W. S. Gilbert

William Schwenck Gilbert (18 November 1836 - 29 May 1911) was a British dramatist and librettist best known for his operatic collaborations with the composer Arthur Sullivan.


  • A popular speaker, however unpopular and insignificant, has only to wind up his speech with half-a-dozen lines of Shakespeare (and to make it clearly understood that they are Shakespeare's) and he will sit down amid thunders of applause.
    • "Unappreciated Shakespeare", Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, Christmas Number, 9 December 1882

H.M.S. Pinafore

  • from such a face and form as mine, the noblest sentiments sound like the black utterances of a depraved imagination! It's human nature! I'm resigned.
  • Things are seldom what they seem;
    Skim milk masquerades as cream.
  • What, never? No never! What never? Well, hardly ever!

The Mikado

  • I am, in point of fact, a particularly haughty and exclusive person, of pre-Adamite ancestral descent. You will understand this when I tell you that I can trace my ancestry back to a protoplasmal primordial atomic globule. Consequently, my family pride is something inconceivable. I can’t help it. I was born sneering.
  • …in the first place, self decapitation is an extremely difficult, not to say dangerous, thing to attempt; and, in the second, it’s suicide, and suicide is a capital offence.
  • Pooh Bah: This professional conscientiousness is highly creditable to you, but it places us in a very awkward position.
Koko: Your position is grace itself compared to that of a man in the act of chopping off his own head!
  • To sit in solemn silence in a dull, dark dock,
    In a pestilential prison, with a life-long lock,
    Awaiting the sensation of a short, sharp shock,
    From a cheap and chippy chopper on a big black block!

  • (Koko is negotiating the terms by which he can behead Nanki-Poo in his place, and they involve letting the latter be married to his fiance until he is executed)
Koko: But my position during the next month will be most unpleasant.
Nanki-Poo: Not nearly so unpleasant as mine at the end of it.
  • I have a left shoulder-blade that is a miracle of loveliness. People come miles to see it. My right elbow has a fascination that few can resist.
  • Merely corroborative detail, intended to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.
  • It's a bad old world, and virtue is triumphant only in theatrical productions.
  • The idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone,
    All centuries but this and every country but his own.
  • If someday it should happen that a victim must be found
    I've got a little list, I've got a little list
    Of society offenders who might well be underground,
    Who never would be missed - who never would be missed!


  • The Law is the true embodiment
    Of everything that’s excellent.
    It has no kind of fault or flaw,
    And I, my Lords, embody the Law.
  • The House of Peers, thoughout the war
    Did nothing in particular
    And did it very well.

Trial by Jury

  • She may very well pass for forty three
    In the dusk with the light behind her.


  • Art stopped short at the cultivated court of the Empress Josephine.
  • Yes, I am the Apostle of Simplicity. I am called Archibald the All-Right, for I am infallible.

Archibald: To understand this, it is not necessary to think of anything at all. Saphir: Let us think of nothing at all!

  • I know what love is. There was a happy time when I didn't, but bitter experience has taught me.

Princess Ida

  • I can tell a woman's age in half a minute -- and I do!
  • ...a Man, however well-behav’d,
    At best is only a monkey shav’d!

The Gondoliers

  • When everyone is somebody, then no one's anybody.

The Sorcerer

  • Oh! my name is John Wellington Wells,
    I'm a dealer in magic and spells,
    In blessings and curses
    And ever-filled purses,
    In prophecies, witches, and knells.

    If you want a proud foe to "make tracks"--
    If you'd melt a rich uncle in wax--
    You've but to look in
    On our resident Djinn,
    Number seventy, Simmery Axe!
    • Mr Wells' song, Act I
    • "Simmery Axe" is the traditional pronunciation of "St. Mary Axe", a road in the City of London. In Gilbert's day, the last building was number 68, though number 70 was built later.
  • Either you or I must yield up his life to Ahrimanes. I would rather it were you.


  • Humour is a drug which it's the fashion to abuse.

  • I suppose he expected to see me kissing all the carpenters
    • Comment on a (possibly apocryphal) conversation between Gilbert and a French designer during the first night of Princess Ida
  • No one can have a higher opinion of him than I have--and I think he is a dirty little beast.
  • Take my daughters, most of whom are beauties
    • Modified libretto for the finale of Act II of The Pirates of Penzance in response to his not choosing the female chorus for a revival

  • Beautiful Mabel, I'd sing if I could but I am not able!
    • Shouted from the stalls during rehearsals for The Pirates of Penzance when the actor playing Frederic was not present
  • (During the period after the debut of Ruddigore, which was far less successful at the box office than its predecessor The Mikado)
Gentleman: How is Bloodygore doing?
Gilbert: The title is Ruddigore.
Gentleman: Surely that's the same thing.
Gilbert: Then it is the same to say "I admire your ruddy countenance" -- which I do -- as "I like your bloody cheek" -- which I don't.

External links

Wikipedia has an article about:
W. S. Gilbert
Wikisource has original works written by or about:
Last modified on 6 November 2008, at 21:17