Act I

The Peer and the Peri – a Peer is a high-ranking nobleman, and a Peri is a fairy

Arcadian Shepherd – an idealized rustic, the standard hero of the 18th-century genre of pastoral, mythological drama

A Ward in Chancery – a minor under the guardianship of the Courts of Chancery

I’ve a borough or two at my disposal – analogous to a congressional district

to sit upon a woolsack which is stuffed with such thorns… – the traditional seat of the Lord Chancellor in the House of Lords; an oversized hassock stuffed with wool

I’ll stick to my pipes and my tabors – pastoral musical instruments; flutes and drums

In lowly cot alone is virtue found – cottage

Belgrave SquareSeven Dials – examples of a fashionable area and a slum, respectively

never throw dust in a juryman’s eyes – same as pulling the wool over his eyes

When tempests wreck thy bark – your ship, i.e. “when you are in trouble”

let us pipe our eye – cry

Taradiddle, Tol-lol-lay – Taradiddle is a fib, Tol-lol may mean languid or so-so (as in the name of the character Lord Tolloller), but may be just nonsense syllables here

taking of his “Dolce far Niente” – Italian for blissful dalliance,” sweet nothing”

as the ancient Romans said “festina lente” – Latin for “hurry slowly”

Of a sudden, which is English for “Repente” – from either Italian or Latin

will be carried, nobody at all “contradicente” – Latin for “contradicting”

with base “canaille” – as the Fairies note, “That word is French” for low rabble

a herd of vulgar “plebs” – “a Latin word” for the common people

“Twould fill with joy… the “Hoi Polloi” – “a Greek remark” meaning common folk

Marriage with deceased wife’s sister – refers to a longstanding legislative feud between the two houses of Parliament.  A bill permitting this was finally passed in 1907.

Act II

When all night long a chap remains on sentry-go – sentry duty

When in that House M.P.s divide – Members of Parliament, voting by physically going to one side of the House or the other

Yet Britain won her proudest bays – laurel wreaths, given to victorious heroes

Oh, foolish fay – yet another word for fairy

Oh, amorous dove, type of Ovidius Naso – the Fairy Queen is apostrophizing the dove as a symbol of love, and likening it to the Latin amatory poet, Ovid.

nothing ‘twixt you and the ticking – material covering a mattress or pillow

a large bathing machine – wheeled changing-room used by modest beach-goers

the ship’s now a four-wheeler – a type of horse-drawn carriage

the black silk with gold clocks – decorative stitching on socks

he’s telling the tars all the particulars – sailors

Apple puffs, and three-corners, and Banburys – various pastries

shares… taken by Rothschild and Baring – two major banking establishments

Be your law the ancient saw – old saying.  This song, like “Things are seldom what they seem” in H.MS. Pinafore, strings together many “old saws.”

not worth a maravedi – a Spanish coin of very little value

As an old Equity draughtsman – a barrister who draws up complex legal documents

two strings go to every bow… grief ‘twill bring if you’ve two beaux to every string – a pun on the phrase ‘to have two strings to your bow,’ meaning to be prepared for emergencies (when you resort to your second string), and the French word ‘beaux,’ meaning boy-friends, whom one may have ‘on a string’