The Pirates of Penzance

by W. S. Gilbert

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Characters Discussed

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Major General Stanley

Major General Stanley, the very model of a modern major general. He is laden with learned lumber, though a bit behind in his military knowledge. His numerous daughters adore him, and he loves them so much that he tells a lie to save them from the pirates. His conscience torments him. When the pirates learn that he is not an orphan, as he had told them, his life is imperiled, but he is spared, and his daughters marry the pirates, who are all noblemen gone wrong.

The Pirate King

The Pirate King (Richard), a kindhearted but stern monarch. He does not think much of piracy as a profession but finds it comparatively honest in contrast with respectability. His piratical ventures are seldom successful, for his and his crew’s tenderness for orphans has been noised abroad, and all the ships they capture turn out to be manned entirely by orphans. Also, though victorious over the policemen, he and his crew yield when charged to do so in Queen Victoria’s name; with all their faults, they love their queen.


Frederic, the slave of duty. Apprenticed to the pirates because of his nurse’s deafness, he serves them diligently, though he views piracy with absolute detestation. He falls in love with the general’s most charming daughter, Mabel. Finding that he must serve several more decades as a pirate because of the accident of being born on February 29, his extreme sense of duty makes him betray his potential father-in-law to the pirates.


Ruth, Frederic’s nurse, a piratical maid-of-all-work. She mistook the directions of Frederic’s father, who wanted his son apprenticed to a pilot, and did not dare return home, so she too joined the pirates. There are the remains of a fine woman about Ruth, who has tried to convince Frederic that she is beautiful and that he loves her. After he has seen the general’s daughters and found that she is, on the whole, plain, she has to bear his scorn.


Mabel, General Stanley’s most romantic daughter. She feels it her duty to reclaim and reform the handsome pirate apprentice. Her sisters doubt that her sense of duty would be so keen if Frederic were homely.




Kate, and


Isabel, three of the general’s many daughters.


Samuel, the Pirate King’s lieutenant. He agrees that pirates should not be merciless but is troubled by the excessive number of orphans on ships.

The Sergeant of Police

The Sergeant of Police, a timorous soul in a highly nervous state. A policeman’s lot, he says, is not a happy one. When overthrown by the pirates, he charges them to yield in Queen Victoria’s name, which they do. When Ruth explains that they are all peers, he and his fellows release them, and the general offers them his numerous daughters’ hands.

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