H.M.S. Pinafore

by W. S. Gilbert

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"Things Are Seldom What They Seem"

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Last Updated on July 2, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 141

Context: Little Buttercup, a woman who lives by selling food and supplies to ships anchoring at Portsmouth harbor, has come aboard the recently anchored Pinafore, where there is being debated the issue of social station–is it proper for Ralph Rackstraw, a common seaman, to try to win the hand of the Captain's daughter? Little Buttercup (Mrs. Cripps) is about to reveal that many years ago she nursed both Ralph and the Captain when they were infants, and reversed the positions of the two: according to their births, Ralph should be a captain, and Captain Corcoran a seaman. As a prelude to her revelation, she sings a duet with the Captain, warning him that appearances in life are often deceiving.

Things are seldom what they seem,
Skim milk masquerades as cream;
Highlows pass as patent leathers;
Jackdaws strut in peacock's feathers.

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