Benford's G&S Lexicon Entries for Thespis

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Act I

Bath-buns [rich Bath-buns for the outside porters]

Pronunciation: Bahth-buns

Sugar-topped buns containing fruit, nuts, and raisins –– usually split, and buttered. The name comes from their city of origin (142, 257).

Outside porters

Station baggage carriers.

Hunters [He’d mount the clerks on first-class hunters]

Horses used in fox hunting.

Roadside shunters

Rail yard employees who throw switches to divert trains from one set of tracks to another.

Tooting [He’d ask them down to his place in Tooting]

It was then a lower-middle class suburb in the southwest part of London (166, 245). It is now a London borough (142).

Siding [on lonely siding]

A railroad spur where rail cars can be temporarily idled.

Perth [If he wished to go to Perth or Stirling]

A city in Scotland, to say nothing of another in Australia. (But Gilbert meant the former.)


Another city in Scotland.

Barking [At four a.m. in the wilds of Barking]

Then a working-class town about seven miles east and a little north of London; now a London suburb.

Peelers [with its rails and guards and peelers]

Policemen. The word goes back to the English statesman Sir Robert Peel (1788-1850), who established the metropolitan police force in England. He became Prime Minister in 1841 and served in that office for five years (105). Brewer (56) adds that the nickname “Bobby” was derived from Peel’s first name.

Work’us [The shareholders are all in the work’us]

Workhouse, a place where poor people were lodged and given work. In the USA a workhouse is more likely a jail for petty criminals, and as Goodman (142) describes the old British workhouses, they weren’t much better. Turnbull (294) sadly informs us that the old Savoyard Rutland Barrington ended his days in one.

Pipe-lights [And he sells pipe-lights in the Regent Circus]

Rees (251) defines these simply as matches. Perhaps they were an oversize variety especially suited to igniting stubborn pipes.

Regent Circus

This is the old name for what is now called Piccadilly Circus. It’s not the kind of circus with lions and tigers; but it does have a statue surrounded by loafers, surrounded by vehicular traffic, surrounded by shoppers (and street vendors), surrounded by stores––all in a swirling pattern of concentric circles.

Flash paper [Throws flash paper]

Paper chemically treated so that contact with a piece of glowing string will cause a sudden little flash and puff of smoke (254). The consumed paper leaves no ash (245).

Danae [those shocking affairs with Danae––and Leda––and Europa]

Pronunciation: DANN-uh-ee

Princess of Argos. To protect her virginity, her father locked her in a bronze tower. Zeus (Jupiter), not one to overlook such a challenge, “transferred himself into a golden shower, and descended through the apertures of the roof into her embrace.” The “issue” was Perseus. All this is from Lemprière’s Classical Dictionary (187) –– as is much of the rest that follows. Young women who are free with their favors may wish to file these unique explanations for future reference.


Pronunciation: LEE-duh

Sketch of Leda and Child

Queen of Sparta, who carried on with Zeus, who came calling in the form of a swan, or so she claimed. Their offspring were Pollux and Helen. Leda also produced two legitimate offspring, Castor and Clytemnestra (54, 187).

Sketch of Europa and Child

A Phoenician charmer who was abducted by Jupiter, who assumed the form of a bull (thus cowing her), “and swam with his prize to the island of Crete.” The results of all this swimming, and so forth, were Minos, Sarpedon, and Rhadamanthus.

οἱ πολλοί (oi polloi)

The common horde (Greek). Cameron (66) says the preferred spelling is “hoi polloi.” To this Aurora (15) adds that the correct pronunciation also includes that initial h.

Thessalian [Thespis of Thessalian Theatres]

Pronunciation: thuh-SAY-lee-an

Pertaining to Thessaly, or Thessalia, the northeastern region of ancient Greece. I suppose Gilbert chose that location because it chimes in well with both “Thespis” and “Theatres.” On the other hand there is a darker meaning to the word, namely treacherous (56). Stone (284) mentions that there really is a Thessalian Theatre.

Burlesque [we don’t use you much out of burlesque]

A comic stage piece that derives its laughs from ridiculing or vulgarizing some serious subject. A travesty or parody.