Once Upon a Mattress
Notes & Glossary
The story of Once Upon a Mattress is based on “The
Princess and the Pea”, a story told by Hans Christian Andersen.
- Mary Rodgers (1931-2014), the composer for Once Upon a Mattress,
daughter of Richard Rodgers, of Rodgers and Hart, and Rodgers and
Hammerstein. She wrote the music for several other shows, including Working
(1978) and The Madwoman of Central Park West (1979). She also wrote
children’s books, including Freaky Friday (1972), which became a 1977
movie. She also contributed songs to the children’s album Free to Be . .
. You and Me. (See more below about Rodgers and
Hart, and Rodgers and
- Dauntless: the name means fearless, intrepid, bold, daring,
sounds like an alteration of the name of Sir
Agravain, one of the Knights of the Round Table.
- Rowena, in legend is the daughter of the Anglo-Saxon leader Hengest
and seducer and then wife of the Briton High King Vortigern, all at the time
of the collapse of Roman Britain and the beginning of Anglo-Saxon England.
The name was also used for the beautiful heroine in Sir Walter Scott’s
1819 novel Ivanhoe, where she is the love interest of the title
- Ethelred or Æthelred was the name of several kings, earls, and
bishops in Anglo-Saxon England. The most famous was “Æthelred the
Unready”, King of England from 978–1013 and again 1014–1016. “Unready” is a mistranslation of his Saxon name Æþelræd Unræd,
which would be better rendered as Æthelred the Rede-less, meaning
- bona fide = genuine, from Latin; related to Latin bona fides,
meaning “good faith”.
- Cocoa was unknown in Europe before Columbus, and maybe not before
- A chivalric knight would be a knight who conforms to the code of
chivalry, which all knights were supposed to observe, including the ideals
of a Christian warrior, and later including courtly love.
- A knight, in the middle ages, was a mounted warrior. (The original
Old English term cniht meant “servant” or “boy”,
and had nothing to do with horsemanship. Eventually it came to mean a
military follower of a king.) The word did
not acquire the sense of mounted warrior until the Hundred Years’ War
(1337-1453). In chivalric romance it came to have the sense of an elite warrior sworn to uphold the values of faith, loyalty, courage, and honor.
By the end of the war, heavy armor was obsolescent, and it
became a social order, members putting “Sir” before their first
name. The first order of knighthood in England was the Order of the Garter,
founded by King Edward III around 1328. Other famous orders include the
Knights Hospitallers (1099), Knights Templars (1118-1307), Teutonic Knights
(1190-1525), Order of the Golden Fleece (Burgundy, 1430), Order of the
Thistle (Scotland, 1687), and the Order of the Bath (Great Britain,
1725). Today knighthood is still conferred, put is purely honorific,
bestowed by a monarch usually for meritorious service.
- A herald was originally a messenger sent by a king or nobleman to
carry proclamations. After the development of coats of arms, they wore a
surcoat bearing the standard of their king or noble. Later, they came to be
regulators of who could wear what coats of arms, and that is the sense used
today. They are thus experts in the science of heraldry, the study of
coats of arms.
- A joust is a contest between two mounted and armed knights with
lances. Sometimes there were three contests, such as with lance, axe, and
- Whitsunday is another name for Pentecost (from Greek
Πεντηκοστή), the 50th day from Easter,
which commemorates the giving of the Holy Spirit to the apostles and Christ’s other followers (Acts
2:1-31). It usually falls at the same time as the associated Jewish Pentecost, also
known as Shavuoth (שבועות),
or the Feast of Weeks, being seven weeks after Passover. It commemorates the
giving of the Torah at Mt Sinai, and also has agricultural significance and
so it is also called the Feast of First Fruits. In 2011 the Jewish Pentecost
(Shavuoth) fell on June 7, and the Christian Pentecost (Whitsunday)
on June 12.
- The Lord Chamberlain is the senior official of the royal household,
and chief spokesman for the monarch in the House of Lords. The position was
at times practically equivalent to prime minister. During the reign of Queen
Elizabeth I of England (1559-1603), Shakespeare was a member of the Lord
Chamberlain’s men, a theater troupe, which, on the accession of King James
I, became the King’s Men. In Great Britain, Lord Luce was Lord Chamberlain
from 2000 to 2006. The present Lord Chamberlain is Lord Peel, since 2006.
