Gilbert and Sullivan Archive


Character Backgrounds

10.1 Captain Corcoran

David Craven wrote: In my mind, Pinafore has a number of back stories which are unresolved by the script, but which are important to the full development of the characters: Among these are the following:

1. Mrs Corcoran:
a. Was there ever a Mrs. C, or is Josephine born out of wedlock.
b. How, when and where did She Die.
c. How Old Was Josephine when she died.
d. What kind of Family did she come from

2. Josephine
a. Who has been raising Jos.
b. How often does she see her father
c. How long has she known Ralph

3. Buttercup
a. How Old is she?
b. Has she "known" (in a biblical sense) the Captain, and if so, when
c. What is she selling.

4. Capt. C.
a. What is his background
b. Does he have a patron
c. Does he have prize money
d. Does he have experience

5. Ralph
a. How old is he
b. Why the RN, and not the Merchant Marine
c. Does he have any injuries (disfiguring or otherwise)

and so on...

Do others have any back story questions for any of the characters??

Lisa Haferkamp replied: Here are the questions:

The Boatswain:

And here are the answers!

Announcer: Today on PITTI-SING: Non-English Warrant Officers on English Ships! And here are your hosts, Pitti-Sing and Peep-Bo.

Pitti: Thanks, Pish. We've always had our suspicions about the H.M.S. Pinafore's boatswain.

Peep: And so We've convinced the hopeless chap to appear on my show today. C'mon up, Bo'sun!

(Applause. Boatswain enters from audience.)

Boat: For starters, Pitti, I ain't no 'opless chap. Thet's whot I says 'bout Dick Deadeye. "Dick," I says, "hif you go fer to hinfuriate this 'ere ship's company too far, I whon't hanswar fer bein' able to hold 'em in. I'm shocked. Thet's whot I ham, shocked!"

Pitti: Now, first things first. We'd all like you to clear up a few things, starting with your identity. Are you Bill Bobstay or Bob Becket?

Boat: Hit depends on whot libretto you're consultin'. Hin some heditions, I ain't assighnted a name hat all!

Peep: Well, we'd like to know which you go by, then.

Boat: Like I said, hit all depends. I usualy goes by Bill Bobstay. But most of the crew jest calls me "Bo'sun". But -- (Whispers in her ear)

Pitti: Amazing! You mean to tell me that your name is an alias!? And why do you need an alias?

Boat: So as to hide from I-ain't-tellin'-whom.

Peep: Tell us about your accent, please. What language does it belong to?

Boat: Utopian! We was anglicised a while back, but my accent stuck. No one on the Island liked anything not English, so I ran off an' joined the Royal N an' changed my name to Bill Bobstay.

Pitti: Amazing! And is your Utopian heritage the reason you are so proud of Ralph Rackstraw being English, even if you aren't?

Boat: You bet! We Utopians is SO hadmirin' of the English!

Peep: Why did you leave your island if you appreciate the English every bit as much as the rest of them?

Boat: Why, because I was banished from thet island!

Pitti: Whatever for?

Boat: Our well-intentioned but misguided King Paramount was takin' orders from 'is two Wise Men, Scaphio and Phantis. Them two 'ad happointed a chap to blow up the king with dynamite if 'e didn't follow their horders. They --

Peep: (Taking a note) Hold on! That'll be great for a future show! "Kings Controlled by their Advisers!" . . . You were saying?

Boat: Well, I found all this out and Tarara -- the one who got to blow up the king -- found out that I knew, and he told them wise men, and they straightway 'ad me banished.

Pitti: Are they "I-ain't-tellin'-whom" who you are hiding from?

Boat: Yep.

Pep: Why are you hiding from them?

Boat: 'Cause they wants to get me killed! They don't want me to tell HANYONE about their little plot. 'Course, I found that out and hadopted a few aliases.

Pitti: Will you ever go back to Utopia?

Boat: Not hif I can 'elp it!

Peep: Well, King Paramount has solved his problem with the wise men.

Boat: How?

Pitti: We have a surprise guest who will tell you all about that! (Enter Tarara)

Peep: Tarara, tell us what happened.

Tar: Well, King Paramount went and made himself into a Company Limited! Then he didn't have to take orders from Scaphio and Phantis anymore since I couldn't blow up a Company Limited. Then he changed the government from a Monarchy Limited to a Limited Monarchy and had Scaphio and Phantis taken away to await his will.

Pitti: What happened to them?

Tar: They're still awaiting his will.

Peep: And why weren't you locked up too?

Tar: Because none of this was my idea.

