Lesson Set 2: H.M.S. Pinafore

In the first lesson, students will be introduced to Gilbert and Sullivan and some features of their style of music, including engaging with the text as a singer. In the second lesson, students will review elements of the show and analyze a scene performed by MOTCC. Finally, using the third form, students may be invited to view and Review H.M.S. Pinafore. By downloading these lessons, these google forms may be added to the learning platform of your choice or shared directly with your students. By clicking "Student View" you will be able to preview the materials prior to downloading them.


W.S. Gilbert

"With great fluidity and freedom, [Gilbert] continually challenges our natural expectations. First, within the framework of the story, he makes bizarre things happen, and turns the world on its head. Thus the Learned Judge marries the Plaintiff [as in Trial by Jury], the soldiers metamorphose into aesthetes, and so on, and nearly every opera is resolved by a deft moving of the goalposts.... His genius is to fuse opposites with an imperceptible sleight of hand, to blend the surreal with the real, and the caricature with the natural. In other words, to tell a perfectly outrageous story in a completely deadpan way." –HuntingtonTheatre.org

W.S. Gilbert was born in London, on November 18, 1836. His father was a naval surgeon, and Gilbert claims to have been kidnapped by pirates at the age of two! After the ransom was paid and he returned to his family, Gilbert settled into a rather unremarkable childhood. In 1861, he began to write illustrated stories, poems and articles of his own to supplement his income. Many of these would later be mined as a source of ideas for his plays and operas, particularly his series of illustrated poems, called the Bab Ballads.

tHE Story

The show opens with the sailors proudly polishing their ship, the H.M.S. Pinafore. They are interrupted by Little Buttercup, the lovable boat woman, who sells them trinkets, laces and sweets for their girlfriends and wives. Buttercup is taken aback when she observes Ralph Rackstraw, one of the lowly sailors, profess his love for the high-­‐born Captain’s daughter Josephine. At the end of his heart-­‐felt confession we meet Dick Deadeye an unfortunate creature with an abrasive personality to match. He attempts to bring Ralph back to reality, but is scorned by his supportive messmates. An attack on Deadeye is averted when all snap to attention with the arrival of Captain Corcoran. When the sailors return to their duties, the Captain is left alone with Buttercup. He confesses his concern over his daughter’s reluctance to embrace the idea of marriage with the Monarch of the Queen’s Navy, Sir Joseph Porter K.C.B who is on his way to claim her hand. Josephine enters and sings her confession of love not for Sir Joseph, but for a low-­‐born sailor, Ralph Rackstraw! So the plot thickens. She tells her father, but he sternly reminds her of her station. Josephine decides that she must follow her duty and not her heart, as we hear the arrival of Sir Joseph’s barge. His elaborate entrance is only enhanced by an entourage of Cousin Hebe, and his sisters, cousins and aunts. When all exit Ralph professes his love for Josephine. Although she feels the same, she does her duty and puts him in his place. Ralph, in desperation, swears to his mates that his life cannot continue any longer without her. Josephine confesses her true feelings and the pair plan to elope that night. The sailors are thrilled, except Deadeye. All exit to plan the escape. Captain and Buttercup continue the action and she tells him that all will be revealed in due time. Sir Joseph approaches Josephine and informs her that "Love levels all ranks.” Misinterpreting his words, she no longer feels guilty of her love for Ralph. Deadeye warns the Captain of the elopement, and they thwart it at the last moment. Sir Joseph is appalled by Ralph’s actions, and arrests him. Buttercup intercedes and finally tells the secret she has been hiding-­‐-­‐she mixed up Ralph and the Captain at birth! Ralph is really the Captain and can now marry Josephine. The Captain is really Ralph, and can marry his secret love, Buttercup. Sir Joseph reluctantly agrees to marry Cousin Hebe. Three happy couples, on the same day united. Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurray!


Arthur Sullivan

Sullivan was born in London on May 13, 1842. His father was a military bandmaster, and by the time Arthur had reached the age of 8, he was proficient with all the instruments in the band. In school, he began to compose anthems and songs. In 1856, he received the first Mendelssohn Prize and studied at the Royal Academy of Music and at Leipzig, where he also took up conducting. His graduation piece, completed in 1861, was a suite of incidental music to Shakespeare's The Tempest. Revised and expanded, it was performed at the Crystal Palace in 1862, and was an immediate sensation. He began building a reputation as England's most promising young composer, composing a symphony, a concerto, and several overtures, among them the Overture di Ballo, in 1870.