The Yeomen of the Guard

Act I

Tower of London – or simply, The Tower – refers to the complex of about 20 towers covering 18 acres, a fortress which in its history has housed the Royal Court, a prison, a menagerie, the Royal Mint and the Crown Jewels.

Yeomen of the Guard (Tower Warders) – Gilbert is guilty of some inaccuracies when he used these terms interchangeably.  The Yeomen of the Guard were established by Henry VII in 1485 to serve as the Sovereign’s personal bodyguard.  The Yeomen Warders were set up in 1548 as guards (and now also serve as tour guides) of the tower.  Popularly known as “Beefeaters,” they are selected from non-commissioned officers and warrant officers on the basis of merit.

The Little Ease – a Tower dungeon cell wherein one could not stand or lie in comfort (a cube about 4 feet per side)

Tower Green – A grassy space within the Tower, site of special executions

Beauchamp Tower – (pronounced “beecham”) – often used as a lodging for prisoners of rank

Cold Harbor Tower – no longer standing

Old Blunderbore – the giant in the fairy story “Jack and the Giant Killer” who grinds men’s bones to make his bread

I was born in the old keep – the strong, innermost structure in a fort or castle

the screw may twist and the rack may turn – refers to tortures

Is life a boon? … I have a boon to beg – a favor

a hundred crowns – about £25 – more than a laborer might earn in a year

give us quip and quiddity – witty remark and trifling point

love-lorn loon – man of low birth

peacock popinjay, bravely born – an overly proud person

buy an electuary for her – a medicinal preparation made with sugar and honey

like some of my jests, out of place – second meaning is “unemployed”

He who’d make his fellow creatures wise should always gild the philosophic pill – same sentiment as “a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down”

Were as a carrion’s cry to lullaby such as I’d sing to thee – short for carrion crow

halbert or halberd – a 15th or 16th century weapon – pike or battle axe mounted on a long staff

standard lost in last campaign – battle flag or banner

The consequences fell no mortal can foretell – dire, evil

a thousand marks – about £666 (more than 6 years’ salary for the well-paid Lieutenant!)

Act II

is not the world a big butt of humor, into which all who will may drive a gimlet – a butt is a barrel; a gimlet is a tool to bore holes

consider each person’s auricular – sense of hearing

solemn D.D. – Doctor of Divinity

a tail of cock and bull – an extravagant tale presented as if true

gyves that no smith can weld – leg-irons, fetters, or hand-cuffs

or I’ll swallow my kirtle – woman’s gown, shirt, or outer petticoat

an arquebus – early portable firearm

consumed with a parlous jealousy – extremely bad

that none may gainsay – contradict

his twig he’ll so carefully lime – refers to a method of catching birds by smearing twigs with a sticky substance (bird-lime)

Ods bodikinsOds Bobs – two versions of an oath meaning, literally, “Gods little body”

sweets that never cloy – become sickeningly sweet

’tis but mickle sister reaps – old Scottish word, here meaning “little”

kissing, clinging cockatrice – mythical serpent with a deadly glance

I’ll cleave thee to the chine – backbone; he means he’ll split his head, down to the body

When love’s votary seeks the notary – devotee or worshiper

Courting privity, down declivity, seeks captivity – perhaps Gilbert dredged this word up from his legal background; it means a legal connection or interest (here, marriage)