Benford's G&S Lexicon Entries for The Grand Duke

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About the Opera

The Grand Duke

Gilbert and Sullivan both tried other partners following their work on Utopia Limited. None met with much success, and so they made one more combined effort: The Grand Duke, which opened at the Savoy on March 7, 1896, and ran for a mere 123 performances. Neither partner, it appears, had put his heart into the effort. Some lines were cut after the initial performance, but stronger measures would have been appropriate.

The Grand Duke is a much neglected opera. Its principal shortcoming is that it is too long. Its principal virtue grows out of that very shortcoming: a competent director can omit songs, chop paragraphs of dialog, and come out with a jolly evening’s entertainment. Try it; you’ll see.

The Grand Duke was Gilbert and Sullivan’s last collaboration. In ever-failing health, Sullivan died on November 22, 1900, at the age of 58. Carte died the following April, aged 56. Gilbert lived on as a country squire and was finally knighted in 1907. He died on May 29, 1911, at the age of 74. The triumvirate left to posterity their delightfully crafted operas. Now, more than a century later, those operas are still admired and lovingly presented by hundreds of amateur performing groups all over the English-speaking world. How surprised and delighted Gilbert, Sullivan, and Carte would be if they could but know. True, Gilbert would growl about directors taking liberties with his lines; Sullivan would be distressed with some of the tempi accorded his scores; and Carte would lament his inability to collect continuing royalties. Still, on the whole, they would derive great satisfaction from the lively current Geeandessian scene.


Grand Duke

In 1750, the time in which the opera is set, what is now Germany was a badly divided collection of autonomous states such as Brandenburg, Saxony, and Brunswick. Each of these little states was ruled over by its own prince. (A select number of these princes were titled “Electors” because of their nominal role in selecting the Holy Roman Emperor.) There were also smaller autonomous territories known as grand duchies, ruled over by grand dukes, who were next in rank to princes. One such grand duchy that is still extant is Luxembourg, a 99-square mile area between Germany, France, and Belgium, governed as a constitutional monarchy.

Statutory Duel

A legally prescribed method for settling a grievance. In this case, a legal fiction, hence a duel that happens in theory, but has some of the effects of happening in fact (26).

Pfennig Halbpfennig [The grand duke’s duchy]

Literally: penny half-penny, implying here an insignificant political entity. “Tuppeny ha’penny” is a good British slang description of anything inferior and trivial (234). Barker (26) and Bradley (48) note a historical model: Landgraf Wilhelm of Hesse Cassel, who decreed that revenue collections should avoid fractions of a pfennig and round up to the next full pfennig. This petty avarice inspired his subjects to nickname him “Halbpfennig.”

Dummkopf [Ernest Dummkopf]

German for “dumb-head.” More generally, “stupid.”

Comedian [Ludwig (his Leading Comedian)]

One definition of comedian given in the OED (229) is any dramatic actor. That interpretation seems most appropriate here. The plays the troupe produces are certainly not all comedies in the usual sense, nor are the actors comedians in the usual sense.

Notary [Dr. Tannhäuser (a Notary)]

A semi-legal official authorized to record statements, certify deeds, or take affidavits. Dr. Tannhäuser, like many notaries, is also a solicitor. See also The Sorcerer.

Monte Carlo [The Prince of Monte Carlo]

Capital city of Monaco, the smallest sovereign principality in Europe. Its current area is 395 acres (0.61 square miles) but it was somewhat larger at the specified time of the opera, 1750. Burgess (60) notes that Monte Carlo, being but a division of Monaco, does not merit having a prince. Tush. Sullivan apparently looked upon Monte Carlo as his favorite vacation spot (324). Although he developed a reputation as a heavy loser in gambling, he denied the rumor (183).

Viscount [Viscount Mentone]

Pronunciation: VIE-count

A nobleman of modest rank.


Pronunciation: men-TONE

A resort city in France squeezed between Monaco and the Italian border. In France it is spelled Menton, in Italy Mentone. I once witnessed a performance in which an actor, when asked who he was supposed to be, turned up the label on his costume and read out, “Viss-count Meant-one.” I thought that was pretty funny, and in keeping with the part, but I doubt that many in the audience caught the joke.


A royal messenger, especially one who announces the imminent arrival of the royal personage.

Krakenfeldt [The Baroness von Krakenfeldt]

According to Norwegian legends the kraken was a giant squid-like monster, said to be a mile-and-a-half in circumference. It had a nasty reputation for pulling masts out of ships with its tentacles. It was also charged with creating giant whirlpools, drawing ships and sailors to their doom. Kracken is also a German colloquialism for “broken-down horses” (26), but the Norwegian interpretation seems more fitting for this particular character. Feldt is the German word for “field.” The baroness’s name therefore could be taken to mean from (or of) a field or realm of old nags –– quite a charming moniker. We are left to wonder if the baroness was in any way related to the Duchess of Crackentorp, the mother in The Daughter of the Regiment.

Sketch of The beautiful Julia

As implied a few lines above, this is not a comic actress, just an actress.


An actress who plays the young and saucy roles.


High officials in the ducal court.

Act I


Pronunciation: SHPICE-uh-tsahl

Apparently the capital city of the Grand Duchy of Pfennig Halbpfennig. Literally: “dining hall.”


Pronunciation: TRUE-so

A bride’s outfit of clothes and personal effects. It is the French word for “bundle” (26).

Sposo [Am I quite the dashing sposo]

An Italian word for a male spouse, i.e., a bridegroom (250).

Homely [untaught and homely]

The word has several meanings, of which two are pertinent here: unattractive (surely said only in fishing for compliments), and suited to a domestic environment.

Comely [Tender, truthful, true, and comely]

Pronunciation: KUM-ly

Attractive in appearance. Its correct pronunciation is as shown, but I suppose Gilbert would want you to make rhyme with homely. See also The Sorcerer.

Rate [Should he rate you, rightly –– leftly]

Berate, scold. As Samuel Johnson (165) puts it: “To chide hastily and vehemently.” See also Thespis.

Rightly –– leftly


Solicitor [As solicitor to the conspiracy]

Legal adviser. If you want a more complete definition, see entry for “Barrister” in Trial By Jury.

Wedding breakfast

In Roman Catholic practice, weddings were formerly held in the morning and, being masses, no meals were eaten after the previous midnight. Consequently, the first meal after the wedding ceremony would literally break (a) fast. The celebratory meal would be of a festive nature and not just a normal breakfast.

Troilus and Cressida

Shakespeare’s play about the Trojan war. Burgess (60) comments that it is seldom performed, and rightly so.

Tiled [we’re all tiled, here.]

(Some editions of the libretto omit this line.)

It means pledged to secrecy as in a fraternal order. Brewer (54) explains the term “to tile a lodge” as follows:

“In Freemasonry, is to close and guard the doors to prevent anyone uninitiated from entering.” Barker (26) says that in former times Freemasons’ secret meetings were guarded by a door-keeper called a “tiler.” Gilbert and Sullivan, incidentally, were both Masons (142, 163, 275).


A pastry baked around a small sausage. You will, of course, recall the wise little poem:

The Germans fill the body cavity with food of great specific gravity.

Bilious [But it’s bilious on the whole:]

Pertaining to bile: the bitter, greenish fluid secreted by the liver. Here it means anything that upsets the liver. See also Patience.


Pronunciation: Make it rhyme with tasty, although in other settings rhyming it with <em>nasty</em> is equally acceptable.

A pastry-enclosed pie baked without a dish (75).

Gorges [Our offended gorges rise:]

Throats. (Ingesting an excess of heavy, greasy sausage rolls tends to make a conspirator throw up.)