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NOTABLE LYRICS: Pirates of Penzance
By Sir William S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan


                       MAJOR GENERAL STANLEY:

          I am the very model of a modern Major General,
          I've information vegetable, animal, and mineral,
          I know the kings of England, and I quote the fights historical
          From Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical;
          I'm very well acquainted, too, with matters mathematical,
          I understand equations, both the simple and quadratical,
          About binomial theorem I'm teeming with a lot o' news,
          With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse.

ALL:      With many cheerful facts...

GENERAL STANLEY:  I'm very good at integral and differential calculus;
          I know the scientific names of beings animalculous:
          In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
          I am the very model of a modern Major General.

ALL:      In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
              He is the very model of a modern Major General.
 
 Major General Stanley is yet another example of Gilbert & Sullivan's mockeries of British aristocracy. He demonstrates ability of knowledge in mathematics, history, and literature frequently yet lists no great military victories to his name.

GENERAL STANLEY:  I know our mythic history, King Arthur's and Sir Caradoc's;
          I answer hard acrostics, I've a pretty taste for paradox,
          I quote in elegiacs all the crimes of Heliogabalus,
          In conics I can floor peculiarities parabolous;
          I can tell undoubted Raphaels from Gerard Dows and Zoffanies,
          I know the croaking chorus from the Frogs of Aristophanes!
          Then I can hum a fugue of which I've heard the music's din afore,
          And whistle all the airs from that infernal nonsense Pinafore.

ALL:      And whistle all the airs...
 
In this verse Gilbert & Sullivan actually mock their previous production, HMS Pinafore, and the nature of its music. Soon after it's release, HMS Pinafore gained widespread popularity with a lasting production time.  Particularly noticed was the nature of its music which soon gained reputation as extremely "catchy" and prompting of "whistling."
 
GENERAL STANLEY:  Then I can write a washing bill in Babylonic cuneiform,
          And tell you ev'ry detail of Caractacus's uniform:
          In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
          I am the very model of a modern Major-General.

ALL:      In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
          He is the very model of a modern Major-General.

Again the General is seen to know the details of historical uniforms and language but no demonstrated skill in battle.

GENERAL STANLEY:  In fact, when I know what is meant by "mamelon" and "ravelin",
          When I can tell at sight a Mauser rifle from a javelin,
          When such affairs as sorties and surprises I'm more wary at,
          And when I know precisely what is meant by  "commissariat",
          When I have learnt what progress has been made in modern gunnery,
          When I know more of tactics than a novice in a nunnery
          In short, when I've a smattering of elemental strategy,
          You'll say a better Major-General has never sat a gee.

ALL:      You'll say a better Major-General...

GENERAL STANLEY:  For my military knowledge, though I'm plucky and adventury,
          Has only been brought down to the beginning of the century;
          But still, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
          I am the very model of a modern Major-General.

Stanley finally introduces military knowledge in this verse yet it deals more with listing statistics and descriptions of equipment and historical events while strategy "has only been brought down to the beginning of the century."

ALL:      But still, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
          He is the very model of a modern Major-General.

GENERAL STANLEY:  And now that I've introduced myself, I should like to
          have some idea of what's going on.
 
This classic example of witty lyrics on Gilbert's part serves to introduce the grand figure of Major General in a way similar to Sir Joseph's 'When I was a Lad' in HMS Pinafore.



KING:     Although our dark career
               Sometimes involves the crime of stealing,
          We rather think that we're
               Not altogether void of feeling.
          Although we live by strife,
               We're always sorry to begin it,
          For what, we ask, is life
               Without a touch of Poetry in it?
                                                      (all kneel)

ALL:      Hail, Poetry, thou heav'n-born maid!
               Thou gildest e'en the pirate's trade.
          Hail, flowing fount of sentiment!
               All hail, all hail, divine emollient!
                                                       (all rise)

KING:     You may go, for you're at liberty, our pirate rules
               protect you,
          And honorary members of our band we do elect you!
 
Gilbert often targets British custom, honor, and nobility through obnoxiously absurd display of it. Here pirates are seen discussing poetry along side the crimes of stealing in a mockery of hypocrisy among the cultured (for the pirates are revealed as former noblemen turned bad).



POLICE SERGEANT

     When the foeman bares his steel,
                    Tarantara!  tarantara!
     We uncomfortable feel,
                    Tarantara!
     And we find the wisest thing,
                    Tarantara!  tarantara!
     Is to slap our chests and sing,
                    Tarantara!
     For when threatened with  meutes,
                    Tarantara! tarantara!
     And your heart is in your boots,
                    Tarantara!
     There is nothing brings it round
     Like the trumpet's martial sound,
     Like the trumpet's martial sound
                    Tarantara! tarantara!, etc.

MABEL:    Go, ye heroes, go to glory,
          Though you die in combat gory,
          Ye shall live in song and story.
               Go to immortality!
          Go to death, and go to slaughter;
          Die, and every Cornish daughter
          With her tears your grave shall water.
               Go, ye heroes, go and die!

GIRLS:    Go, ye heroes, go and die!  Go, ye heroes, go and die!

POLICE:   Though to us it's evident,
                    Tarantara!  tarantara!
          These attentions are well meant,
                    Tarantara!
          Such expressions don't appear,
                    Tarantara!  tarantara!
          Calculated men to cheer
                    Tarantara!
          Who are going to meet their fate
          In a highly nervous state.
                    Tarantara! tarantara! tarantara!
          Still to us it's evident
          These attentions are well meant.
                    Tarantara! tarantara! tarantara!

EDITH:    Go and do your best endeavour,
          And before all links we sever,
          We will say farewell for-ever.
               Go to glory and the grave!
GIRLS:    For your foes are fierce and ruthless,
          False, unmerciful, and truthless;
          Young and tender, old and toothless,
               All in vain their mercy crave.

SERGEANT: We observe too great a stress,
          On the risks that on us press,
          And of reference a lack
          To our chance of coming back.
          Still, perhaps it would be wise
          Not to carp or criticise,
          For it's very evident
          These attentions are well meant.

POLICE:   Yes, it's very evident
          These attentions are well meant,
          Evident, yes, well meant, evident
          Ah, yes, well meant!
 
This song serves primarily as a comic device poking fun at cowardice by employing exaggeration.  Mabel sings to urge on the police into "death" in battle with the pirates by ordering them to go and "die" heroic deaths. She doesn't stop to notice, though, that the police are a rather nervous group with evident incompetence and an excessive care for order and regulation as guides to action.


1999. Analysis by PWM.