The Gilbert and Sullivan Lyrics Quiz



By: Torrance Grey

6 Min Quiz

Image: Nikada/E+/Gettyimages

About This Quiz

The partnership of W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan is one of the more productive and famous ones in the arts. (Sidebar: They also should probably hold a place in the annals of oversized muttonchop sideburns - really, just look at the photos). The pair, who lived and worked in Victorian London, produced 14 light operas together. These include "The Pirates of Penzance," "The Mikado" and "H.M.S. Pinafore," all of which are still produced and enthusiastically attended today. 

Gilbert was the librettist and Sullivan the composer. Generally speaking, this means that Gilbert was responsible for the plots of the operas and the lyrics to the songs, while Sullivan wrote the actual music. This led to some strain in their relationship, as Gilbert wanted to satirize subjects like English aristocracy, its class system and military life, while Sullivan wanted to create subtler, emotionally-realistic musicals. However, the tension between them was obviously fruitful. 

If you're interested in the world of Gilbert and Sullivan, not only can you see their light operas as video recordings, but you can also check out numerous homages to their work, including jazz versions of "The Mikado" and the 1982 film "The Pirate Movie," loosely based on "The Pirates of Penzance." 

But first, of course, you should try our quiz on Gilbert and Sullivan lyrics, to make sure you're up to par. Can't let G&S down!

Which word is missing from this line? "I am the ____ model of a modern Major-General."

This one is famous. The song itself is "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General" from "The Pirates of Penzance." Fun fact: In the pilot episode of Aaron Sorkin's short-lived "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," the cast of a struggling "SNL"-type show adapt this to a musical number they call "We'll Be the Very Model of a Modern Major Network Show."


What's missing from this line? "But family pride/ Must be denied/ And _______"

If you picked "mortified," you weren't far off. This verse from "The Mikado" ends with "And mortified, and mortified." But "set aside" comes first.


How does this one end? "Through every passion ranging/ And to your humours changing/ I tune my ______."

This one comes from "A Wand'ring Minstrel I" in "The Mikado." The singer promises to have songs for every mood and occasion.


How does this lyric end? "They come in force with stealthy stride/ Our obvious course is now _____."

This is the sergeant's response to the pirates' approach in "A Rollicking Band of Pirates We," from "The Pirates of Penzance." Not very brave, Sergeant!


What's at the end of this lyric? "Never mind the why and ______."

This line is the title of the song from "H.M.S. Pinafore." It's redundant, too, as "wherefore" simply means "why." Remember Juliet's famous line, "Wherefore art thou Romeo?" meaning "Why do you have to be Romeo (my enemy)."


What word is missing? "I'm called little ______, dear little _______."

"Buttercup" is the nickname of Mrs. Cripps in "H.M.S. Pinafore." She's a dockside vendor who sells small conveniences and treats to the sailors.


Which word ends this line? "I did not catch the word aright/ Through being _________."

Ruth sings this line in "When Frederic Was a Little Lad" from "The Pirates of Penzance." This couplet gets at the comic misunderstanding underlying the whole play: Ruth, his slightly deaf nursemaid, accidentally apprenticed Frederic to a "pirate," not a ship's "pilot." We have many questions, chief among them being, how did Ruth manage to find a pirate to apprentice the boy to? Do pirates hang out at career fairs like HR reps?


How does this lyric end? "But when the breezes blow/ I generally go _____."

This is Sir Joseph's line, in "I Am the Monarch of the Seas" in "H.M.S. Pinafore." He is the "ruler of the British Navee," despite getting his position due to breeding, not service. So his line points out that when things get rough, he goes below decks.


Which word is missing from this line? "Love can level _____, and therefore ..."

This is Josephine, the "gallant captain's daughter," singing in "H.M.S. Pinafore." The captain also has a version of this line in "Never Mind the Why and Wherefore."


What's missing from this line? "We're _____ men and true/ We sail the ocean blue."

This line is from "We Sail the Ocean Blue" in "H.M.S. Pinafore." We certainly hope these Navy men were "sober" in the sense of abstaining from alcohol on duty - though what we know about sailors in the 19th century suggests that if they were, it was dramatic license on the part of Gilbert and Sullivan.


What's missing from this line? "As office boy I made such a _____/ That they gave me the post of a junior clerk."

This makes more sense if you know that in British English, "clerk" is pronounced "clark," so the ending words rhyme. Though "splash" would make some sense, as this line is from "H.M.S. Pinafore."


What's missing from this line? "Heavy the heart that hopes but _____."

This is Josephine's line from "Sorry Her Lot Who Loves Too Well," in "H.M.S. Pinafore." Though you might expect a verb to follow "hopes but _____", instead it's an adverb, an old-fashioned construction that works well here.


How does this line end? "Pour, O pour the pirate _____."

"Pour, O Pour the Pirate Sherry" is the first song of "The Pirates of Penzance." This light opera was extremely successful, and was remade in the '80s as a movie, "The Pirate Movie," with Kristy McNichol.


What word is missing? "Unlearned he in ______/ Save that which love has taught..."

"Aught" means "nothing" or "zero." You might have know this one from people sometimes calling the 2000s "the 20-aughts." Here, Ralph Rackstraw is describing himself.


Which word is missing from this line? "Then I can write a ________ in Babylonic cuneiform ."

