H.M.S. Pinafore

H.M.S. Pinafore is a comic opera in two acts, with music by Arthur Sullivan and a libretto by W. S. Gilbert. It opened at the Opera Comique in London, on 25 May 1878 and ran for 571 performances, which was the second-longest run of any musical theatre piece up to that time. H.M.S. Pinafore was Gilbert and Sullivan’s fourth operatic collaboration and their first international sensation.

The story takes place aboard the Royal Navy ship H.M.S. Pinafore. The captain’s daughter, Josephine, is in love with a lower-class sailor, Ralph Rackstraw, although her father intends her to marry Sir Joseph Porter, the First Lord of the Admiralty. She accepts her father’s wishes at first, but Sir Joseph’s promotion of the equality of humankind encourages Ralph and Josephine to overturn conventional social order. They declare their love for each other and eventually plan to elope. The Captain discovers this plan, but, as in many of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas, a surprise disclosure changes things dramatically near the end of the story.

The song in the video below, “When I Was a Lad”, is Captain Corcoran’s tale of how he rose to his position of power as a sea captain without ever actually going to sea. It was seen at the time as a thinly-veiled reference to the politician W.H. Smith who had recently been appointed First Lord of the Admiralty despite having neither military nor nautical experience.

This is just a straightforward Read & Listenexercise – for pure enjoyment!
Why don’t you try singing along with the chorus?

When I was a lad I served a term
As office boy to an attorney’s firm.
I cleaned the windows and I swept the floor,
And I polished up the handle of the big front door.
(He polished up the handle of the big front door)
I polished up that handle so carefully
That now I am the Ruler of the King’s Navy!
(He polished up that handle so carefully
That now he is the Ruler of the King’s Navy)

As office boy I made such a mark
That they gave me the post of a junior clerk.
I served the writs with a smile so bland,
And I copied all the letters in a big round hand.
(He copied all the letters in a big round hand)
I copied all the letters in a hand so free,
That now I am the Ruler of the King’s Navy!
(He copied all the letters in a hand so free,
That now he is the Ruler of the King’s Navy)

In serving writs I gained such a name
That an articled clerk I soon became;
From clerk I followed the shortest route
To the pass examination at the Institute.
(To the pass examination at the Institute)
That pass examination did so well for me,
That now I am the Ruler of the King’s Navy!
(That pass examination did so well for he,
That now he is the Ruler of the King’s Navy)

Of legal knowledge I acquired such a grip
That they took me into the partnership.
And that partnership till then had been,
The one and only ‘ship’ that I ever had seen.
(The one and only ‘ship’ that he ever had seen)
But that kind of ‘ship’ so suited me,
That now I am the Ruler of the King’s Navy!
(But that kind of ‘ship’ so suited he,
That now he is the Ruler of the King’s Navy)

I grew so rich that I was sent
By a wealthy member into Parliament.
I always voted at my party’s call,
And I never thought of thinking for myself at all.
(He never thought of thinking for himself at all)
I thought so little, they rewarded me
By making me the Ruler of the King’s Navy!
(He thought so little, they rewarded he
By making him the Ruler of the King’s Navy)

Now landsmen all, whoever you may be,
If you want to rise to the top of the tree,
If your soul isn’t fettered to an office stool,
Be careful to be guided by this golden rule:
(Be careful to be guided by this golden rule)
Stick close to your desks and never go to sea,
And you all may be rulers of the King’s Navy!
(Stick close to your desks and never go to sea,
And you all may be rulers of the King’s Navy)


Author: Tony

Born and raised in Malaysia between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Educated at Wycliffe College in Stonehouse, Gloucestershire, England. Living in the foothills of Mount Etna since 1982 and teaching English at Catania University since 1987.

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