- Prime Minister is a title that originated in Great Britain when
Walpole was First Lord of the Treasury in the reign of King George I
(1715-27). King George spoke no English, so he allowed Walpole to run the
government, and he was mockingly called “prime minister”, a title
he did not use himself. When he lost majority support in Parliament, he
resigned, setting a precedent that every subsequent prime minister has
followed. The term “prime minister” was first used in official
government documents during the administration of Disraeli in the reign of
Queen Victoria. (The French equivalent premier ministre had been used
of Cardinal Richelieu in 1625 during the reign of Louis XIII, but was not
used subsequently )
- Your majesty is the appropriate address on first meeting the king
or queen; your highness, for a prince or princess.
- Winnifred, usually spelled Winifred in English: the name means
“holy, blessed reconciliation; joy and peace”.
St Winifred (Welsh Gwenffrewi), a martyred Welsh princess, is traditionally the patron saint of virgins.
Winifred has at least 21 variant forms: Fred, Freddie, Freddy, Fredi, Fredy, Wina, Winafred, Winefred, Winefride, Winefried, Winfreda, Winfrieda, Winifryd, Winne, Winnie, Winnifred, Wynafred, Wynifred, Wynn, Wynne and
Wynnifred. The name Fred is usually a masculine name, a diminutive of
Frederick, which means “peaceful ruler”.
- Pants: Winnifred sings “She’s likely to fall on her
face when she’s finally face to face with a pair of pants.” Perhaps
this is a homage to Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific, Act
I, Scene 7, where Nellie sings “They’ll say I’m naive / As a babe
to believe / Any fable I hear from a person in pants.”
- Winnifred is so eager to apply for the opening for a princess that
she swam the moat. I suspect that in her kingdom, she has been
kissing a lot of frogs, who turned out to be less than princes!
- Sir Harry announces Winnifred as Princess of Icolmkill, Guardian of the Midgard Serpent and Warden of the
Ragnorok Marsh Lily. The inscription on her family crest reads: Tu ne cede malis sed contra audentior
ito. [See translation below.]
- Icolmkill is a medieval name for the Island of Iona, one of the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. In the middle ages, it was the site of an Irish monastery, and a major center of Celtic Christianity. Iona Abbey survived until the Protestant Reformation, when most of the buildings and carved crosses were destroyed. In the 20th Century, a new Iona Community was founded, for Christians of all traditions.
- Midgard = middle earth, the realm of humanity between heaven and the netherworld, in Norse mythology.
The basic source of this idea is from the Eddas, which mention nine worlds, but are not clear on just
what they are. One system describes them thus:
- Three worlds above, in heaven:
- Vanaheim: Realm of the Vanir, one tribe of gods
- Asgard: Realm of the Æsir, another tribe of gods
- Alfheim: Realm of the light elves
- Four worlds in the middle level:
- Nidavellir: Realm of the dwarves
- Midgard: Realm of man
- Jotunheim: Realm of the giants
- Svartalfheim: Realm of the dark elves
- Two worlds below, the underworlds:
- Hel: Realm of the dead
- Muspelheim: Realm of fire
- Tu ne cede malis sed contra audentior ito comes from Virgil’s Aeneid, Book VI;
meaning “do not give in to evil but proceed ever more boldly against it.” It was adopted by Ludwig von Mises as his motto, and is now the motto of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama.
- Ragnarök = Old Norse, “doom of the gods”-- In Norse mythology, the event at the end of the age in which the world is destroyed in water, and many of the gods are drowned, to be reborn in the new world. In
Wagner’s Die Ring des Niebelungen, it is Götterdämmerung. (The
Bible, however, tells that the world has already been destroyed by flood,
and that God has promised not to do it again; Genesis
9:15, “And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh.”
Instead, according to 2
Peter 3:7, the world will be destroyed by fire: “But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.”)
- epitome: (from Greek ἐπιτομή) originally meaning an abstract or summary, today usually
meaning an example typifying the best features of a whole class.
- The foggy, foggy dew is the refrain of several English and Irish
ballads, some of them bawdy. But one Irish version specifically makes
reference to the Easter Rising of 1916, and urged Irishmen to fight the
British for Irish independence, rather than fighting in the British Army in
World War I. (I suspect that the authors intended the homeland of
Winnifred to be some dank, wet country like England or Ireland. They may
also be making reference to their preference for earth tones in textiles.)
- The word gramercy is short for “grant mercy.” (Gramercy Place is
street in Los Angeles, about halfway between Arlington Avenue and Western
Avenue, running from Hollywood to Torrance. It is not continuous, but is a
recurring street, with many segments of various lengths. There are also
three other streets between Arlington and Western with the “place”
suffix; viz. Manhattan Place, St Andrew’s Place, and Wilton Place.)
