Benford's G&S Lexicon Entries for Ruddigore

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About the Opera


Owing perhaps to The Mikado's great success, Sullivan became more amenable to continuing his collaboration with Gilbert. The Mikado's long run gave the composer time to engage in what he considered his real forte: oratorios and other serious compositions. He also engaged in a good deal of travel and socializing with the upper crust. Gilbert found time to develop a non-lozengian libretto, a parody of old-time blood-and-thunder melodramas, which he titled Ruddygore. Melodramas have been defined as serious plays intended for undiscriminating audiences. In such works conflicts and calamities are more interesting than the characters, who tend to be stereotyped as either good or bad. Much like modern TV shows, one finds in melodramas passion, excitement and action in plenitude, but seldom much in way of motivation (214).

The new opera opened at the Savoy on January 22, 1887. Almost anything following The Mikado would suffer by comparison, and Ruddygore most certainly did. Audiences and critics were less than enthusiastic. Gilbert and Sullivan quickly effected some revisions, among which was to change the spelling of the title to Ruddigore -- considered less offensive to genteel English tastes. The opera then ran for 288 performances, which was not a bad record -- except in contrast to The Mikado's 672.

Ruddigore's place in the hearts of Gilbert and Sullivan devotees is akin to Princess Ida's. Although the opera is among the less well known, it bears repetition and will seemingly always be popular among more experienced Savoyards.


Gilbert gives the time as “Early in the nineteenth century.” For reasons to be explained later we can infer that the time should have been no later than 1805.

Ruthven [Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd]: This is an old Scottish family name that should be pronounced “Rivven,” except as noted at the start of the second act. The name has dark overtones. In 1566 William, fourth baron Ruthven, was involved in the murder of David Rizzio, Mary, Queen of Scots’s secretary and suspected lover. Worse yet, in 1600 the Earl of Gowrie, whose family name was Ruthven, kidnapped James VI of Scotland. In retribution, the Scottish Parliament passed an act stating “that the surname of Ruthven sall now and in all tyme cumming be extinguischit and aboleissit for euir.” The law was subsequently relaxed for one branch of the clan. For further details see “Gowrie Conspiracy” in The Encyclopædia Britannica (103).

Ruthven was also the name of the vampire in Polidori’s novel The Vampyre (1819) and two derivatives: Planché and Nodier’s play The Vampire (1820), and Marschner’s opera Der Vampyr (1828). Gilbert used that same name for the villain in one of his own early plays: A Sensation Novel (277).



An oak apple is a gall or swelling on oak leaves. May 29 is designated as Oak Apple Day in England, celebrating the Restoration (1660), that being the birthday of Charles II, who, after losing the Battle of Worcester, hid from Cromwell's Roundheads in an oak tree (140). That happens also to be the date of Gilbert's death (in 1911).

Richard Dauntless

His name identifies him as a stock melodramatic seafaring character, brave, honest and forthright.

Foster brother

Foster brothers are unrelated boys raised by the same family.

Sir Despard Murgatroyd

There are those who note that nearly all the characters in this opus have names of particular interest. What about Despard? Conceivably, Gilbert could have had in mind Edward Despard (1751-1803), a renegade British Army officer who was hanged for conspiracy against the Crown. On the other hand, it seems more likely that Gilbert simply thought the name resonated with visions of desperately despicably dastardly deeds.


The title means in effect a "little baron" (17, 43, 165, 229, 266). Quoting J.C.G. George Esq. FSA (Scot), Garioch Pursuivant of Arms (123): "In the United Kingdom a baronet ranks above a knight and below a baron. Unlike a knight his title is hereditary but although he is of the nobility he has no seat in the House of Lords. The rank was officially instituted in 1611 when … thirteen knights and five esquires were created Baronets."

Some students of the Savoy operas have noted that Sir Roderic Murgatroyd was the 21st Baronet of Ruddigore. That made Robin the 22nd and Sir Despard the 23rd. Since the time frame from first to last baronet could not have exceeded 194 years (i.e., 1611, when the rank was established, until 1805), the average incumbency works out to be less than a decade. That seems unrealistically short to some persnickety critics. George (123) defends Gilbert. He observes that there were 22 Popes during the period 1605-1830, much like the period in question. He adds, "Nor is it a question of generations. Brothers and/or cousins of the same generation can, and not infrequently do, succeed to titles held by senior members of the same generation." To this I can add the further observation that the travails of the Murgatroyd Baronetcy were enough to drive any man to an early grave -- or to an escape like that of Robin's. If you are willing to believe that ancestors can step out of picture frames, you can easily believe there were 23 baronets in 200 years.