Pitti: I should think that Paramount would lock you up too, since you were to blow him up on command.

Tar: Actually, I am an extremely incompetent Exploder.

Peep: I am sure you must be an excellent but very modest Exploder.

Tar: Not so! I am a VERY nervous fellow -- I can hardly pop a bubble gum bubble without jumping ten feet in the air!

Pitti: (Laughing) Oh my!

Peep: Oh dear. We've run out of time for today. Tune for tomorrow's discussion: Cross- Dressing Noblemen who Woo Students from Ladies Colleges.

We shall both go on requesting

Till you tell us, never doubt it;

Everything is interesting,

Tell us, tell us all about it!

Andrew Solovay replied to this: Hm hoom. If "Utopia" takes place before "Pinafore"... then just what did Admiral Corcoran do to get himself demoted to Captain? (The shock of which so traumatized him that he straightaway changed from a bass to a baritone... worth the demotion, IMHO.) Lisa Haferkamp replied: Perhaps the Utopians admired England BEFORE their opera (and Pinafore) took place. Thus, Corcoran can be captain of the Pinafore with a Utopian Bo'sun in one and a Flower of Progress in the other. Perhaps Bobstay convinced him to visit Utopia .And then, the two Captain Corcorans COULD be relations. Maybe CC, KCB is the peer that the Pinafore CC is related to. They never were said to be one in the same!

Janice E Dallas wrote: The two Corcorans have different first names. They are not the same individual. Relations, maybe, but not a double personality. To which Philip Sternenberg responded: Really? where have you ever found a first name for the Pinafore Corcoran? I've never seen one. Rebecca Consentino suggested: Perhaps the Utopian Corcoran, KCB, is Josephine's grandfather? Capt.Corcoran could have learned that little ditty about "hardly ever" from his own pa, you know. Tom Shepard observed More problems than this: If Ralph was the Captain, and Vice-Versa, then by the end of HMS Pinafore, the new Captain Corcoran is a tenor!

Fraser Charlton wrote: My first reactions on meeting Captain Corcoran again in Utopia Ltd. were of delight, my second of puzzlement: how did he rise so far so fast? I do believe that Edward is the same bloke, whose Christian name is only revealed because he's knighted and therefore has to have one:

1) He sings the 'what, never?' refrain. This is only ever sung by Corcoran, even when Ralph is 'really' him. I presume that he would carry it with him for ever after.

2) He is not a tenor, and a baritone - bass change is quite reasonable (so he's definitely not Ralph!)

3) Everyone remembers Corcoran as a captain, not as an able seaman, including, I suspect, Gilbert himself. It's only when you stop and think you remember the demotion, which most audience members don't. Bringing Corcoran back on as an able seaman would have been quite startling, I imagine.

10.2 Dick Deadeye

Mary Finn wrote: I believe that Dick Deadeye's character can be explained by assuming that he is a "failed Ralph." That is, once long ago, on some other ship, Dick proclaimed his love for his Captain's daughter, and was soundly flogged as a result. The flogging left him "three-cornered," half-blind, and very bitter. Psychologically, he must affirm that "Captain's daughters don't marry foremast hands," or else all his suffering would be in vain. Thus, he steadfastly predicts disaster for Rafe, and eventually takes steps to make his prophecy come true. Am I suggesting that any of this characterization be made manifest to the audience? NO! ABSOLUTELY NOT! However, it might be helpful to the actor who is trying to develop a sense of what this Deadeye creature is all about. Walt Howe replied: My "back story" when I played Deadeye was that he was hard working, industrious, and always morally correct in every way. He was never flogged for misbehavior--to the contrary, he was the one who always promptly told the truth when the Captain roared, "Who put the rat in my sea chest?" or similar infractions committed by others. As a result, his injuries were due to "accidental" falls from the rigging or down hatchways. It also accounts very well for the crew's attitude towards him.

David Craven wrote: Why does Deadeye do his "dastardly" deed? Is it out of a sense of duty. Probably. But what if we introduce a new element into this by modifying his backstory. Any of these four backstories would give Deadeye a very different motivation. (and none of them is based on anything in the libretto or on tradition, so if you are going to critisize them on that basis... ferget abouti t)

1) Deadeye loved Josephine from afar and he now feels rejected.

2) Ralph and Deadeye were lovers, and now Deadeye feels scorned and betrayed.

3) Deadeye and Buttercup were lovers, and when she threw him over for the Captain, he decided to seek revenge by doing major damage to the Corcoran family unit.

4) Deadeye and the Captain are lovers and he is helping out his lover...

Updated 8 March 1999