H.M.S. Pinafore (or, The Lass That Loved a Sailor)
Majesty's Ship, "Pinafore," is anchored in the harbor at
Portsmouth. The sailors are busy scrubbing the decks for the expected
arrival of Sir Joseph Porter. K. C. B. Little Buttercup, a bumboat woman
who is by no means as small as her name would imply, comes aboard with
a stock of "snuff and tobaccy and excellent jacky," not to mention
"excellent peppermint drops."
It transpires that a handsome young sailor, Ralph, is in love with the
Captain's daughter, Josephine. She, however, is to be betrothed to Sir
Joseph Porter, who duly arrives attended by "his sisters and his cousins
and his aunts." In the meantime, Ralph plans to elope with Josephine,
the crew assisting. The plot is overheard by Dick Deadeye, the lugubrious
As Act Two begins, Captain Corcoran is alone on deck and sings to the
moon. Little Buttercup comes to him and reveals her affection. He tells
her that because of his rank he can only be her friend; but she hints
darkly that a change is in store for him, saying that "things are seldom
what they seem."
Sir Joseph returns, complaining that Josephine does not favor his suit.
The Captain comforts him by averring that she is awed by his lofty station
and suggests that he plead his cause on the ground that love levels all
rank. Still Josephine does not respond, for her heart is set upon Ralph.
Dick Deadeye reveals the elopement plan, and he and the Captain lie
in wait for the crew, "carefully on tip-toe stealing." The elopers are
captured, and the Captain is so exasperated that he actually swears, using
a "big, big D" which is overheard by Sir Joseph Porter. For this serious
breach of morals, a horrible example of depravity before the whole crew,
the Captain is ordered to his cabin.
Affairs are interrupted by Little Buttercup, who discloses a secret,
telling how the Captain and Ralph had been accidental]y exchanged while
they were both babies. Whereupon, Sir Joseph, with true Gilbertian logic,
sends for Ralph and makes him Captain, and at the same time reduces Corcoran
to Ralph's former humble grade of "able seaman." Now, since it is out
of the question for one of Sir Joseph's exalted station to marry the daughter
of a mere seaman, his Lordship nobly consents to the marriage of Ralph
and Josephine. The erstwhile Captain consoles himself with Little Buttercup.