Benford's G&S Lexicon Entries for The Mikado

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Act II

Miya sama

The start of the chorus at the entry of the Mikado. The words are an authentic Japanese marching song of Gilbert's day. The meaning is approximately as follows: "Oh, Prince, what is that fluttering in front of your horse?" A second verse, which Gilbert omits, gives this reply: "It is the imperial standard given to us to carry with us as we go to punish enemies of the Imperial Government" (197). Bradley (48) offers further details.

Sect [I govern each tribe and sect]

Any group, party, or faction united by a specific doctrine or under a doctrinal leader (250).

Own [All cheerfully own my sway]


Philanthropist [a true philanthropist]

One who does good deeds inspired by a love of mankind; just the sort of person who organizes amateur G&S performing groups.

Pent [each prisoner pent]

Locked up in durance vile.

Prosy [All prosy dull society sinners]

Prosaic, unimaginative, and probably long-winded.

Mystical Germans

Halton (147) explains that these were Lutheran evangelists who traveled around England delivering long, and often tiresome, sermons.

Madame Tussaud's waxwork

Pronunciation: Tussaud's: too-SOZE

A London museum exhibiting lifelike wax effigies of famous people. A native of Switzerland, Madame Tussaud learned modeling in Paris, and started a museum exhibiting figures of famous and infamous people. Bradley (48) claims that she was compelled to make wax casts of the heads of victims of the guillotine. She moved her exhibit to London in 1802, one hopes without those replicated heads.

Puce [or stains her grey hair puce]

A dark or purplish brown. The word is derived from the French for "flea," puce being the color of the little rascals, if you look carefully and closely. Or perhaps you'd be willing to take our word for it.

Permanent walnut juice

In case you didn't know it, walnut juice leaves brown stains on your skin that may last for days or weeks depending on how often and with what vigor you wash. As pointed out in Thespis, a dark complexion was considered a distinguishing mark of the lower classes.

Buffer [We only suffer to ride on a buffer]
Drawing of a Buffer

One of those big shock absorbers you see on the ends of British railroad cars. If you've never seen one, you may rest assured they are not meant for riding.

Parliamentary trains

In 1844 the British Parliament decreed that each workday every railroad company had to run at least one train in each direction, with stops at every station, and run at least twelve miles an hour. The law was changed in 1883, but those minimum-fare parliamentary trains were still slow and uncomfortable (48, 178).

Music-hall [The music-hall singer]

Music halls were a unique feature of Victorian England. They were in effect glorified saloons. Food and drink were served along with musical entertainment. Catering to a working class audience, the performers were not necessarily top-rate, nor were their selections of the highest order (or least Gilbert didn't seem to think much of them).

Masses [Of masses and fugues and "ops"]

A mass is a composition for mixed choir, generally with instrumental accompaniment. The text is in Latin and follows a set pattern of the Roman Catholic liturgy. Originally intended for worship services, masses may also be performed in secular settings.


Musical compositions in a strict style involving counter-play between various voices or groups of instruments. See also The Pirates of Penzance.


This is presumably meant to be the plural of the contraction of opus (meaning a musical work) (164). The audience would surely be familiar with it as the standard abbreviation seen in their concert programs. Gilbert might also have meant it as an abbreviated form of opera (294). Either interpretation fits the context.


Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750): The great German organist and composer. Bradley (48) points out that Sullivan inserts at this point the first twelve notes of Bach's Fugue in G Minor, to be played by clarinet and bassoon.


This is Ludwig (or Louis) Spohr, a German composer (1784-1859) who produced a goodly number of oratorios, symphonies, chamber works, and operas. There was a time when many musicians considered him to outrank Beethoven (8).


Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827): Another great (perhaps the greatest) composer, also a German.