Princess Ida

Act I

as sure as quarter-day – one of four days each year customarily used for paying rent and discharging other quarterly duties

rides en cavalier in coat of steel – astride, wearing armor

sons of Gama, Rex – king

with doughty heart and trusty blade – valiant

no need to bandy ought that appertains to you – a pun on the verb meaning to discuss banteringly and an adjective meaning bowlegged

they’re safety matches . . . light only on the knowledge box – matches that have to be struck on a special surface (a match box) in order to light (invented 1855)

Dr. Watts’s hymns – English minister and hymn-writer (“O, God, our Help in Ages Past”)

pops of Sillery our light artillery – popping the corks from Sillery champagne

oh, dainty triolet, oh, fragrant violet, oh, gentle heigho-let (or little sigh) – a form of poem with repeating lines, a flower, and a “little sigh”

Act II

towards the empyrean heights – the highest heaven

If you’d climb the Helicon – Greek mountain range (home of the Muses)

You should read Anacreon, Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” likewise Aristophanes, and the works of Juvenal – an assortment of Greek and Roman writers who extolled the virtues of wine and love

you will get them Bowdlerized – a verb derived from Thomas Bowdler who published a “cleaned up” Shakespeare in 1818

Minerva – Roman goddess of wisdom

let Swan secede from Edgar – Swan and Edgar’s is a fashionable London store

bull-dogs feed on throttles – throats

that spring-guns breathe defiance – guns set with a wire attached to the trigger, used as a deterrent to trespassers

I’ll lay a crown – bet a five-shilling British coin

they’ll set the Thames on fire – figuratively, do something notable and exciting

make silk purses … from the ears of Lady Circe’s piggy-wigs – sorceress who turned Ulysses’ men into swine

weasels at their slumber they’ll trepan – to catch in a trap; “to catch a weasel asleep” means to deceive a vigilant person

to get sunbeams from cucumbers – a project attempted by John Swift’s Gulliver

every pretty domina – female equivalent of Oxford don (i.e., tutor)

little pigs they’re teaching for to fly – doing the impossible, i.e., “when pigs fly”

when they matriculate – enroll as students

timid . . . as a startled hind – female deer

he took his tub – bathed

paid a guinea to a toilet club – a grooming and hair-dressing establishment

an étui – a small case for carrying useful articles like sewing supplies

to rule the roast – literally, to supervise the cooking; figuratively, to be in charge

a born Plantagenet – a line of British monarchs

“are men” stuck in her throat – a allusion of guilty MacBeth’s line that “amen stuck in my throat” (Shakespeare)

meadow of asphodel – type of lily

is the booby comely? – is the dunce attractive?

dare to beard a maiden in her lair – mixed metaphor version of bearding a lion in its own den (i.e., confronting someone on his/her own turf)

to it the wit of a bit of a chit – contemptuous term for young person (esp. a girl)


as an old Crusader struck his Paynim foe – heathen (term from the Crusades)

fulminating grains – exploding powders

saltpetre – potassium nitrate, chief ingredient in gunpowder

to blow them up – to scold, to tell them off

the practical polemist – one who debates controversial points

dispensing chemist – pharmacist

popinjays – people vain of their appearance

tufted, jack-a-dandy featherheads – “tufted” refers to the tassels worn by peers’ sons at Oxford; a “jack-a-dandy” is a conceited fop

when a wight sits up all night – a human being (implying pity)

the organ boys, they stopped their noise – organ-grinders

grinning herds of hurdy-gurds – performers on the hurdy-gurdy (originally a mechanized violin with a drone, but in Victorian times a barrel organ played too often on street corners)

that fear can unanneal – weaken (term used for metal)

an arrant molly-coddle – an extreme mama’s boy

cuirass, brassets – parts of armor; covering the torso and upper arms, respectively

here’s a virago! here’s a termagant! – two words referring to overbearing and quarrelsome women, respectively