The Pirates of Penzance
The Slave of Duty
Words: W.S. Gilbert
Music: Arthur Sullivan
Written in: Authored Date:


On the rocky shores of Cornwall, near Penzance, a band of Pirates celebrates the Coming-of-Age, at 21, of Frederic, their erstwhile apprentice. Ruth, now the piratical Maid of All Work, once Frederic's Nurse, confesses a long-concealed error - through being hard of hearing she had attached her young charge, not to a Pilot as ordered, but to a Pirate. Frederic readily forgives her, but announces that although he is Honour-Bound to serve his Pirate Master loyally till the termination of his indentures, at noon precisely, he is equally Honour-Bound, in all civilised decency, thereafter to renounce his piratical colleagues, and to hunt them to extinction. The Pirate King condemns "civilisation" as a calling unfit for any decent man, but the Pirates, generally, though sorrowful, are sympathetic. As a final Act of Duty, Frederic tells his companions why it is they are unsuccessful in making Piracy pay - they are not ruthless enough, and being orphans themselves, always free any orphans they may capture. Not surprisingly, everyone they seize declares himself to be an orphan!

The Pirates, taking Frederic's advice, decide to be Ruth-less from then on, and insist that their Maid of All Work go with her Master.

The two left alone, Ruth tries to convince Frederic, inexperienced in coping with female wiles, that she is a fine example of womanhood - but her seductive ploy is cut short by the chance arrival of a bevy of beautiful maidens, the numerous progeny of Major-General Stanley.

Ruth is cast off, a whirlwind wooing of the compliant Mabel follows, and Frederic seems all set for Romance. But the return of the Pirate Band, with matrimonial ambitions in mind, disrupts the idyll; happily, the timely arrival of the cavalry, in the shape of the Major-General himself, armed only with a white lie, saves the young ladies from a fate worse than spinsterhood. The curtain falls on Act One in a spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation.


In the Ruined Chapel attached to Tremorden Castle, on his recently-acquired estate, the Major- General grieves remorsefully over the ungentlemanly deception he practised on the Pirates. His daughters cannot console him; even Frederic, now a respectable member of society, and officially betrothed to Mabel, cannot alleviate his future father-in-law's distress over the supposed affront to his newly-purchased ancestral lineage. What cannot be redeemed by moral suasion, can, however, be expiated by physical force - the local Police Force, indeed, which now enters, led by the Sergeant. As fearless upholders of Law and Order, the Constabulary proves to be in need of much encourage- ment, which is provided by the girls, and, finally, from behind, by the Major-General. At last, they really, really go! - temporarily, at any rate.

Left alone, Frederic exults in the thought of atoning for the sins of his previous existence.

But at this point, disaster strikes! Frederic's old master, the Pirate King, and his old nurse, Ruth, appear, to tell hjmof anamusing Paradox, to wit, that as Frederic was born on the 29th February, he has not in fact reached his 21st BIRTHDAY, as specified in the indentures of his apprenticeship; he is therefore technically still a Pirate, and in All Honour Bound to resume his old calling.

Aghast, Frederic, the Slave of Duty, has to agree - and, furthermore, feels obliged to reveal the truth about Major-General Stanley's craven mendacity.

The Pirate King is justly enraged and vows Vengeance - that Very Night.

Frederic takes a fond farewell of Mabel, at least until 1940, some sixty years thence, when he will have reached his 21st Birthday. Frederic's sense of duty is proof adamantine against poor Mabel's pleas, and he goes.

The Police re-enter, seeking their leader, only to be told that he has deserted to the enemy, but not treacherously, only for the noblest reasons. The Police cannot understand it at all; the Sergeant proceeds to lament the Policeman's Perpetual Painful Predicament.

Just then, the Pirates are heard approaching, and the Police scuttle for cover in the nearest available tomb. The Pirates swarm onto the scene, proclaiming boldly their intention to make a silent and secretive swoop on Tremorden Castle. Despite their caution, however, Major-General Stanley, lying awake on his bed of mental nails, thinks he may have heard something, and comes out to investigate. Finding nothing, he expresses his anguish over the situation in a subtly irrelevant/obliquely relevant love-song concerning the brook, the trees and the breeze.

Anxious as ever, his daughters arrive en masse, only to be rounded up when the Pirates, maddened beyond endurance by the Major-General's singing, finally spring their trap. Invain, Mabel appeals to Frederic, a pirate once more; her father seems destined to a watery grave at the end of a plank.The Police, in turn, ambush the Pirates, only to be defeated in a truncheon-to-cutlass struggle. But the magic sound of Queen Victoria's Name and the appeal it makes to loyal hearts, reverses this outcome. Ruth's revelation of the true status of the Pirates, as black sheep Peers of the Realm, not only explains the miraculous effect of the Queen's name, but also satisfies the Major-General, and he gladly donates his daughters to them in the best interests of social advancement. All ends happily in general rejoicing.

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