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Notable Lyrics
Lyrics by Sir William S. Gilbert
Music by Sir Arthur Sullivan

CAPTAIN CORCORAN.  My gallant crew, good morning.
ALL (saluting).          Sir, good morning!
CAPT.               I hope you're all quite well.
ALL (as before).         Quite well; and you, sir?
CAPT.               I am in reasonable health, and happy
                    To meet you all once more.
ALL (as before).         You do us proud, sir!

Captain Corcoran's introduction immediately serves Gilbert by poking fun at a comical, somewhat incompetent captain.  The excessively proper address between the crew and Corcoran further mocks British tradition and over emphasis on that which is proper.

                        SONG - CAPTAIN CORCORAN

CAPT.                    I am the Captain of the Pinafore;
ALL.                And a right good captain, too!
CAPT.                    You're very, very good,
                         And be it understood,
                    I command a right good crew,
ALL.                     We're very, very good,
                         And be it understood,
                    He commands a right good crew.
CAPT.               Though related to a peer,
                    I can hand, reef, and steer,
                         And ship a selvagee;
                    I am never known to quail
                    At the furry of a gale,
                         And I'm never, never sick at sea!
ALL.                          What, never?
CAPT.                              No, never!
ALL.                          What, never?
CAPT.                              Hardly ever!
ALL.           He's hardly ever sick at sea!
               Then give three cheers, and one cheer more,
               For the hardy Captain of the Pinafore!

This comical verse well defines Corcoran's character as one capable of his post in some areas yet somewhat foolish and incompetent in other areas.  The crew is shown to know the Captain well for they quickly point out his error in claim to be absent of sea sickness. More so this verse serves as simple comical verse employed throughout the production.

CAPT.               I do my best to satisfy you all--
ALL.                And with you we're quite content.
CAPT.                    You're exceedingly polite,
                         And I think it only right
                    To return the compliment.
ALL.                We're exceedingly polite,
                         And he thinks it's only right
                    To return the compliment.
CAPT.                    Bad language or abuse,
                         I never, never use,
                    Whatever the emergency;
                         Though "Bother it" I may
                         Occasionally say,
                    I never use a big, big D
ALL.                          What, never?
CAPT.                              No, never!
ALL.                          What, never?
CAPT.                              Hardly ever!
ALL.           Hardly ever swears a big, big D
               Then give three cheers, and one cheer more,
               For the well-bred Captain of the Pinafore!
 
We again hear a mockery of proper language as Gilbert mocks swearing on the part of British aristocrats. Sir Joseph proves true to this observation by Gilbert as he equates proper etiquette with duty and the abuse of such with crime (though as normal ability is of little concern). This verse can also be interpreted as a mockery of the aristocracy who claim abstention from such language and force such upon others though they themselves are not always true to such a rule.



SIR JOSEPH: I am the monarch of the sea,
The ruler of the Queen's Navee,
Whose praise Great Britain loudly chants.
COUSIN HEBE.   And we are his sisters, and his cousins, and his aunts!
REL. And we are his sisters, and his cousins, and his aunts!
SIR JOSEPH. When at anchor here I ride,
My bosom swells with pride,
And I snap my fingers at a foeman's taunts;
COUSIN HEBE.   And so do his sisters, and his cousins, and his aunts!
ALL. And so do his sisters, and his cousins, and his aunts!
SIR JOSEPH. But when the breezes blow,
I generally go below,
And seek the seclusion that a cabin grants;
COUSIN HEBE.   And so do his sisters, and his cousins, and his aunts!
ALL. And so do his sisters, and his cousins, and his aunts!
His sisters and his cousins, Whom he reckons up by dozens, And his aunts!

As is found repeatedly in Gilbert's lyrics, the message of Sir Joseph often becomes increasingly absurd and laughable while his disposition remains constant.  Gilbert mocks Sir Joseph as one of vast authority and power yet little ability to justify that power.  Joseph acknowledges seeking the cabin's seclusion with his crowd of female followers when seas intensify leaving the common sailors to do the real work.  Gilbert intends this situation of assumed comfort for the admiral as a mockery of a military of power and tradition partially disabled by the fact that its leadership assumes aristocratic comforts while abandoning post at the height of action.

SIR JOSEPH:
When I was a lad I served a term
As office boy to an Attorney's firm.
I cleaned the windows and I swept the floor,
And I polished up the handle of the big front door.
I polished up that handle so carefullee
That now I am the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!

