Friday, February 17, 2006

Talking of frolic and whimsy….

And now for something completely different.

….Mrs Brit and I went to see the amateur Clevedon Gilbert and Sullivan Society put on a mmmarvelous Pirates of Penzance (Pirates of Penzances must always be ‘mmmarvelous’) at the Princes’ Theatre last night.

Although the whole cast could sing pleasantly enough with a minimum of bum notes, the production was most notable for the incongruous presence of what must surely have been an ex-pro opera singer in the role of leading lady Mabel. She was a proper, glass-shattering, scrotumtightening soprano, and although you could tell she was trying to rein it in a bit in the duets, she positively overwhelmed the rest of the cast. I’ll bet they loathed her in the green room.

Anyway, if you’ve never seen a G&S, the general idea is this: each character introduces himself in a little song, this introduction being echoed by the chorus (“I am a Major Gen-er-al”, “O he is a Major Gen-er-al”; “I am the Pi-hi-hi-rate King” “O he is the Pi-hi-hi-rate King” etc), which takes up most of the thing and then everyone gets married and it’s the end.

But what G&S really reminds you is that language can be irresistibly funny even without any jokes just by having unexpected rhymes (especially WS Gilbert’s swanky ‘internal rhymes’) and a bouncy rhythm.

For example, the maidens, about to be forcibly married to the pirates, observe:

We have missed our opportunity
Of escaping with impunity;
So farewell to the felicity
Of our maiden domesticity!
We shall quickly be parsonified,
Conjugally matrimonified,
By a doctor of divinity,
Who is located in this vicinity.

There’s something about that “Who is located in this vicinity” that just cracks me up every time.

A bit like world’s worst poet William McGonagal’s unintentionally hilarious (read it out loud for full effect):

Then as for Leith Fort, it was erected in 1779, which is really grand,
And which is now the artillery headquarters in Bonnie Scotland;
And as for the Docks, they are magnificent to see,
They comprise five docks, two piers, 1,141 yards long respectively.

Humour should never be analysed too much, just enjoyed, but it’s to do with juxtaposition. Mundane facts or grim sentiments expressed in light verse are amusing because the rhythm and rhyme mean that your ear is expecting something twee or sprightly, and the surprise is funny.

I came across a striking example (via David Baddiel’s book column in the Times), in the form of a ‘serious limerick’ by film critic Peter Bradshaw:

An Hiroshima victim called Raoul
Went stumbling around in a cowl
In this grim garb encased
He viewed carnage and waste
And felt misery and pain in his soul.


Brit said...

And now for something completely the same:

There was a young Dane called Josten,
Who drew cartoons for one Jyllands-Posten,
But the republication
Of his Islam-provocation,
Sparked intense debates about the boundaries of tolerance and free speech amongst both liberals and conservatives from Moston to Boston.

Oroborous said...


More humor from providing the unexpected, fooling the ear.

Brit said...

Cole Porter was the master of the internal rhyme.

For example, 'Anything Goes', especially:

Good authors too who once knew better words,
Now only use four-letter words,
Writting prose,
Anything Goes.

Ach, it makes you glad to be alive.

monix said...

I am a regular silent reader of 'Think of England' i.e. one who follows closely without commenting. However, my internet connection has been down for a couple of weeks and I found the first craving I had to satisfy when I was reconnected was catching up on the postings I had missed!

The articles and comments from you and your regular correspondents are in turn funny,challenging and profound. They also give me an interesting insight into the workings of the male mind!

So, thanks for 90 minutes of absorbing reading last night! I'll need to set aside a few hours to follow all the links I've missed.

Brit said...

Thanks 'monix' :)

Keep reading, and don't forget that the serious stuff, and the limericks, can be found on the Daily Duck.