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Plot Summary
The Pirates of Penzance
By Sir William S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan

    The production opens in a den of pirates located on the Cornish coast of Britain. Here a small band of pirates is drinking a round to Frederic, one of their apprentices, who completes his apprenticeship at noon, half an hour away, to become a full fledged pirate.  Frederic has a secret to reveal though noting he must leave the band after completion of his duty though by revealing the reasons he would unduly burdon another in the band. Ruth, a female servant of the band, steps forward and reveals it is her and tells her story. When Frederic was a child, his father sought to have him apprenticed to a "pilot" in the harbor so that he may make a career out of going to sea.  He sent Ruth, a nurse, with the child to do such but she mistakenly confused the word "pilot" with "pirate" bringing Frederic to the pirates for as an apprentice to sign on until his 21st birthday. Ruth reveals she was too embarrassed by her error that she could not face Frederic's father and right the situation so she too signed on with the band.
    That day having come, Frederic notes it is his duty to leave at the expiration of his contract in half an hour and that he would be obligated to reveal the band, though he wished he did not have to.  The Pirate King reminds Frederic he is still under contract for half an hour and asks why the band cannot make a profit from piracy.  Frederic relays to the band that their major problem is being compassionate pirates. They themselves claim to be orphans and therefore sympathize with orphans by releasing the orphans on the ships they capture and their treasure with it.  Frederic notes that the word has gotten around and every ship they capture claims to have a crew of orphans as a result.
    Ruth is told she will accompany Frederic as he departs while Frederic relays worries about finding a woman to wed.  Soon the time comes and Frederic makes a final effort to convince the pirates to give up piracy. A refusal follows and Frederic and Ruth depart.
    Asking Ruth for advice on what to look for in women, he questions her about her own beauty. She seemingly deceives him as a group of women come hiking along the cliffs prompting Frederic to bitterly criticize her before she departs.  Frederic observes as the girls fill in to the ocean side spot. He emerges admitting to be a former pirate and asking if any will marry him in a satire on the sanctity of marriage as held by those in the Victorian age.  All but Mabel, one of the girls, refuse. Mabel and Frederic enter the cave alone to converse while deciding to marry but the pirates return, jealous, and claim each of the other girls for a wife. At this time it is announced that the girls are daughters of Major General Stanley who at that time makes a very noticeable entrance.  The Pirate King informs Stanley of the marriages as the daughters inform they are being coerced into it by pirates.  In witty comment the General objects to having pirates as in-laws as the pirates do to having a Major General as an in-law.  Stanley, threatened as a captive of the pirates who decide to force the weddings without his consent, lies to the pirates claiming to be an orphan for he has heard about them as well. The pirates then have no choice but to free everyone.

Act II opens with Stanley in deep mental anguish for betraying his honor by lying to the pirates. Stanley is found by Mabel and Frederic at the cemetery on his estate. He complains that he betrayed his ancestors honor only to be reminded that he bought the estate from another family little more than a year prior. Stanley then relates that he considers the dead, who he does not know the identity, to be ancestors in the purchase of the property then.  Mabel and Frederic then turn to preparing the police under a rather incompetent and cowardly leadership into raiding the pirates for it is now Frederics' duty to do such.  An interruption comes as Ruth and the Pirate King arrive and notify that Frederic is still bound to his contract due to a detail. Frederic was born on February 29 on a leap year and therefore has only had five birthdays rather than the 21 required by his apprentice contract. Bound by honor and duty, Frederic is forced to leave Mabel and rejoin the pirates. Further, Frederic reveals out of duty that Stanley lied about being an orphan. An angry Pirate King then declares he will raid Stanley's estate that night
    Soon afterwards the police continue to hunt down the pirates and the two bands finally confront each other.  A short battle results with the pirates winning. Stanley is captured and set to be exactitude until events turn. Ruth declares allegiance to Queen Victoria followed by the pirates and police alike. This oath reveals to the police that the pirates are not true pirates and are loyal to Britain. By betraying piracy, the pirates are placed at the control of the police. Before being arrested the pirates reveal that they are not orphans but rather old nobles who have gone bad. They renounce piracy and all the weddings proceed without hindrance.


1999. Analysis by PWM.