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The Pirates of Penzance.

This is about the comic operetta. For the film adaptation see The Pirates of Penzance (1983 film).

The Pirates of Penzance is a comic operetta by W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan.


  • J.H. Ryley - Major-General Stanley
  • Signor Brocolini - The Pirate King
  • Furneaux Cook - Samuel
  • Hugh Talbot - Frederic
  • Fred Clifton - Sergeant of Police
  • Blanche Roosevelt - Mabel
  • Rosina Brandra - Edith
  • Billie Barlow - Kate
  • Alice Barnett - Ruth


On the coast of Cornwall, at the time of Queen Victoria's reign, Frederic celebrates the completion of his twenty-first year and the end of his apprenticeship to a gentlemanly band of pirates. The pirates' maid of all work, Ruth, appears and reveals that, as Frederic's nursemaid long ago, she made a mistake "through being hard of hearing": Mishearing Frederic's father's instructions, she apprenticed him to a pirate, instead of to a ship's pilot.

Frederic has never seen any woman other than Ruth, and he believes her to be beautiful. The pirates know better and suggest that Frederic take Ruth with him when he returns to civilisation. Frederic announces that, although it pains him, so strong is his sense of duty that, once free from his apprenticeship, he will be forced to devote himself to the pirates' extermination. He also points out that they are not successful pirates: since they are all orphans, they allow their prey to go free if they too are orphans. Frederic notes that word of this has got about, so captured ships' companies routinely claim to be orphans. Frederic invites the pirates to give up piracy and go with him, so that he need not destroy them, but the Pirate King says that, compared with respectability, piracy is comparatively honest. The pirates depart, leaving Frederic and Ruth. Frederic sees a group of beautiful young girls approaching the pirate lair, and realises that Ruth misled him about her appearance. Sending Ruth away, Frederic hides before the girls arrive.

The girls burst exuberantly upon the secluded spot. Frederic reveals himself and appeals to them to help him reform. One of them, Mabel, responds to his plea, chiding her sisters for their lack of charity. She offers Frederic her pity, and the two quickly fall in love. The other girls discuss whether to eavesdrop or to leave the new couple alone, deciding to "talk about the weather," although they steal glances at the affectionate couple.

Frederic warns the girls about the pirates, but before they can flee, the pirates return and capture all the girls, intending to marry them. Mabel warns the pirates that the girls' father is a Major-General, who soon arrives and introduces himself. He appeals to the pirates not to take his daughters, leaving him to face his old age alone. Having heard of the famous Pirates of Penzance, he pretends that he is an orphan to elicit their sympathy. The soft-hearted pirates release the girls, making Major-General Stanley and his daughters honorary members of their band.

The Major-General sits in a ruined chapel on his estate, surrounded by his daughters. His conscience is tortured by the lie that he told the pirates, and the girls attempt to console him. The Sergeant of Police and his corps arrive to announce their readiness to arrest the pirates. The girls loudly express their admiration of the police for facing likely slaughter at the hands of fierce and merciless foes. The police are unnerved by this but finally leave.

Left alone, Frederic, who is to lead the police, reflects on his opportunity to atone for a life of piracy, at which point he encounters Ruth and the Pirate King. They have realised that Frederic's apprenticeship was worded so as to bind him to them until his twenty-first birthday – and, because that birthday happens to be on 29 February (in a leap year), it means that technically only five birthdays have passed, and he will not reach his twenty-first birthday until he is in his eighties. Frederic is convinced by this logic and agrees to rejoin the pirates. He then sees it as his duty to inform the Pirate King of the Major-General's deception. The outraged outlaw declares that the pirates' "revenge will be swift and terrible".

