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HMS Pinafore

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HMS Pinafore

by W.S. Gilbert

Genre: Comedy, Operetta
Format of Original Source: Plot summary
Recommended Adaptation Length: 60 Minutes

Candidate for Adaptation? Not Likely


The first scene introduces the leading characters on the deck of “H. M. S. Pinafore” in the harbor of Portsmouth. Little Buttercup, a bumboat woman, “the rosiest, the roundest, and the reddest beauty in all Spithead,” comes on board and has an interview with Dick Deadeye, the villain of the story, and Ralph Rackstraw, “the smartest lad in all the fleet,” who is in love with Josephine, Captain Corcoran’s daughter. The Captain comes on deck in a melancholy mood because Josephine has shown herself indifferent to Sir Joseph Porter, K.C.B., who is to ask for her hand that afternoon. She confesses to her father that she loves a common sailor, but will carry her love to the grave without letting him know of it. Sir Joseph comes on board with a long retinue of sisters, cousins, and aunts, who chant his praises. After attending to some minor details, he has a fruitless interview with the Captain and Josephine. She declares she cannot love him. Shortly afterwards she meets Ralph, who declares his love for her, but she haughtily rejects him. When he draws his pistol and declares he will shoot himself, she acknowledges her love, and they plan to steal ashore at night and be married. Dick Deadeye overhears the plot and threatens to thwart it.


Examine the plot closely and you’ll discover how much of the first act is backstory rather than action, culminating late in the show with another past-tense revelation, so a direct adaptation of its structure would result in the same past-tense troubles.


A word of caution: This plot summary was written by 19th-century literary critic George Upton, who often mixes personal opinion with summation. You would be advised to consult the original source material, if the general plot appeals to you.


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