Here Sir Joseph begins the tale behind his ascent to power. Though Sir Joseph's rise begins in simple discussion of an event, one should quickly note the increasing absurdity of the tale with each progressing detail. Gilbert wrote the part to be portrayed with complete seriousness while presenting a front by Sir Joseph as if he carried much pride in the accomplishments listed to his credit. Yet the absurd emphasis by the aristocrat upon matters of trivial nature and irrelevance to anything remotely involving the navy conveys almost immediately the intent of sharp satirization on the part of Gilbert.  Though not as clear in this first stanza, those aware of maritime careers should note how careers at sea traditionally began with an apprenticing on a ship rather than a law firm.  Further themes within display that Joseph has spent his entire life  polishing the apples of those in power, or in this case doorknobs.

                  CHORUS REPEATS

As office boy I made such a mark
That they gave me the post of a junior clerk.
I served the writs with a smile so bland,
And I copied all the letters in a big round hand--
I copied all the letters in a hand so free,
That now I am the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!

Joseph clearly admits in his opening statement to leaving an impression upon authority by 'kissing up' to them.  Again Joseph's tasks and skills, those for which he was promoted, involve impressions left by trivial aesthetics such as smiling and penmanship. Yet none are of any practical use in the post of military leadership Joseph boastfully points out juxtaposed next to a statement about his penmanship.  One can also interpret Joseph's emphasis on the trivial matter of penmanship as a ridicule by Gilbert of elaborate lettering taking importance over substance in matters of law and ruling within the British legal system.

CHORUS.

In serving writs I made such a name
That an articled clerk I soon became;
I wore clean collars and a brand-new suit
For the pass examination at the Institute,
And that pass examination did so well for me,
That now I am the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!

Again Joseph is seen attributing his success to the image and name he built for himself out of excessive attention to appearance. Yet no demonstrated skill of use involving the navy has been displayed in Joseph.  Gilbert further mocks the attention given to big name institutes of higher education by suggesting that Joseph's success came from his image rather than demonstrated ability. Again the matters mentioned are completely unrelated to the profession.

CHORUS.

Of legal knowledge I acquired such a grip
That they took me into the partnership.
And that junior partnership, I ween,
Was the only ship that I ever had seen.
But that kind of ship so suited me,
That now I am the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!

Absurdity becomes obvious by the middle of this verse as Joseph laughingly admits to never sailing a ship yet living a perfectly content life with the fact he happens to 'rule' the world's most powerful navy.  Even more obvious is how Joseph clearly acknowledges his lack of experience with sailing yet makes no association between this fact and his ability to perform in his job.

CHORUS.

I grew so rich that I was sent
By a pocket borough into Parliament.
I always voted at my party's call,
And I never thought of thinking for myself at all.
I thought so little, they rewarded me
By making me the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!

Gilbert uses this verse to mock the foolish absurdity of the British bureaucracy as it delegates power to those with established nobility, image, and name rather than by ability.  Again Joseph jokingly relays the fact that his opinions depended entirely upon the tide at the time of voting yet makes no association between this occurrence and the possibility it may impair his ability. Gilbert uses this verse to relate to a bigger picture: that of parliament and nobility.  Clearly mocking a tendency of parliament to be comprised of aristocrats who follow the tide and play the political game, Gilbert hints that such a tendency has become clearly obvious yet continues with little objection.  It is further seen how military ranks are handed out to aristocracy, cronies, and n'aer-do-wells rather than to those who have demonstrated ability in action.

             CHORUS.

Now landsmen all, whoever you may be,
If you want to rise to the top of the tree,
If your soul isn't fettered to an office stool,
Be careful to be guided by this golden rule--
Stick close to your desks and never go to sea,
And you all may be rulers of the Queen's Navee!

Absurdity reaches a peak as Sir Joseph, maintaining complete content and seriousness, directs those listening to avoid the navy if they wish to become ruler of it.  Sir Joseph is made to reveal his entire post as one acquired by reasons completely unrelated to that most important in such a leadership job: ability.

REPRISE:
SIR JOSEPH. For I hold that on the seas
The expression, "if you please",
A particularly gentlemanly tone implants.
COUSIN HEBE.   And so do his sisters, and his cousins, and his aunts!
ALL            And so do his sisters, and his cousins, and his aunts!

Sir Joseph presents the above verse after scolding Captain Corcoran for not addressing his crewmen with the gentlemanly 'If you please' after issuing an order. Such is again a classic mockery of trivial matters overshadowing ability and fulfillment of ones duties on shipboard. In this case the phrase is too absurd for even the over gentlemanly Captain Corcoran



A BRITISH TAR: RALPH, BOATSWAIN, BOATSWAIN'S MATE, and CHORUS

          A British tar is a soaring soul,
               As free as a mountain bird,
          His energetic fist should be ready to resist
               A dictatorial word.
          His nose should pant and his lip should curl,
          His cheeks should flame and his brow should furl,
          His bosom should heave and his heart should glow,
          And his fist be ever ready for a knock-down blow.