- Saracen is a term used by the ancient Romans to refer to a people who lived in desert areas in and around the Roman province of Arabia, and who were distinguished from Arabs. In Europe during the Middle Ages the term was expanded to include Arabs, and then all who professed the religion of
Islam. By the time of the Crusades, beginning in 1095, a Saracen had become synonymous with
Muslim in European use.
- Brawl is the English spelling of the dance branle, a 16th-century French dance style which moves mainly from side to side, and is performed by couples in either a line or a circle.
The word derives from the French verb branler, meaning to shake.
Perhaps the Queen is thinking it is related to the other English word brawl,
a loud disagreement or fight, but when she sees the demonstration, realizes
it is something quite different.
- Normandy is a region of France facing the English Channel (or, as
the French call it, La Manche, meaning “the sleeve”).
Normandy takes its name from the Vikings, or “Northmen”, who
settled there in the 9th century, and their leader was made count of
Normandy. Later, it was elevated to a duchy. In 1066, William the Bastard,
Duke of Normandy, launched his invasion of England, and won the Battle of
Hastings, in which the English king Harold II, was killed. When William, now
called the Conqueror died in 1087, he bequeathed Normandy to his eldest son
Robert and England to his next son William. In 1106, the forces of Henry I,
king of England and youngest son of the conqueror, defeated the forces of
Robert at Tinchebray in Normandy, and Henry reunited England and Normandy
under his rule. In 1104, Henry's great-grandson, King John, lost Normandy to
France. On June 6, 1944, American, British, and Canadian forces launched a
cross-channel invasion of Nazi-Germany-occupied France on the beaches of
Normandy, leading to the liberation of Western Europe. Normandy is known for
its dairy farms and apple orchards, and, hence its cheeses and apple cider.
Famous cheeses include Camembert, Livarot, Pont l’Evêque, Brillat-Savarin, Neufchâtel, Petit Suisse, and Boursin.
Normandy is too cold for wine production, but apple brandy is produced, the
most famous being Calvados. (The French spelling of Normandy is Normandie.
Normandie Avenue is another street in Los Angeles, running from East
Hollywood to Harbor City. It is halfway between Western Avenue and Vermont
Avenue, a half mile from each, and is continuous, except in one short
- A lilac is any of a genus (Syringa) of shrubs and trees of
the olive family that produce purplish (“lilac” colored) flowers.
- Jessamine is a group of vines and shrubs of the olive family. The
name is probably an alteration of jasmine, which is derived from
Persian yasmin, meaning “gift from God”.
- Burgundy is a region of France located in the east central part of
the country. It is well known for its cuisine, and especially its wine. Red
Burgundy wine is almost always Pinot Noir, and white Burgundy is usually
Chardonnay. Burgundian wines are produced in small quantities, which makes
them among the most expensive. Famous Burgundian cuisine includes coq au
vin, beef bourguignon, and
the cheese Epoisses de Bourgogne. In Burgundy, and the area around
it, began some of the most significant church reform movements. The abbey of
Cluny, located near Mâcon, and the mother house of the Cistercians, the
abbey of Cîteaux, located near Dijon, are both located in Burgundy. In
addition, Taizé, is located not far from Cluny.
- A parapet is a wall-like barrier at the edge of a roof or terrace
or balcony, often a vertical extension of the exterior wall of the building.
In the middle ages, parapets were constructed primarily for defense, but
today they are used primarily to prevent the spread of fires. They also
serve to prevent pedestrians from falling, such as on a bridge.
- In Andersen’s story, not only did the bed have twenty mattresses,
but also twenty eiderdown featherbeds.
- Winnifred spells summer as S-U-M-E-R, which sounds like a humorous
misspelling. However, it would be correct in Middle English, as seen in the
English round “Sumer
is icumen in”, perhaps the oldest song of this form known. (Those
who studied the history of Western music should be familiar with this song.)
The song is in
the Wessex dialect of Middle English. The first line is translated: “Summer has come in”, or, less literally,
Sumer is icumen in,
Lhude sing cuccu!
Groweþ sed and bloweþ med
And springþ þe wde nu,
(The letter þ is called thorn, and it represents one of the “th” sounds in English.)
Waldere is the title given to two fragments
of an otherwise lost epic poem in Old English, telling the tale of Walter
(or Waldere) of Aquitaine. In the story, Waldere and Hildegyth fall in love
at the court of Attila the Hun, where they are being held hostage. They
steal treasure from Attila’s camp and escape. But they are being sought by
Gunther, king of the Burgundians, and Hagen. The poem
concerns the conflict between the two groups, representing the Germanic
invaders and the Gallo-Romans in Aquitaine. The conflict results in harm to
everyone, but Waldere and Hildegyth leave and are married.
