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The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive   Pirate King The Pirates of Penzance Major General

From The Liverpool Mercury, Tuesday, November 16, 1880.



Piracy, for some reason or another, has always had a strong tinge of romance given to it, whether it was told in story or portrayed dramatically. The “Bold Buccaneer" has been treated as a sort of hero by Scott, Maryatt, and every writer who has dealt with him; and the modern notion of the Paul Jones and other sea thieves is that at their worst they were handsome dare-devils who preyed for the mere love of adventure on rich-laden galliots, and who filled up their leisure by carrying off not very reluctant maidens to their "lairs” in some little-visited islands. This accepted notion of the "pirate" has been most cleverly satirised by Mr. W. S. Gilbert, the writer of the libretto of the "Pirates of Penzance." His pirate is certainly the "mildest-mannered man who ever scuttled ship or cut a throat," and in respect of death-heads, cross-bones, long flowing curls, and a gallantry to the fair sex, he is the type of the roamer of the seas.

The plot of the Pirates of Penzance (which was produced for the first time in Liverpool last night at the Prince of Wales theatre before a large and brilliant audience) hinges upon a very small pivot – the mistake of a servant maid who has a child entrusted to her; who is told to apprentice the boy to be a “pilot," but mistaking the word has him bound to a "pirate." This youth, Frederick (Mr. G. Coventry), is associated with a regular band of sea rovers; and although despising their calling, "being the slave of duty" he remains among them until his apprenticeship is concluded. The "pirates' lair" is visited by the daughters of General Stanley (David Fisher, jun.), and all the damsels are made captive by the pirates, the pirate king (Mr. J. W. Marnock), according to the regulations of the band, appropriating two of them. There are love scenes, rescues, and recriminations, all of which are burlesqued with infinite humour by Mr. Gilbert. Some of the lines are written in that quaint yet catching style which Mr Gilbert has made his own.

When the piece was being composed, the metropolis was shocked by the frequency of acts of violence, and the, police, as usual, were condemned. This Mr. Gilbert hits off most happily. In the "Lay of the Police," the officers say,

When the enterprising burglar's not a-burglaring,
  When the cut-throat isn't occupied in crime,
He loves to hear the little brook a-gurgling,
  And listen to the merry village chime.
When the coster's finished jumping on his mother,
  He loves to lie a-basking in the sun;
Ah! take one consideration with another,
  The policeman's life is not a happy one.

Mr. Arthur Sullivan's music is worthy of the libretto. The opera abounds with beautifully-written songs and choruses. The policemen's chorus and the chorus of maidens and pirates were charmingly given, as were also the fine sea song “I'm the Pirate King," "Poor Wandering Heart," and the other leading items. In every sense the production of “The Pirates" by the able company was a marked success, and is another evidence of Mr. Emery's managerial skill.

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