Places: The Pirates of Penzance

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1880

First produced: 1879

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Operetta

Time of work: Nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Penzance

*Penzance. Pirates of Penzance, ThePort on the southern coast of southeastern England’s Cornwall region. In choosing Penzance, Cornwall, as the setting of his play, W. S. Gilbert situates an improbable plot in a remote town in one of Britain’s most remote southern regions. Beautiful and wild, Cornwall was seen in the Victorian era as a place where most anything could happen.

*Cornish seashore

*Cornish seashore. This remote outcropping is the site of the pirates’ lair. The Pirate King presides over a bumbling group of inefficient buccaneers. Into this scene stumble the many daughters of Major General Stanley, who are promptly seized by the pirates. Fortunately, General Stanley and his policemen are equally inept, and the girls fall in love with the pirates who, in truth, have hearts of gold. The romantic setting of the seacoast encourages the audience to suspend disbelief and accept a ludicrous situation.


Chapel. Ruined Gothic chapel in act 2 that echoes the Victorian love for this style of architecture and provides the backdrop for the inept efforts of the police to capture the equally inept pirates and for romantic interludes between the hero Frederic and his love, Mabel. The pirates finally yield when commanded to do so in the name of Queen Victoria; they in fact are peers of the realm, not pirates, so all is well in the high Victorian setting of a ruined chapel in remote Penzance.

BibliographyAnsen, David. “Linda’s Lot Is a Happy One.” Newsweek, August 11, 1980, 80. Review of the revival of The Pirates of Penzance in Central Park. Contains photographs; helps the reader to understanding the relationship between the play and acting styles.Benford, Harry. The Gilbert and Sullivan Lexicon in Which Is Gilded the Philosophic Pill. New York: Richard Rosen Press, 1978. Explains jokes, allusions, institutions, and slang terms used by Gilbert and Sullivan.Geis, Darlene. The Gilbert and Sullivan Operas. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1983. Supplies a history and synopsis of The Pirates of Penzance. Contains photographs from a television series of Gilbert and Sullivan operas.Mander, Raymond, and Joe Mitchenson. A Picture History of Gilbert and Sullivan. London: Vista Books, 1962. Contains a foreword by Bridgette D’Oyly Carte, whose family is famous for its production of the original versions of Gilbert and Sullivan operas. Photos of historic performances and notes give the reader special insight into the style of production.Williamson, Audrey. Gilbert and Sullivan Opera. London: Marion Boyars, 1953. Contains a chapter on The Pirates of Penzance. Explains the development of some ideas and the relation of The Pirates of Penzance to other Gilbert and Sullivan operas.
Categories: Places