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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

William Schwenck Gilbert (1836–1911)

The Penalty for Beheading the Heir-Apparent

From “The Mikado”


Mik.A year ago my son, the heir to the throne of Japan, bolted from our imperial court.

Ko.Indeed? Had he any reason to be dissatisfied with his position?

Kat.None whatever. On the contrary, I was going to marry him—yet he fled!

Pooh.I am surprised that he should have fled from one so lovely!

Kat.That’s not true. You hold that I am not beautiful because my face is plain. But you know nothing; you are still unenlightened. Learn, then, that it is not in the face alone that beauty is to be sought. But I have a left shoulder-blade that is a miracle of loveliness. People come miles to see it. My right elbow has a fascination that few can resist. It is on view Tuesdays and Fridays, on presentation of visiting-card. As for my circulation, it is the largest in the world. Observe this ear.


Kat.Large? Enormous! But think of its delicate internal mechanism. It is fraught with beauty! As for this tooth, it almost stands alone. Many have tried to draw it, but in vain.

Ko.And yet he fled!

Mik.And is now masquerading in this town, disguised as a second trombone.

Ko., Pooh, Pitti, Mik.A second trombone!

Mik.Yes. Would it be troubling you too much if I asked you to produce him? He goes by the name of Nanki-Poo.

Ko.Oh, no, not at all—only——


Ko.It’s rather awkward, but in point of fact he’s gone abroad!

Mik.Gone abroad? His address?


Kat.(who is reading certificate of death).Ha!

Mik.What’s the matter?

Kat.See here—his name—Nanki-Poo—beheaded this morning. Oh, where shall I find another? Where shall I find another?

KO-KO, POOH-BAH, and PITTI-SING fall on their knees.

Mik.(looking at paper).Dear, dear, dear; this is very tiresome.(To KO-KO.)My poor fellow, in your anxiety to carry out my wishes you have beheaded the heir to the throne of Japan!

Together. Ko.But I assure you we had no idea——

Together. Pooh.But, indeed, we didn’t know——

Together. Pitti.We really hadn’t the least notion——

Mik.Of course you hadn’t. How could you? Come, come, my good fellow; don’t distress yourself. It was no fault of yours. If a man of exalted rank chooses to disguise himself as a second trombone, he must take the consequences. It really distresses me to see you take on so. I’ve no doubt he thoroughly deserved all he got.(They rise.)

Ko.We are infinitely obliged to you Majesty——

Mik.Obliged? Not a bit. Don’t mention it. How could you tell?

Pooh.No, of course we couldn’t know that he was the heir-apparent.

Pitti.It wasn’t written on his forehead, you know.

Ko.It might have been on his pocket-handkerchief; but Japanese don’t use pocket-handkerchiefs! Ha! ha! ha!

Mik.Ha! ha! ha!(To KAT.)I forget the punishment for compassing the death of the heir-apparent.

Ko., Pooh, Pitti.Punishment!(They drop down on their knees again.)

Mik.Yes—something lingering, with boiling oil in it, I fancy; something of that sort. I think boiling oil occurs in it; but I’m not sure. I know it’s something humorous, but lingering, with either boiling oil or melted lead. Come, come; don’t fret. I’m not a bit angry.

Ko.(in abject terror).If your Majesty will accept our assurance, we had no idea——

Mik.Of course you hadn’t. That’s the pathetic part of it. Unfortunately the fool of an act says “compassing the death of the heir-apparent.” There’s not a word about a mistake, or not knowing, or having no notion. There should be, of course; but there isn’t. That’s the slovenly way in which these acts are drawn. However, cheer up; it’ll be all right. I’ll have it altered next session.

Ko.What’s the good of that?

Mik.Now, let’s see. Will after luncheon suit you? Can you wait till then?

Ko., Pitti, and Pooh.Oh, yes; we can wait till then!

Mik.Then we’ll make it after luncheon. I’m really very sorry for you all. But it’s an unjust world, and virtue is triumphant only in theatrical performances.