- Fafnir was a dwarf in Norse mythology, and brother of Otr and Regin.
Otr goes in the form of an otter by day, and the gods kill him and take his
skin. In retaliation, Fafnir and his brother demand the skin be filled with
gold. But the gold is cursed, and Fafnir transforms himself into a dragon
better to guard the treasure. But Regin covets the gold and induces Sigurd
(in German, Siegfried) to kill the dragon Fafnir. Sigurd tastes the blood of
the dragon, and is then able to understand the language of birds. Wagner
includes the story in his opera Siegfried, but Fafnir is a giant
rather than a dwarf.
- Minning, properly Mimming, is Waldere’s
- Alberich, in Frankish mythology, is the king of the dwarves,
although his name means “elf-king”. In the Niebelungenlied,
he guards the treasure of the Niebelungens, but is overcome by Siegfried.
This story is incorporated by Wagner in his Der Ring des Niebelungen.
- Gunther was a semi-legendary king of Burgundy
in the 5th century, at the time of the collapse of the Western Roman Empire.
In 406, various Germanic tribes crossed the frozen Rhine to the Roman side
of the river to invade Gaul. In 411, Gunther set himself up as king at
Worms. The Romans signed a truce with them, but the Burgundians continued to
make raids in the Roman parts of Gaul. In 437, the Romans hired Huns as
mercenaries to defeat the Burgundians, and Gunther was killed. This history
is told in the Middle High German epic, the Niebelungenlied, and
Gunther’s wife is Brünhild. Gunther needs the help of Siegfried, but
ultimately murders him. Then Gunther and his brothers are invited to the
camp of Attila the Hun, where they are betrayed and killed. This story is
adapted by Wagner in his Der Ring des Niebelungen.
- Frigga or Frigg was the name of the queen of Asgard
and wife of Odin in Norse mythology. Friday takes its name from her, Frigg
being taken as the Norse equivalent of Venus, for whom the day was named in
- Trigga sounds like the name of Roy Rogers’s horse Trigger.
- Voonderbar is an Anglicized spelling of the German word wunderbar,
which means “wonderful”.
- “Man to Man Talk”: boy flower, girl flower. The four
parts of a flower are the sepals, petals, stamens, and carpels.
Flowers that have all four parts are called complete. The sepals and
petals are called the perianth, from the Greek for “around the
flower.” The stamens are the male reproductive organs, and produce
pollen. The carpels are the female reproductive organs, and produce ova, to
be pollinated by pollen grains, usually from another flower. Most
flowering plants have both stamens and carpels in the same flower. Such
flowers are called perfect, or bisexual. (Thus a complete
flower is necessarily perfect, but a perfect flower may be incomplete.) But some
separate male and female flowers on the same plant, and such plants
are called monoecious. Still others have separate male and female
flowers on different plants, and are called dioecious.
- Soft soap, in this context refers to “persuasive flattery”;
chemically, though, soft soaps are potassium soaps. Sodium soaps are called
hard soaps. Calcium and Magnesium soaps are insoluble soaps, because they do
not dissolve in water, and thus form soap scum.
- Glastonbury is a town in Somerset, England, which, in the middle
ages was dominated by Glastonbury Abbey, one of the most important
monasteries in England. King Edmund Ironsides was crowned there in 1016, and
buried there in the same year. In 1191 monks of the abbey claimed to have
found the graves of Arthur and Guinevere near the abbey church. A legend
grew that not only was this the burial place of Arthur, but also where
Joseph of Arimathea brought the Holy Grail, the cup in which he saved the
blood of Christ from the crucifixion. No source for the story exists before
the 13th century, however.
II, 5 (The song “Soft Shoes”)
- The year 1428 was in a phase of the Hundred Years’ War
(1337-1453) when French hopes were bleakest. Henry VI, the 6 year old son of
the great English King Henry V, was nominal king of both England and France.
The title to France was disputed by the Dauphin Charles, but his father, the mad
Charles VI, had repudiated him as the bastard child of his mother. The
English under the Earl of Salisbury begin besieging the city of Orleans,
which is defended by Jean de Dunois, the Bastard of Orleans. Salisbury was
killed, but was succeeded by the Earl of Suffolk. Sometime in the same year
Joan of Arc heard voices telling her to tell Charles he must expel the
English from France. In 1430 she led the forces of Charles to success in
forcing the English to lift the siege of Orleans. She then led him to Rheims
(the traditional coronation site for French kings--Henry VI had been crowned
in Paris) to be crowned king. In the Americas in 1428, Itzcóatl became Aztec
ruler, and began the foundation of Tenochtitlán, leading to the formation
of the Aztec Triple Alliance of the cities of Tenochtitlán, Texcoco, and
- The year 1392 was in a phase of the Hundred Years’ War when the
French were recovering. Not able to beat the English in set-piece battles,
Charles V (1364-80), king of France, simply refused to fight big
battles, making the English very unpopular when they tried to live off the
land. Richard II (1377-99), a weak king, was king of England. His reign was
plagued by uprisings in Wales and Ireland, and a renewed border war with
Scotland. In this year, however, King Charles VI (1380-1422) of France went
insane, destabilizing the French court. In East Asia in 1392, Seoul became the
capital city of Korea, and in Japan, the Northern and Southern Imperial
courts were reunited.
