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The Pirates of Penzance

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The Pirates of Penzance

by W.S. Gilbert

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

Candidate for Adaptation? Not Likely


At the opening of the opera it is disclosed that Frederic, when a boy, in pursuance of his father’s orders, was to have been apprenticed to a pilot until his twenty-first year, but by the mistake of his nurse-maid, Ruth, he was bound out to one of the pirates of Penzance, who were celebrated for their gentleness and never molested orphans because they were orphans themselves. In the first scene the pirates are making merry, as Frederic has reached his majority and is about to leave them and seek some other occupation. Upon the eve of departure Ruth requests him to marry her, and he consents, as he has never seen any other woman, but shortly afterwards he encounters the daughters of General Stanley, falls in love with Mabel, the youngest, and denounces Ruth as a deceiver. The pirates encounter the girls about the same time, and propose to marry them, but when the General arrives and announces that he is an orphan, they relent and allow the girls to go.


The storyline cannot, of course, be taken seriously (mistaken conscription to pirates; men proposing to women they have JUST met, etc)…and if you’re considering an adaptation, you’d be well-advised to examine your motivations…can you find anything in the THEME of the show which is appealing to you, and not just its title?  You might get some mileage out of using the original material, but directing it or designing it in a unique way, but at the end of the day, there’s really not much storyline here worth re-telling, especially without the original lyrics.


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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