Adam [Old Adam Goodheart]

Brewer (26A) and Bradley (47) believe the name and character are modeled on Adam, the faithful old servant in Shakespeare's As You Like It. The expression "Old Adam" is sometimes taken as a theologian's figure of speech denoting man in his unredeemed state (52, 250). There is little evidence, however, to suggest that Gilbert meant Robin's elderly servant to be anything but a mellow old man who had difficulty in switching character for the changed conditions of the second act.

Mad Margaret

Perhaps the name Margaret comes from Faust's innocent prey, Marguerite, who goes mad from the guilt of bearing and murdering Faust's illegitimate offspring. As traditionally portrayed in the Savoy opera, however, she is a parody of such madwomen as Ophelia and Lucia di Lammermoor. Munich (220) proposes that Margaret's nickname (Mad Meg) may have been inspired by Bruegel's "terrifying" painting Dulle Griet (meaning Mad Meg), which shows "a huge figure of a sword and skillet-wielding housewife [who] seeking mastery breaks through the boundaries of the kitchen. Even in hell she is a menace. Mad Meg may be understood as archetypal of all women … who defy propriety."

Dame [Dame Hannah]

Here is a term with many implications. It might be applied to a noble lady or simply the mistress of a respectable household. Our Hannah was probably addressed as "Dame" simply because she was a well-liked and well- regarded middle-aged woman. Gilbert identifies her parenthetically as Rose's aunt; but if Rose was what she claimed to be, namely a foundling, Hannah must be her aunt by adoption.


Imaginary fishing village in Cornwall; generally taken as a pun on red herring.


A county on the southwest coast of England, chiefly known for Penzance and its Pirates. Goodman (142) informs us that "although administered as a county, Cornwall is proud of being an independent duchy belonging to the Prince of Wales in his alternative title of Duke of Cornwall."

Act I

Endowed [an endowed corps of professional bridesmaids]

Financially supported by some kind of formally established investment.

Duck [duck them in his lake]

One form of testing if a woman was a witch was to tie her to a pole and plunge her into the water. If she were a witch her witchcraft would prevent submergence. Otherwise she would merely drown and the authorities would be obliged to apologize to her bereaved family. Towns with civic pride set up permanent ducking stools for this vital research.

Village green

A communal grass-covered plot typically centered in an English village.

Palsied [A palsied hag]

Afflicted with palsy; trembling.

Ween [what took place, I ween]

Think, fancy, imagine, or believe-- one by one, or all at once.

O'erplied [until, with guilt o'erplied]

Short for "overplied." One meaning of ply is to take some form of persistent action. Sir Rupert, in short, was overcome by his guilty conscience arising from his many crimes.

Cloyed [with sinning cloyed]

Surfeited--which is a funny way of saying fed up.

Wont [as is thy wont]

An archaic term for habit.

Lo [Lo, here is some peppermint rock]

Look, see, or behold!

Peppermint rock

Peppermint flavored hard candy. It usually comes in cylindrical form, perhaps an inch in diameter and a foot long. You find them for sale as souvenirs at seaside resorts.


A nice old rustic fellow, generally in need of false teeth. Supposedly derived from grandfather or godfather. It was a common prefix to the name of elderly men in rural communities. Walters (302) says it is the male counterpart of Dame.

Hereaway [Is there none hereaway whom thou couldst love?]

In these parts.

Verily [verily it would ill become]

Archaic for truly, or in truth.

Sorely [thy words pain me sorely]

Archaic for grievously.

Dish-cover [Hung in a plated dish-cover to the knocker of the workhouse door]

Stell (278) explained that a dish-cover is one of those dome-shaped metal covers placed over plates or platters to keep the food hot and steaming until ready to serve. Rose Maybud's dish-cover was presumably silver-plated. That would lead us to infer that her mother might have been an unmarried servant in some manor house. Who knows? Rose might even be the unwanted result of one of those daily crimes, hence a close relative of Robin's; so there is the germ of yet another Gothic plot. Perhaps you may recall that the eponymous hero of Melville's Billy Budd explains that, "I heard that I was found in a pretty silk-lined basket hanging one morning from the knocker of a good man's door in Bristol" (212). And Jack Worthing, in The Importance of Being Earnest, was found in a valise in London's Victoria Station (313).


A place where poor people were lodged and given work. Workhouses were little better than jails. Residents were in social disgrace. See also "Work'us" in Thespis.


Infant attire.

Monitor [my guide and monitor]

Something that serves to remind or give warning (250).

Precepts [By its solemn precepts]

Instructions intended as rules of conduct, especially moral behavior.