Benford's G&S Lexicon Entries for Ruddigore

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Act II

Snuff [You don't care the snuff of a candle]

One definition of snuff is "the charred or partly consumed portion of a candlewick" (250), i.e., a thing of no value. An alternative interpretation could be "You are unwilling to do even such a trivial thing as snuffing out a candle."

Abandoned person

Someone who yields to unrestrained impulses.

Romances [Even in all the old romances]

The word carries a wide range of meanings, from a narrative of knight errantry in the Middle Ages to a highly colored falsehood. (75)

Blameless dances

In Victorian England some extreme social reformers condemned all dancing as improper. Despard and Margaret know they are skating on thin ice.

Spleen and vapours [Suffering much from spleen and vapours]

Melancholy and nervous weakness.

Linen-drapers [She didn't spend much upon linen-drapers]

Retailers who deal in fabrics and other dressmaking supplies. Stedman (274) and Goodman (142) say they also used to sell ladies' underwear, or "body linen." There are two reasonable inferences. One is that Margaret went around in rags. The other is that she was scantily clad. Maybe both interpretations are valid. Kravetz (181) notes that Jessie Bond, who created the role of Mad Margaret, came on stage dressed in rags. Moreover, with arms and feet bare, she would have been considered scantily clothed in those days.

Dab [Now I'm a dab at penny readings]

Expert. Supposedly a corruption of adept (115). Often found in the form of "a dab-hand" (54, 294).

Penny readings

At that time what were called 'Penny Readings' and 'Sixpenny Readings' -- mixed entertainments of music, recitations, and readings -- were popular institutions in almost every town and village of England, and excellent were the programmes provided for those small sums. (She explains all that because she herself gained early performing experience in a sixpenny reading.) Goldberg (139) tells us that George Grossmith was a highly successful penny reader with the YMCA until Gilbert induced him to create the role of John Wellington Wells. For our new initiates, Jessie Bond was a leading soubrette at the Savoy for many years, creating the roles of Hebe, Edith, Lady Angela, Iolanthe, Melissa, Pitti-Sing, Mad Margaret, Phoebe, and Tessa. George Grossmith created the comic leads from John Wellington Wells to Jack Point, inclusive. Those are still referred to as the "Grossmith roles."

National School [In fact we rule a National School]

A school for the poor, one of a group founded in 1811 for education in the principles of the Established Church (166). On the first night, the expression was "Sunday School" (3). Directors of American productions might want to revert to that.

District visitor

A church worker who helps a clergyman in pastoral visits (75).

Eschew [eschew melodrama]

Abstain from.

Barley-water [and give them tea and barley-water]

Thin barley soup. One recipe of the day called for two ounces of pearl barley boiled in a quart of water. After that it was strained and a small piece of lemon peel added. Knight (177) says it was used to soothe fevers. It was also credited "as a medicament in the treatment of diarrhea in infants" (250). The OED (229) says it is "a drink made by the decoction of pearl barley; used as a demulcent." (Decoction: an extract from boiling down. Demulcent: a soothing substance.) Don't mistake it for the modern concoction, a fruit cordial of stronger constituency.

Deadly nightshade

A kind of poisonous plant.

Latticed [latticed casement]

A lattice is a net-like framework made up of bars crossing one another diagonally.


A hinged window.


A prosaic town southwest of London. Goodman (142) describes it as "horribly modern and faceless." Bosdêt (44) explains that at about the time Gilbert was writing the libretto the summer was so hot, "the newly laid macadam road surfaces in Westminster and Mayfair sizzled and ran off into the sewers, clogging them up. [Prime Minister] Gladstone and the cabinet were trying to get several bills through Parliament, e.g., Home Rule for Ireland. What with the heat, the smell from the drains, and the party's unpopularity with hoi polloi, the chief ministers spent long periods out of town at [a] Basingstoke mansion, and were jeered at in many journals and newspapers. The government fell in the autumn but 'Basingstoke' was still good for a giggle, if not a guffaw, the following year." That was probably true at the time, and Stedman (276) concurs. If Bosdêt's hypothesis leaves you unconvinced, an earlier one by Wilson (321) was apparently endorsed by the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, and is repeated by Bradley (48). In any event, humor now arises from the singular unsingularity of the town of Basingstoke. Margaret is simply daft.

Profligacy [your horrible profligacy]

Pronunciation: PROFF-lig-ah-see

Shamelessly immoral behavior, like failing to pay your G&S society dues.

Ratepayer [a pure and blameless ratepayer]

One who pays his local taxes.

Zenith [the very zenith of their fullness]

The highest point.

Behests [I will refuse to obey their behests]


Oration [and make him an oration]

A formal speech.


Pronunciation: TUPP-ence-HAY-pinny

You know what it is, but did you know how to pronounce it?


Whether desired or not. See also Princess Ida.

Mad as any hatter

This expression was made popular by Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland (1865). Although it dates back at least thirty years before that (113). It presumably has its roots in a former felt hat-making process. (The mercurous oxide that was used often led to Sydenham's chorea, also known as St. Vitus's dance.) There are other possible origins, but Gilbert was probably thinking of Alice's Mad Hatter. See Brewer (54) for further elucidation.

Idyll [a rather interesting idyll]

Pronunciation: Rhymes with either bridle or fiddle.

Two definitions from Collins (75): "a narrative or descriptive passage written in an elevated and highly finished style; a picture of simple perfection and loveliness." The usually preferred pronunciation is like "idle," but in this context the alternative should be used.


A humorous way of mispronouncing "individual" so that it rhymes with idyll. Walters (302) suggests it would have been a Victorian's affected way of saying the word.

Patter [this particularly rapid, unintelligible patter]

All G&S fans know that a patter song is one that is learned so well that it can be sung at top speed without pausing to think. The origins of the word, however, are unknown. It has been interpreted as a term for muttering or chattering in a monotone with the brain in neutral (115). It may also have theological roots as explained in The Sorcerer (in the note just below the entry for "Unified"). Brewer (56) suggests that it may come from the pitter-patter of falling rain drops.


A servant or any subordinate, often used in the sense of being a henchman. See also Thespis, The Mikado, and The Zoo.

Stiles [over stiles]

Steps over a fence or wall.


A slender dagger.