Benford's G&S Lexicon Entries for Iolanthe

Primary tabs

Click a term to expand the definition; Search for a term; Select other Opera Chapters; Go to the Lexicon menu for introductory and afterword content..

Enter part of a term; e.g., "gill" for Gillow's.

Act II

Mortify [But I mortify this inclination]

Discipline it. Kill it!

Amorous dove

The term "amorous dove" seems obvious enough, but why relate it to Ovid two lines later? Some say that Ovid likened himself to a dove. Others say the allusion is to Ovid's amorous poetry. A third view is that in ancient times the dove was looked upon as a sensuous and fickle creature, sacred to Venus and hence something of a sex symbol. You are free to accept any or all of these hypotheses.

Type [type of Ovidius Naso!]

One meaning of the word, which applies here, is "a perfect example" (97).

Ovidius Naso

Pronunciation: oh-VID-ius NAY-so

Sketch of Type of Ovidius Naso!

Publius Ovidius Naso (43 B.C. - ca. A.D. 18): A Roman poet, better known as Ovid. His literary themes made much of love, with emphasis on physical desire rather than devotion. He is also known for his brilliant interpretations of ancient myths, best represented by his Metamorphoses. Ovid's family name, Naso, means "nose." This has led some lexicographers to conclude that Ovid had a big nose. Cameron (66) rebuts this, "While one of his ancestors … may have acquired the name because of his nose…. Ovid's physiognomy was not so distinguished. It was just the family name."

Main [That is the main on which to draw]

The water main leading to a fire hydrant.

Captain Shaw

In Gilbert's day Captain Eyre Massey Shaw (1830-1908) was the well-known and popular leader of the London Fire Brigade. Gilbert knew the good man would be in the Savoy on opening night and the contralto could look right at him. Do you suppose he blushed?

[De Belville song] [De Belville was regarded as the Crichton of his age]

Note: The next five entries are from the De Belville song, which is usually omitted in performance. The words may be found in Reference (126) under "The Reward of Merit," as well as in Allen's First Night Gilbert and Sullivan (3). There are in the overture to Iolanthe some musical phrases that do not reappear in the body of the opera. This is unique in a Savoy opera overture and suggests that the music may have been composed for the De Belville song. It was nicely applied to those words on one occasion by the University of Michigan Gilbert & Sullivan Society.]

De Belville [De Belville was regarded as the Crichton of his age]

The imaginary protagonist of the song mentioned above. He was a man of many talents and virtues, which were ignored until a distant cousin died and he inherited great wealth. In one book (126) he is referred to as "Dr. Bellville," whereas in the other (3) he is "De Belville," perhaps at Sullivan's suggestion; or perhaps the "De" is right and the "Dr." is a typographical error.


Pronunciation: CRY-tun

The reference is to James Crichton ("the admirable Crichton"), a young Scottish scholar, adventurer, linguist, and chosen companion of nobility. He was widely admired for his intellectual capacity, beauty, and physical prowess. He lived from 1560 to 1583, going to an early death in an altercation that could have formed the theme of a tragic opera (105).

Line [He was a famous painter, too, and shone upon the "line"]

The "line" is where the supposedly best paintings were hung at Royal Academy shows (273).

Ruskin [And even Mr. Ruskin came and worshipped at his shrine]

John Ruskin was an English author, art critic, and social reformer (1819-1900). He was a highly regarded critic and a professor of fine arts at Oxford (105).

Sixpenny Reviews

These were cheap journals of little acclaim. When Gilbert used the poem in Reference (126), he changed the words to "Quarterly Reviews." These were of high intellectual standard and influential (245).


Of highest importance.



Encumbers [my ardent soul encumbers]


Counterpane [First your counterpane goes]

A bed coverlet.

Ticking [nothing 'twixt you and the ticking]

Strong cotton or linen covering for mattresses or pillows.

Harwich [in a steamer from Harwich]

Pronunciation: Rhymes with carriage.

Sketch of A steamer from Harwich

A cross-channel port in Essex about 70 miles northeast of London. See map on page 3.

Bathing machine [something between a large bathing machine and a very small second class carriage]
Sketch of Penelope Ann Wiggins, Ltd., bathing machine

A horse-drawn wheeled vehicle used as a dressing room by modest Victorian bathers to enter the water without having to parade across the beach. See also Cox and Box.


The carriage referred to here was a railroad coach. There were actually three classes of cars in those days.

Penny ice [penny ice and cold meat]

Prestige (243) assures us this is "a quantity of ice cream purchased for a penny from a street vendor."

Sloane Square and South Kensington Stations

These are adjacent stations in the London transit system near where Gilbert lived in South Kensington. He claimed, incidentally, that the plot for his short story and, later, play Comedy and Tragedy came to him while riding between the two stations (140).

Devon [who started that morning from Devon]

A shire (county) in the southwest of England, just east of Cornwall.


Prestige (243) explains that this is a horse-drawn hackney carriage, that is, a vehicle that you could hire. The word hackney is apparently derived from the French haquenée, an ambling nag (41).

Round games

Card games in which each player takes his turn in sequence around the table, playing for himself, without a partner.

Clocks [the black silk with gold clocks]

Ornamental stitchings on socks, on each side of the ankle.

Salisbury Plain [crossing Salisbury Plain on a bicycle]
Sketch of Crossing Salisbury Plain on a bicycle

A rolling countryside in the southwest part of England. Its best-known attraction is Stonehenge.

Tars [he's telling the tars]

Common sailors. See HMS Pinafore for derivation.

Cables [from cough mixtures to cables]

Heavy ropes such as those used to anchor ships.

Boot-tree [first take off his boots with a boot-tree]
Bab sketch of large spadesman, small tradesman, and boot-tree (or boot-jack)

A boot-tree is a device used to stretch a boot or keep it in shape. That isn't what Gilbert meant; he meant a boot-jack, a notched board used to restrain the heel while extracting one's foot from a boot. The cartoon, which Gilbert himself drew to illustrate the song, shows what he really had in mind.