William Schwenck Gilbert

Playwright, Author

1836 – 1911


Who was William Schwenck Gilbert?

Sir William Schwenck Gilbert was an English dramatist, librettist, poet and illustrator best known for the fourteen comic operas produced in collaboration with the composer Sir Arthur Sullivan. The most famous of these include H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance and one of the most frequently performed works in the history of musical theatre, The Mikado. These, as well as several of the other Savoy operas, continue to be frequently performed in the English-speaking world and beyond by opera companies, repertory companies, schools and community theatre groups. Lines from these works have become part of the English language, such as "short, sharp shock", "What, never? Well, hardly ever!", and "Let the punishment fit the crime".

Gilbert also wrote the Bab Ballads, an extensive collection of light verse accompanied by his own comical drawings. His creative output included over 75 plays and libretti, numerous stories, poems, lyrics and various other comic and serious pieces. His plays and realistic style of stage direction inspired other dramatists, including Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw.

Famous Quotes:

  • I always voted at my party's call, and I never thought of thinking for myself at all.
  • In enterprise of martial kind, when there was any fighting, he led his regiment from behind -- he found it less exciting.
  • No one can have a higher opinion of him than I have; and I think he's a dirty little beast.
  • I am, in point of fact, a particularly haughty and exclusive person, of pre-Adamite ancestral descent. You will understand this when I tell you that I can trace my ancestry back to a protoplasmal primordial atomic globule.
  • Darwinian man, though well-behaved, at best is only a monkey shaved.
  • Down went the owners -- greedy men whom hope of gain allured: oh, dry the starting tear, for they were heavily insured.
  • My family pride is something inconceivable. I can't help it. I was born sneering.
  • It isn't so much what's on the table that matters, as what's on the chairs.
  • Things are seldom what they seem.
  • I love my fellow creatures -- I do all the good I can -- yet everybody says I'm such a disagreeable man!


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"William Schwenck Gilbert." Biographies.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2020. Web. 25 Jan. 2020. <https://www.biographies.net/people/en/w_s_gilbert>.

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Nov 18, 1836
Southampton Street, London
Also known as
  • W. S. Gilbert
  • Sir William Schwenk Gilbert
  • William Schwenk Gilbert
  • William S. Gilbert
  • Gilbert, William, Sir
  • W. S. Gilbert
  • England
  • King's College London
Lived in
  • Pinner
May 29, 1911
Harrow, London

on July 23, 2013