. The difference is unmistakable.
      • "tell you every detail of Caractacus’s uniform" — The only depiction of Caractacus shows him in the nude. Also, Caractacus was a Gallic chieftain who lived around the birth of Christ, and would never have worn a uniform anything.
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    • As well as some which are outright impossible:
      • "I can write a washing bill in Babylonic Cuneiform": Cuneiform was at the time understood to be a form of writing, but nothing else was known about it.
      • "And I can hum a fugue of which I've heard the music's din a-fore": Fugues are per definition polyphonic, i.e. have more than one melody running at the same time. Tuvan throat singers can accomplish something to this effect by singing one tune and humming another, but good luck humming two tunes at once.
      • "About binomial theorem I’m teeming with a lot o’ news" — No real advances had been made in the area since Newton generalized it more than 200 years before, hence there were no "news" for him to teem with.
  • Reality Subtext: During the runaway success of H.M.S. Pinafore, Gilbert & Sullivan had huge trouble with people pirating their works on the other side of the Atlantic. They arranged to have their next show produced simultaneously in America and in a small English village, in an attempt to get better legal protection from such pirates. What was that new show? Yep, you guessed it.
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