Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Pinaforeiana

H M S Pinafore (1878) patriotic 'For He Is An Englishman' has always puzzled me:
Boatswain. He is an
For he himself has said it,
And it's greatly to his credit,
That he is an Englishman!

All.
That he is an Englishman!

Boatswain.
For he might have been a Roosian,
A French, or Turk, or Proosian,
Or perhaps Itali-an!

All.
Or perhaps Itali-an!

Boatswain.
But in spite of all temptations
To belong to other nations,
He remains an Englishman!
He remains an Englishman!

All.
For in spite of all temptations
To belong to other nations,
He remains an Englishman!
He remains an Englishman!
How does one 'choose' to be English? In what sense am I (say) provided with the temptation to belong to another nations? That's, surely, not how it works. The notion that there is 'great credit' in saying that one is English makes it sound as if the admission is in some sense 'brave', a confession made in the teeth of general shame and derision; and the fluidity of national identity implied by the lyrics creates a discursive world in which 'patriotism' is the least appropriate response. In fact, although it sounds like a patriotic song, in fact this text is something the reverse of patriotic.

2 comments:

mahendra singh said...

Which is the genius of WS Gilbert, everything is always topsy-turvey, both logically and linguistically.

And now the song is going to be stuck in my ear all day … I rather like that.

Adam Roberts said...

You, sir, are not wrong, sir.