Gilbert and Sullivan Archive


4.1 Substitutes

Andrew Crowther contributed: Just in case anyone thinks Thespis has nothing of Gilbert's wit in it, here's a line I've just stumbled on that makes me laugh. Apollo, the sun god, doesn't want to go out today, so he says: "I shall send them this fine, thick wholesome fog and they won't miss me. It's the best substitute for a blazing sun - and like most substitutes, nothing at all like the real thing."

Ronald Orenstein wondered: I think (mind, I say I THINK) that this is a reference to an advertising slogan of the time. Does anyone know for sure?

Diana Burleigh weighed in: Andrew Crowther may like to know that I spotted the Thespis line about substitutes being nothing like the real thing quite a few years ago and have quoted it on several appropriate occasions (usually acknowledging its origin) the last only a couple of months ago when asked to replace someone who was ill at an awards ceremony.

4.2 Textual weaknesses

Arthur Robinson had done some research: About four years ago I submitted some proposed "textual emendations" for Gilbert's plays to the W.S. Gilbert Society Journal; they were never printed (as far as I know),

[Michael Walters assured him: I think you'll find them in the next issue, when it reaches you.] but two were from Thespis, so I'll provide a summary (not a quotation--I don't have my article with me).

In Act II Thespis reads aloud from Lempriere's Classical Dictionary:

"Apollo was several times married, among others to Issa, Bolina, Coronis, Chymene, Cyrene, Chione, Acacallis, and Calliope." The fourth name puzzled me; one year I got Lempriere's Classical Dictionary for Christmas and looked up Apollo, and found this exact list (I had always assumed Gilbert had invented it), but the fourth name was Clymene, not Chymene (she appears as a lover of the sun god in Greek mythology; I think she's named near the end of Book I of Ovid's Metamorphoses, unbowdlerised edition). As I recall, however, Lempriere did not use the word "married" (I guess I didn't get the Family Edition). I don't know whether Gilbert, who we know had to write Thespis in a hurry, made a mistake or the printer did; I have meant to check photographs of Gilbert's manuscripts to see whether his "Cl" might have looked like "Ch."

My other proposed emendation is only hypothetical. In Mercury's Act II song, one quatrain reads:

For Thespis as Jove is a terrible blunder,
Too nervous and timid--too easy and weak--
Whenever he's called on to lighten or thunder,
The thought of it keeps him awake for a week!

To rhyme "weak" with "week" -- an identity, not a true rhyme -- seems pretty weak (sorry) for Gilbert. My theory is that Gilbert may have written "meek," and the printer changed it to "weak," possibly because of the word "weak" in a similar place in the next stanza. (I consulted someone who was an expert on textual criticism -- which I am not! -- and he told me not only was this common, there was a technical term for it. I've forgotten the term, of course.) Of course, it's also possible that Gilbert was in such a hurry that he did write "weak"; but I find it hard to believe that he would not have noticed this in rehearsal and changed it.

If anyone is interested in my other emendations (from The Grand Duke and The Mountebanks), please let me know.

Philip Sternenberg chimed in: I agree that "meek" is better than "weak." It's a substitution I've considered long before you posted it.

I have my own emendation for the same song. The line "Will only shoot at pretty young ladies" is, in very un-Gilbertian fashion, two syllables short of scanning properly, whereas the rest of the song is perfect. It has long been my belief that "arrows" belongs after "shoot." I believe the Fulham recording added "arrows," although I had considered this before hearing Fulham.

Arthur Robinson observed: Rees says (p.46) that the following line in the Act I finale "makes no sense":

MERCURY. Here come your people!

THESPIS. People better now!

I always thought this was clumsy but made sense--the Thespians are now going to become deputy gods, which makes them "better" than they were before. Am I straining? Do other SavoyNetters have better suggestions for interpreting this line, or think (as Rees seems to) that it's corrupt?

Ronald Orenstein noted: Any discussion of the Thespis libretto must include the finding by Terence Rees that the libretto as we now have it is incomplete (omitting the character of Venus, for example). Even with this, though, the libretto is a much more haphazard thing than the later ones, though I still find it very funny. It has, BTW, the most obvious sexual reference in the operas ("Sir! This is the Family Edition").

Arthur Robinson (horrified): Haven't we had enough obscenity on SavoyNet recently without your repeating this filthy line?

Ronald Orenstein (cowered): I apologize for having brought the blush of shame to the cheek of modesty.

Updated 6 Dec 1997