               CHORUS. -- His nose should pant, etc.

The primary purpose of this composition is to mock custom and tradition through an excessively glorious broadcast if image's importance. This song, 'written' to unite morale among sailors by Sir Joseph, emphasizes the importance of a steadfast, ready to fight sailor's image. Oddly enough little emphasis on ability is present when contrasted to the opening theme where soldiers openly proclaim attentiveness to duty.  More than anything, the song is a propaganda piece by Sir Joseph to mobilize those in the navy. Joseph, however, shows no signs of fully understanding this as he sees the piece as a glorification of the only thing important to him: image. Joseph seems to desire increased naval custom rather than morale among the sailors.

          His eyes should flash with an inborn fire,
               His brow with scorn be wrung;
          He never should bow down to a domineering frown,
               Or the tang of a tyrant tongue.
          His foot should stamp and his throat should growl,
          His hair should twirl and his face should scowl;
          His eyes should flash and his breast protrude,
          And this should be his customary attitude -- (pose).

Again this increasingly over glorious work serves as a mockery of traditional songs of patriotism and glory as found in British court at the time.  Rather than moods of pomp and honor as traditionally found, the piece carries a light hearted, humoresque melody arranged by Sullivan to mock the complexities of other works of the day. This tribute to nothing more than a low ranking sailor appears as if the lyrics apply to a nobleman's chivalry and bravery only further mocking the trivial attention to image placed by the admiralty.



 CAPT.          Never mind the why and wherefore,
               Love can level ranks, and therefore,
               Though his lordship's station's mighty,
                    Though stupendous be his brain,
               Though your tastes are mean and flighty
                    And your fortune poor and plain,
CAPT. and      Ring the merry bells on board-ship,
SIR JOSEPH.         Rend the air with warbling wild,
               For the union of his/my lordship
                    With a humble captain's child!
CAPT.               For a humble captain's daughter--
JOS.                For a gallant captain's daughter--
SIR JOSEPH.         And a lord who rules the water--
JOS. (aside).       And a tar who ploughs the water!
ALL.           Let the air with joy be laden,
                    Rend with songs the air above,
               For the union of a maiden
                    With the man who owns her love!
SIR JOSEPH.         Never mind the why and wherefore,
                    Love can level ranks, and therefore,
               Though your nautical relation (alluding to Capt.)
                    In my set could scarcely pass--
               Though you occupy a station
                    In the lower middle class--
CAPT. and      Ring the merry bells on board-ship,
SIR JOSEPH.         Rend the air with warbling wild,
               For the union of my/your lordship
                    With a humble captain's child!
CAPT.               For a humble captain's daughter--
JOS.                For a gallant captain's daughter--
SIR JOSEPH.         And a lord who rules the water--
JOS. (aside).       And a tar who ploughs the water!
ALL.           Let the air with joy be laden,
                    Rend with songs the air above,
               For the union of a maiden
                    With the man who owns her love!
JOS.           Never mind the why and wherefore,
               Love can level ranks, and therefore
               I admit the jurisdiction;
                    Ably have you played your part;
               You have carried firm conviction
                    To my hesitating heart.
CAPT. and      Ring the merry bells on board-ship,
SIR JOSEPH.         Rend the air with warbling wild,
               For the union of my/his lordship
                    With a humble captain's child!
CAPT.               For a humble captain's daughter--
JOS.                For a gallant captain's daughter--
SIR JOSEPH.         And a lord who rules the water--
JOS. (aside).       And a tar who ploughs the water!
(Aloud.)       Let the air with joy be laden.
CAPT. and SIR JOSEPH.  Ring the merry bells on board-ship--
JOS.           For the union of a maiden--
CAPT. and SIR JOSEPH.  For her union with his lordship.
ALL.           Rend with songs the air above
               For the man who owns her love!
 
This joyous outburst of sprightly music serves not only as a comic device on the superficiality of decisions maiden Victorian England but also a display of three individual attitudes toward class. One notable action in the piece by Josephine can be interpreted to serve dual meanings. Following Sir Joseph's self ordained title as the "lord who rules the water,"  Josephine, instructed by stage actions turns aside whispering a repeat of the phrase replacing lord with tar. This reference to a tar, or common sailor, assumes two meanings. The first is that of Josephine mocking Sir Joseph's arrogant display of pride and self  image by reminding us that in the end Joseph is nothing more than a sailor (rather than a man of social order). A second meaning can be taken as Josephine's expressal of her love for Ralph as she comes to the realization that love, being able to level all ranks, removes any barriers of class preventing her marriage to Ralph.

1999. Analysis written by PWM. All Rights Reserved.