HMS Pinafore

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Template:Wikisource H.M.S. Pinafore, or The Lass that Loved a Sailor, is a comic Gilbert and Sullivan operetta in two acts, with music by composer Arthur S. Sullivan and libretto by William S. Gilbert. The first performance was at the Opera Comique, London, on May 28, 1878. The title of the operetta itself instilled laughter in some at the idea of "brave sailors serving aboard a man-of-war whose namesake [was] a lady's apron."



Pinafore initially looked as if it would be a failure. It received lukewarm reviews in the press, and ticket sales were poor. It was several months later, after Sullivan used some of the music during a successful Promenade Concert at Covent Garden, that Pinafore became the great success as which it is remembered today. It ran for 571 performances and became a source of popular quotations, such as the exchange, "What, never?" "Well, hardly ever!" Also popular was the verse, "For in spite of all temptations/To belong to other nations/He remains an Englishman." Popular songs include Sir Joseph's patter song "When I was a lad", a brazen satire on the career of William Henry Smith, the newsagent who had risen to the position of First Lord of the Admiralty in 1877, and "Never Mind the Why and Wherefore", a trio by the Captain, Josephine, and Sir Joseph. Pinafore was pirated so much in the United States that Gilbert and Sullivan made a special effort to claim American copyright early on their next work, The Pirates of Penzance. Even today, Pinafore is one of the most popular Gilbert and Sullivan operettas.

Given the operetta's mockery of the "Queen's Navee" and the aristocracy in general, it is perhaps unsurprising that its reception among the nobility was cool. Queen Victoria is said to have summed up her reaction to the performance with the famous phrase, "We are not amused". Gilbert was to insert a backhanded sort of apology in Pirates in which he mentions "that infernal nonsense Pinafore."


  • The Rt. Hon. Sir Joseph Porter, KCB, First Lord of the Admiralty
  • Captain Corcoran, Commander of the H.M.S. Pinafore
  • Ralph (pronounced "Raif") Rackstraw, popular Able Seaman
  • Dick Deadeye, unpopular Able Seaman
  • Bill Bobstay, Boatswain's Mate
  • Bob Becket, Carpenter's Mate
  • Josephine, The Captain's Daughter
  • Cousin Hebe, Sir Joseph's First Cousin
  • Little Buttercup, A Portsmouth Bumboat Woman
  • Chorus of First Lord's Sisters, His Cousins, His Aunts, Sailors, Marines, Etc.


Scene: Quarterdeck of H.M.S. Pinafore, off Portsmouth

Act 1

The operetta opens at noontime with the sailors of the H.M.S. Pinafore "cleaning brasswork, splicing rope, etc." Little Buttercup, a Portsmouth "bumboat woman" (dockside vendor) so-named because she is the "rosiest, roundest, and reddest beauty in all Spithead", comes on board to sell her wares. She hints that she is hiding a dark secret. The boatswain disbelieves her, but the villainous and ugly Dick Deadeye says he's often thought that. Ralph Rackstraw, "the smartest lad in all the fleet," enters, declaring his hopeless love for the Captain's daughter Josephine. The Captain enters and greets his crew and compliments them on their politeness, saying that he returns the compliment by never using bad language, such as "a big, big D". All but the Captain leave. Buttercup enters, and the Captain complains that Josephine will not accept the suit of Sir Joseph Porter, KCB. Buttercup says that she knows how it feels to love vainly. As she exits, the captain remarks that she is "a plump and pleasing person." Josephine enters and confesses to her father that she loves a common sailor, although for the sake of her rank she will carry her love to the grave without letting him know of it. Sir Joseph comes on board (with a chorus of sisters, cousins, and aunts), and insists that the Captain be polite to his sailors and say "if you please" after an order; for, as he says, "A British sailor is any man's equal – excepting mine." Sir Joseph proposes to Josephine, who is nauseated. Shortly afterwards she meets Ralph, who declares his love for her, only to meet with a haughty rejection. Ralph calls for his shipmates and tells them that life is not worth living without Josephine's love and that after he is dead they should tell Josephine that he loved her well. As Ralph puts a pistol to his head, Josephine enters and declares that she loves him. Ralph and Josephine make plans to sneak ashore and get married that night. Dick Deadeye warns them not to as it will lead to trouble, but he is ignored by the joyous ensemble.

Act 2

The second act opens at night, with Captain Corcoran sadly singing his troubles to the moon. Little Buttercup offers sympathy and moves to an offer of more affection, but he informs her that due to their situations, he can only be her friend. She prophecies that things are not all as they seem, but he does not understand her. Sir Joseph enters, and complains of his disappointment at his reception from Josephine. The Captain replies that she is probably dazzled by his rank, and that if he can convince her that "love levels all ranks," everything will be all right. When Sir Joseph makes this argument, however, he unwittingly pleads his rival's cause. Josephine tells him she was hesitating, but has now made up her mind. Sir Joseph and the Captain rejoice over this apparent change of heart, and Sir Joseph leaves happily. Dick Deadeye enters and reveals the truth to the Captain – that Josephine and Ralph plan to elope that night.

The Captain confronts the lovers as they try to leave the ship, and insists upon knowing what Josephine plans to do. Ralph steps forward to announce his love, which causes the furious Captain to let slip an obscenity: "Why, damme, it's too bad!" Sir Joseph and his female relatives overhear him, and Sir Joseph orders the Captain to his cabin. He then inquires of Ralph what he has done to make the Captain swear. Ralph replies that it was his declaration of love for Josephine. Furious in his turn at this revelation, Sir Joseph orders Ralph's imprisonment. When he starts to chide Josephine for the mismatch, however, Little Buttercup steps forward to reveal her secret. Years before, when she was practising baby-farming, she nursed two babies, one "of low condition," the other "a regular patrician," and she "mixed those children up and not a creature knew it... The wellborn babe was Ralph; your Captain was the other." Sir Joseph summons both and orders them to change places, giving Ralph the command of the Pinafore. As his marriage with Josephine is now impossible (" levels all ranks—" "Yes, but it doesn't level them that far!"), he gives her to now-Captain Ralph. Corcoran, now a common seaman, marries Buttercup, Sir Joseph marries his cousin Hebe, and all ends in general rejoicing.

Pop culture references to Pinafore

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