- Sibilance means having a whistling or hissing sound. The consonants
(s), (z), (sh), (zh), (ch), and (j) are sibilant sounds in English.
- Morpheus (from Greek Μορφεύς)
was the god of dreams. He had the supposed ability to take any shape, and
appear in any form. The drug morphine takes its name from Morpheus.
- Samarkand is the second-largest city in Uzbekistan, and in the
middle ages was an important stop on the silk road, linking China with the
West. It was also a center of Islamic studies, and in the 14th century,
Tamerlane made it the capital of his empire. His tomb is there. The name
comes from words meaning “stone fort”. The Russians conquered it
in 1868. In 1925, it was made the capital of the Uzbek S. S. R., until 1930,
when the capital was removed to Tashkent. I think the name occurs in this
story by its association with the romance of the silk road.
- To count 37,428 sheep,
assuming Princess Winnifred counts one sheep per second, would take a little
less than 10 and a half hours. So much for getting an early start!
- Duck pin bowling is similar to ten pin bowling, but the pins are
shorter and lighter, and it is more difficult to make a strike. So bowlers
are allowed three rolls per frame, rather than the two used in ten pins. The
game is most popular in southern New England, and around Indianapolis,
Baltimore, and Washington.
- Betty Hutton (1921-2007) was an American actress, comedienne, and
singer, star of stage, screen, and TV. She is probably best known for her
roles in the popular 1947 film The Perils of Pauline, and the 1950 Annie
Get Your Gun. She also appeared as an unbilled cameo in the 1952 film Sailor
Beware with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, where she played Dino’s
girlfriend Hetty Button. She starred in the TV show The Betty Hutton Show,
which only lasted one year, 1959-60.
- Composer Richard Rodgers wrote songs and shows with Lorenz Hart from 1919 to 1943. In 1943, with Hart’s drinking becoming a problem, Rodgers then wrote shows with Oscar Hammerstein II. After Hammerstein’s death in 1960, Rodgers wrote a few songs, writing both music and lyrics, for Rodgers and Hammerstein
- List of well-known Rodgers & Hart songs
- 1929: “Spring is Here”, “Yours Sincerely” and “With a Song in My Heart’ (from
Spring Is Here)
- 1932: “Lover”, “Mimi”, “Isn’t It Romantic?”, (from Love Me
- 1934: “Blue Moon” (from Manhattan Melodrama)
- 1935: “Little Girl Blue”, “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” (from
- 1937: “My Funny Valentine”, “Johnny One Note”, “The Lady is a Tramp” (from
Babes in Arms)
- 1938: “This Can’t Be Love”, “Falling in Love with Love” (from The Boys from
- 1939: “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” (from Too Many Girls [musical])
- 1940: “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered”, “I Could Write a Book” (from
- 1942: “Wait Till You See Her” (from By Jupiter)
- List of Rodgers & Hammerstein shows
- Oklahoma! (1943)
- Carousel (1945)
- State Fair (1945) [film]
- Allegro (1947)
- South Pacific (1949)
- The King and I (1951)
- Me and Juliet (1953)
- Pipe Dream (1955)
- Cinderella (1957) [TV]
- Flower Drum Song (1958)
- The Sound of Music (1959)
- A Grand Night for Singing (1993), Rodgers and Hammerstein revue musical
- State Fair (1996) [musical]
- List of other Rodgers works, solo or with other lyricists
- Victory at Sea (1952) (with Robert Russell Bennett)
- No Strings (1962) (lyrics by Rodgers)
- Do I Hear a Waltz? (1965) (Stephen Sondheim)
- Two by Two (1970) (Martin Charnin)
- Rex (1976) (Sheldon Harnick)
- I Remember Mama (1979) (Martin Charnin/Raymond Jessel)
- Last updated: 1/10/2012 and 07/05/2018.
- For additions, suggestions, corrections,
or comments on this glossary, please email me: tf_mcq
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Upon a Mattress main page.
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