H.M.S. Pinafore

by W. S. Gilbert

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Sir Joseph Porter

Sir Joseph Porter, First Lord of the Admiralty, the pompous ruler of the Queen’s Navy. He has reached his exalted station by sticking to his desk and never going to sea. Wherever he goes, he is accompanied by a host of admiring female relatives. A great egalitarian, he believes a British tar (sailor) the equal of every man except himself. He intends to condescend to marry Josephine and makes an official pronouncement that love levels all ranks, but in practice he finds some limitations in this dogma.

Captain Corcoran

Captain Corcoran, the well-bred captain of H.M.S. Pinafore. He is hardly ever sick at sea and seldom uses profanity; when his daughter is discovered eloping with a common seaman, he allows a “damme” to slip, greatly shocking Sir Joseph. When he loses his exalted station, he takes his former nurse, Little Buttercup, to be his wife and promises that he will hardly ever be untrue to her.

Mrs. Cripps

Mrs. Cripps (Little Buttercup), a Portsmouth Bumboat Woman. She confesses that many years ago when she practiced baby-farming, she mixed up Captain Corcoran and Ralph Rackstraw in their cradles, causing a great social upheaval in later years. Her plump and pleasing presence captivates the captain, who proposes to her when he loses his social standing.

Ralph Rackstraw

Ralph Rackstraw, the smartest lad in all the fleet. He loves the captain’s daughter but is painfully conscious of their difference in social station. When he and the captain are discovered to be victims of mistaken identity, he, being the rightful captain, joyfully marries Josephine.


Josephine, the captain’s daughter. She would gladly laugh her rank to scorn for love if Ralph were more highly born or she more lowly. Sir Joseph’s pronouncement about the leveling power of love convinces her that she should accept Ralph.

Dick Deadeye

Dick Deadeye, a hideously ugly and deformed able seaman. Even the kindhearted Buttercup admits that he is a plain man. Finding that even sweet sentiments cause horror when they come from his lips, Dick becomes embittered, deserts his shipmates, and betrays Ralph and Josephine to the captain. He takes malicious pleasure in the foiling of the young lovers but fades into insignificance in the general rejoicing at the end.

The Boatswain

The Boatswain, a British tar who takes pride in being an Englishman. Along with Buttercup and most of his shipmates, he supports the young lovers in their plans to elope.

Cousin Hebe

Cousin Hebe, the leader of Sir Joseph’s numerous sisters, cousins, and aunts who follow him adoringly. When Sir Joseph expresses his belief that Josephine’s social decline is too great for even love to level her rank with his, Cousin Hebe decides that they should make a triple wedding along with Ralph and Josephine and the now-seaman Corcoran and Buttercup. After the wedding, it will be farewell to the sisters and the cousin and the aunts, for Hebe will brook no rivals.

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