We admit to not being exactly sure what a washing-bill is ... a bill for laundry service? At any rate, this and most other lyrics in "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General" mocks the English obsession with higher education, especially the aspects that require people to learn things they'll never use. (Babylonian cuneiform might be an exaggeration.)


Which word completes this lyric? "Love feeds on ______, they say, or love will die."

This is a line from "Twenty Love-Sick Maidens We." It's part of the light opera "Patience."


Which word ends this line? "And it is, it is a glorious thing/ To be a Pirate _____."

Unsurprising, this is from "The Pirates of Penzance." Though Frederic is the lead, the role of the Pirate King seems a lot more fun - he's the one who's singing in "O, Far Better to Live and Die."


Can you finish this short line? "Three little maids _______ are we."

This line is, in fact, the title of the song, "Three Little Maids From School" in "The Mikado." The singers are Yum-Yum, Peep-Bo and Pitti-Sing, raising the question of whether W.S. Gilbert had ever heard a Japanese woman's name in his life.


Which word finishes this line? "This air severe/ Is but a mere _____!"

In this recitative (dialogue-like song) from "Patience," Bunthorne is confessing that his "air" of being an aesthete and poet is just a sham. Or, as he puts it here, a "veneer."


Can you finish this lyric? "My brain it teems/ With endless schemes/ Both good and new/ For ________."

"The Mikado" was set in the fictitious town of Titipu in Japan. It's there that Ko-Ko is singing about in "I Am So Proud."


Which word ends this short lyric? "List and learn, ye dainty _____."

This is the second line of "List and Learn." The song opens "The Gondoliers," one of Gilbert and Sullivan's less-famous works.


What word ends this line? "I was born in leap-year, and that birthday/ Will not be reached by me until _______."

When Ruth makes a mistake, she doesn't go halfway! Not only did she apprentice Frederic to a pirate, she did so until his 21st birthday, not his 21st year. So poor Fred, born on Leap Day, is committed until age 84.


What word ends this lyric? "Yes, litte Buttercup, I'm sad and _____."

This is the Captain's line in "Sir, You Are Sad" from "H.M.S. Pinafore." It's a duet with Buttercup, whom he helpfully mentions by name, above.


Which word is missing? "Wherever he may go/ Bang-bang the _____ nine-pounders go."

Nine-pounders, we're guessing, are rifles? (Too light to be cannons!) At any rate, Sir Joseph's female relatives sing this in "H.M.S. Pinafore."


What word is deleted? "His energetic fist should be ready to _____/ A dictatorial word."

This line from "A British Tar" in "H.M.S. Pinafore" is an example of internal rhyme. That is, "resist" rhymes with an earlier word in the same line, "fist," instead of "word," which ends the following line.


Which word is missing? "When you're lying awake/ With a dismal ______."

This line is from "Iolanthe," one of G&S's lesser-known musicals. It was about fairies and the British legal system - two things that you don't usually think of together.


What word ends this line? "But fierce and bold/ In fiery gold/ He glories all ______."

This line from "The Mikado" will especially tickle "Buffy" fans, who will remember that in his mortal days, Spike wrote awful poetry about the unattainable Cecily, and especially egregious was his use of the phrase "her beauty effulgent."


"For whom proud nobles sigh/ And with _____ vie/ To do her menial's duty."

This is lovelorn Ralph Rackstraw's complaint in "A Maiden Fair to See." He's describing his beloved, unattainable Josephine in "H.M.S. Pinafore."


What word is missing? "Gentle sir, my heart is ______ and free."

This is one of Patience's lines in "Prithee, Pretty Maiden" in "Patience." She's about to be proposed to by a man she barely knows, and whom she'll wisely turn down.


"I'm a genuine philanthropist/ All other kinds are _____."

In "Princess Ida," the king is singing a song of praise to himself (which inadvertently reveals his flaws). Sidenote: In the 1880s, SPAM had yet to be invented, though we'd love to see the light opera Gilbert and Sullivan would have written about it!


How does this lyric end? "I love - and love, alas, above my ______."

"Above one's station" is a term meaning above one's social class or demographic group. Ralph sings this line, woefully, in "The Nightingale" in "H.M.S. Pinafore." Bonus points to G&S for having Buttercup change "alas" to "a lass" in the next line: "He loves a lass above his station."


Which word is missing? "A languid love for ______ does not blight me!"

A "languid love of lilies" would be typical for an aesthetic poet type. But that's is exactly what Bunthorne is admitting (though just to the audience) to *not* be, in the patter song "Am I Alone and Unobserved?"


Which word is blanked out? "This tight-fitting _____/ Is but a useless mass."

"Cuirass" is an old-fashioned term for a piece of armor. In this line from "Princess Ida," it's specifically a helmet.


Which word ends this line? "But in a fight/ They're much too tight/ They're like a lobster ____."

This is the king's son Arac, lamenting the way his armor fits in "Princess Ida." Yes, he's really going to remove it before an important battle. No one said G&S characters were smart!


Which word completes the lyric? "I'll never assume that a _____ or a thief/ Is a gentleman worthy of implicit belief."

This is a lyric from "When I Went to the Bar as a Very Young Man" in "Iolanthe." This the lawyerly kind of bar, not the drinking kind. Did we mention that there's a lot about English law in this musical supposedly all about fairies?


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