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YMMV / The Pirates of Penzance

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  • Alternative Character Interpretation: Ruth's played as a dotty old woman, but she's the only one who knows what's going on at all times. Indeed, she nearly marries young Frederick, knowing he's a lord while he's ignorant of it. Despite being only a nurse, she's there with the pirates every step of the way after Frederick rejects her, and takes a personal hand in both returning him to their fold and in The Reveal that the entire ship is crewed with orphaned lords. Given that the pirates themselves had no idea of this, it's plausible Ruth's the true mastermind behind the opera's events.
  • Aluminium Christmas Trees: Some seem to think that Frederick's intended apprenticeship as a "pilot" means "one who flies an aeroplane", despite there being no such thing at the time of writing. Ruth mentions "some career seafaring", meaning "one who steers a ship", particularly in challenging waters like harbours or rivers.
  • Fridge Horror: The policemens' fear of having to face the pirates may seem like cowardice and the girls assumption that they will not come home alive like hastily jumping to conclusions. Until you realize that these are English Bobbies, who were not issued firearms and were going after a band of pirates armed with nothing but truncheons.
  • 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".)
      • "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. And as a cherry on top, all the battles in the book except one are land battles.
      • "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.
      • "I can quote in elegiacs all the crimes of Heliogabalus" is well and good, but elegiacs (couplets consisting of one line of poetry in dactylic hexameter followed by a line in dactylic pentameter) celebrating the story of one of the most notoriously depraved Roman emperors, besides not having any military application, could probably not even have been published in the Victorian age.
      • "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. Further, since Caractacus was believed to have been mythologized as the "Sir Caradoc" the Major General has already mentioned, he is more or less simply repeating one accomplishment in another form.
      • "I understand equations, both the simple and quadratical." Even at this time, anyone with a university education would have been given a taste of algebra. A military officer would have done significantly more as part of their education in ballistics.
      • "In conics I can show peculiarities parabolous." Again, parabolas are a significant part of ballistics, and some of the associated maths should be common knowledge to any officer.
      • "I know the Kings of England." And so did every twelve-year-old who went to school. Memorizing the line of regents was a common part of middle-school history.
    • 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. Unless he had only just heard of Newton... which is more likely than it should be.
    • The song also contains a Shout-Out to H.M.S. Pinafore ... which as Isaac Asimov pointed out, definitively sets when the play takes place. Due to Frederic's odd birthday, the show has to be set in ether 1873 (if Gilbert knew 1900 would not be a leap year) or 1877 (if he didn't). Pinafore was produced in early 1878, making it the latter, since it's just possible that a well-connected Major General could hear the tunes during production in the prior year.
  • Harsher in Hindsight: At the time of the writing, Britain and the British military were at the height of their renown, with semi-honorary military ranks being awarded to people with little military experience but whom had helped Britain's conquests financially. This led to the Major General's character excelling at everything but anything remotely related to combat. A couple decades later, these dubious leaders were still around, and the Major General no longer quite as funny for a time.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight: Because, with all our faults, we love our Queen.
  • Memetic Mutation: A few things, such as the Major General Song and "A policeman's lot is not an 'appy one".
    • The Patter Song "My Eyes Are Fully Open" was added to the show by a production in the 1970s, lampshaded by Ruth's actress mentioning the song's from Ruddigore. The production was so popular it's now expected.
  • Mexicans Love Speedy Gonzales: Because of both this play, and Treasure Island's use of the Cornish accent as the pirate accent, the Cornish as a whole happily and willingly engage in antics that turn them into pirates. This carries to such an extent that there is even A Rugby team called the Cornish Pirates.
  • Older Than They Think:
    • The melody for "Come, Friends Who Plough The Sea" was later appropriated as the song "Hail, Hail, the Gang's All Here," not (as you will often see claimed) the other way around. Conversely, this was inverted by Kurt Vonnegut in Slaughterhouse-Five, with a reference to people "singing 'Hail, Hail, the Gang's All Here' from The Pirates of Penzance."
    • The policemen predate the Keystone Kops, but are clearly an influence on them.
  • "Seinfeld" Is Unfunny: After Robert Newton's portrayal of Long John Silver in Treasure Island, Cornish has become the default accent for pirates. At the time, Penzance in Cornwall was a sleepy fishing town, and the idea of bloodthirsty pirates appearing there was absurd and part of the comedy.
  • What The Hell, Costuming Department?: The Pirate King's purple pants in the 1994 Essgee production, although Ruth seems to think otherwise.