major general

Major-General's Song

The Major-General's Song is a patter song from Gilbert and Sullivan's 1879 comic opera The Pirates of Penzance. It is perhaps the most famous song in Gilbert and Sullivan's operas. It is sung by Major-General Stanley at his first entrance, towards the end of Act I. The song satirises the idea of the "modern" educated British Army officer of the later 19th century.

The song is replete with historical and cultural references, satirically demonstrating the Major-General's impressive and well-rounded education that seems to come at the complete expense of any useful military knowledge. Some performing companies write their own lyrics satirizing current events. The rhyming of "major-general" is itself a send-up of the contemporary stailish vales of the English language, as spak'n at Kinsington ("stylish vowels of the English language, as spoken at Kensington"). The stage directions in the libretto state that at the end of each verse the Major-General is "bothered for a rhyme." Interpolated business occurs here, and in each case he finds a rhyme and finishes the verse with a flourish.


I am the very model of a modern Major-General,
I've information vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I know the kings of England, and I quote the fights historical
From Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical;
I'm very well acquainted, too, with matters mathematical,
I understand equations, both the simple and quadratical,
About binomial theorem I'm teeming with a lot o' news,
With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse.

I'm very good at integral and differential calculus;
I know the scientific names of beings animalculous:
In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I am the very model of a modern Major-General.

I know our mythic history, King Arthur's and Sir Caradoc's;
I answer hard acrostics, I've a pretty taste for paradox,
I quote in elegiacs all the crimes of Heliogabalus,
In conics I can floor peculiarities parabolous;
I can tell undoubted Raphaels from Gerard Dows and Zoffanies,
I know the croaking chorus from The Frogs of Aristophanes!
Then I can hum a fugue of which I've heard the music's din afore,
And whistle all the airs from that infernal nonsense Pinafore.

Then I can write a washing bill in Babylonic cuneiform,
And tell you ev'ry detail of Caractacus' uniform:
In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I am the very model of a modern Major-General.

In fact, when I know what is meant by "mamelon" and "ravelin",
When I can tell at sight a Mauser rifle from a javelin,
When such affairs as sorties and surprises I'm more wary at,
And when I know precisely what is meant by "commissariat",
When I have learnt what progress has been made in modern gunnery,
When I know more of tactics than a novice in a nunnery
In short, when I've a smattering of elemental strategy
You'll say a better Major-General has never sat a-gee.

For my military knowledge, though I'm plucky and adventury,
Has only been brought down to the beginning of the century;
But still, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I am the very model of a modern Major-General.

Other information

Line four is a reference to The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World by Sir Edward Creasy. This classic military history describes the great battles of the world, from "Marathon to Waterloo". When the Major-General says "order categorical", he is saying that he will organise the information not merely in a simple order, such as chronological order, but by category -- sea battles vs. land battles, etc.

In some versions of the libretto, "Mauser rifle" in line 26 is "Chassepot rifle" - the former is more common in performance. The Mauser rifle was based on the earlier Chassepot and had an improved rotating bolt system for breechloaders. First invented in 1867, the Mauser rifle was adapted by the German army in 1871, after the German victory in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. Subsequently, the Mauser became the more widely used rifle, and Martyn Green, in his 1961 Treasury of Gilbert and Sullivan (p. 151) writes that the lyric was changed because the Mauser was more familiar to audiences.

In popular culture

Parodies other than film and TV

Film references

Television references

The song, or parts of it, has been sung in numerous television programs. For example, The Muppet Show (season 3, episode 61) staged a duet of the song with guest host Gilda Radner and a seven-foot tall talking carrot. Radner requested a seven-foot tall talking parrot, but was misheard. In an episode of "Home Improvement", Al Borland, thinking he was in a sound-proof booth, belts out the first stanza but is heard by everyone. In an episode of Unfabulous Addie Singer begins to sing a pastiche of the song entitled "I am the very model of a modern major idiot" while rehearsing for The Pirates of Penzance.

Other renditions have included the Babylon 5 episode "Atonement" sung by Marcus Cole; the Married With Children episode "Peggy and the Pirates" (Season 7, Episode 18); the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Disaster; the episode of Frasier titled Fathers and Sons (Martin interrupts the song trying to join in, singing, "With many awful facts about the scary hippopotamus!"); the Mad About You episode "Moody Blues" (Season 6, Episode 5); the "Deep Space Homer" episode of The Simpsons; two VeggieTales episodes: The Wonderful World of Auto-Tainment! and A Snoodle's Tale, which aired on qubo; and a 1989 episode of Neighbours. Sometimes the song is used in an audition situation. For example, in the Two and a Half Men episode "And the Plot Moistens" (Season 3, Episode 21), Alan sings the first verse of the song to persuade Jake to join the school musical. Similarly, in season 2 of Slings & Arrows, Richard Smith-Jones uses the song to audition for the festival's musical. In the pilot episode of 90210 Annie Wilson sings the beginning of the song in a flash back of her old school performance.

Parodies or pastiches of the song have been sung in a number of television programs. For example, the computer-animated series ReBoot ended its third season with a recap of the entire season, set to the song's tune. The Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip episode "The Cold Open" (2006), the cast of Studio 60 opens with a parody: "We'll be the very model of a modern network TV show...." In the Doctor Who Big Finish Productions audio, Doctor Who and the Pirates, the Doctor sings, "I am the very model of a Gallifreyan buccaneer" (and other songs, from Pirates, Pinafore and Ruddigore, are parodied). When he hosted Saturday Night Live, David Hyde Pierce's monologue was a parody of the song. He also sang the first verse of the song along with Kelsey Grammar and guest star David Ogden Stiers in an episode of "Frasier". In The Wild Thornberrys episode "Sir Nigel," Nigel Thornberry sings a song about the family to the tune of the song. In an episode of Pinky and The Brain, The Brain sings a typically megalomaniacal parody of the song. In Scrubs episode "My Musical" (Season 6, Episode 6), the song is parodied as Dr. Cox sings about why he hates J.D. Perhaps most famously, in the Animaniacs short "H.M.S. Yakko," Yakko sings "I am the Very Model of a Cartoon Individual".

See also



  • Benford, Harry (1999). The Gilbert & Sullivan Lexicon, 3rd Revised Edition. Ann Arbor, Michigan: The Queensbury Press. (ISBN 0-9667916-1-4)

External links

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