Frederic meets Mabel, and she pleads with him to stay, but he feels bound by his duty to the pirates until his 21st birthday – in 1940. They agree to be faithful to each other until then, though to Mabel "It seems so long"; Frederic departs. Mabel steels herself and tells the police that they must go alone to face the pirates. They muse that an outlaw might be just like any other man, and it is a shame to deprive him of "that liberty which is so dear to all". The police hide on hearing the approach of the pirates, who have stolen onto the estate, intending to avenge themselves for the Major-General's lie.

Just then, Major-General Stanley appears, sleepless with guilt, and the pirates also hide, while the Major-General listens to the soothing breeze. The girls come looking for him. The pirates leap to the attack, and the police rush to the defence; but the police are easily defeated, and the Pirate King urges the captured Major-General to prepare for death. The Sergeant has one stratagem left: he demands that the pirates yield "in Queen Victoria's name"; the pirates, overcome with loyalty to their Queen, do so. Ruth appears and reveals that the pirates are "all noblemen who have gone wrong". The Major-General is impressed by this and all is forgiven. Frederic and Mabel are reunited, and the Major-General is happy to marry his daughters to the noble pirates after all.

Musical numbers

Act I

  • "Pour, oh pour, the pirate sherry" - Samuel and Chorus of Pirates
  • "When Fred'ric was a little lad" - Ruth
  • "Oh, better far to live and die" - Pirate King and Chorus of Pirates
  • "Oh! false one, you have deceiv'd me" - Frederic and Ruth
  • "Climbing over rocky mountain" - Chorus of Girls
  • "Stop, ladies, pray" - Edith, Kate, Frederic, and Chorus of Girls
  • "Oh, is there not one maiden breast?" - Frederic and Chorus of Girls
  • "Poor wand'ring one" - Mabel and Chorus of Girls
  • "What ought we to do?" - Edith, Kate, and Chorus of Girls
  • "How beautifully blue the sky" - Mabel, Frederic, and Chorus of Girls
  • "Stay, we must not lose our senses/Here's a first-rate opportunity to get married with impunity" - Frederic and Chorus of Girls and Pirates
  • "Hold, monsters" - Mabel, Major-General, Samuel, and Chorus
  • "I am the very model of a modern Major-General" - Major-General and Chorus
  • "Finale Act I" - Mabel, Kate, Edith, Ruth, Frederic, Samuel, King, Major-General, and Chorus
    • "Oh, men of dark and dismal fate"
    • "I’m telling a terrible story"
    • "Hail, Poetry"
    • "Oh, happy day, with joyous glee"
    • "Pray observe the magnanimity"

Act II

  • "Oh, dry the glist'ning tear" - Mabel and Chorus of Girls
  • "Then, Frederic, let your escort lion-hearted" - Frederic and Major-General
  • "When the foeman bares his steel" - Mabel, Edith, Sergeant, and Chorus of Policemen and Girls
  • "Now for the pirates' lair!" - Frederic, Ruth, and King
  • "When you had left our pirate fold" - Ruth, Frederic, and King
  • "Away, away! My heart's on fire!" Ruth, Frederic, and King
  • "All is prepar'd; your gallant crew await you" Mabel and Frederic
  • "Stay, Fred'ric, stay/Ah, leave me not to pine/Oh, here is love, and here is truth" - Mabel and Frederic
  • "No, I'll be brave/Though in body and in mind" - Mabel, Sergeant, and Chorus of Police
  • "Sergeant, approach!" - Mabel, Sergeant of Police, and Chorus of Police
  • "When a felon's not engaged in his employment" - Sergeant and Chorus of Police
  • "A rollicking band of pirates we" - Sergeant and Chorus of Pirates and Police
  • "With cat-like tread, upon our prey we steal" - Samuel and Chorus of Pirates and Police
  • "Hush, hush, not a word!" - Frederic, King, Major-General, and Chorus of Police and Pirates
  • Finale, Act II (Ensemble)
    • "Sighing softly to the river"
    • "Now what is this, and what is that?"
    • "You/We triumph now"
    • "Away with them, and place them at the bar!"
    • "Poor wandering ones!"