Posts from — September 2013
George Chapman’s, The Gentleman Usher, which likely dates from 1602-1604, contains a seemingly quite specific allusion to William Shakspere. This allusion was discovered by, and discussed in, Rambler’s Quake-speare Shorterly blog post of June 14 .
This series of posts will examine that allusion in detail. I’ll consider what Chapman’s information tells us about how William Shakspere came to be known as the author of the canon. I’ll also look at what was the likely relationship between Vere and Shakspere.
I believe The Gentleman Usher contains not just an allusion to William Shakespere, but also an allusion to the circumstances of the authorship deception. A close reading of The Gentleman Usher tells us, how the authorship ruse went down.
The character in question in this play is Lord Medice. He is the villain. The duke Alphonso’s son Vincentio and his friend Strozza begin the play by describing Medice as a fraud and phony. They set in motion one of the play’s story arcs to expose Medice for who he truly is. They begin by noting his commonness, which doesn’t fit his claims to nobility.
“Strozza. The Duke has none for him, but Medice,
That fustian lord, who in his buckram face
Bewrays, in my conceit, a map of baseness.
Vincentio. Ay, there’s a parcel of unconstrued stuff,
That unknown minion rais’d to honour’s height,
Without the help of virtue, or of art
Or (to say true) [of any] honest part.
Oh, how he shames my father! He goes like
A prince’s footman, in old-fashioned silks,
And most times in his hose and doublet only;
So miserable, that his own few men
Do beg by virtue of his livery;
For he gives none, for any service done him,
Or any honour, any least reward.
Strozza: ’Tis pity such should live about a prince:
I would have such a noble counterfeit nail’d
Upon the pillory, and, after, whipp’d
For his adultery with nobility.
Vincentio. Faith, I would fain disgrace him by all means,
As enemy to his base-bred ignorance,
That, being a great lord, cannot write nor read.” (I, i, 107-126)
Fustian and buckram denote commonness. “That unknown minion rais’d to honour’s height,” certainly sounds like our man Shakespere. His cheapness is also noted, “Do beg by virtue of his livery”. And of course, his illiteracy is explicitly stated. There are other points of note we’ll return to later. But here, at the beginning, we see the case against Medice outlined by Vincentio and Strozza.
The pair expose Strozza in two different scenes. The first is where he’s asked to read a poem that sounds quite a bit like Venus and Adonis. As he is illiterate, he can’t read the poem. Rambler’s discussion of this scene is thorough, especially in regards to the connection to Venus and Adonis. Rambler’s take is here.
In another scene, the Duke is preparing a ‘device’ to woo Earl Lasso’s daughter. He asks Medice to perform a part in the device. The device concerns a hunter (Duke Alphonso) who’s been hunting boars. Who is this duke?
“Medice. My lord, away with these scholastic wits,
Lay the invention of your speech on me,
And the performance too; I’ll play my part
That you shall say, Nature yields more than Art.
Alphonso. Be’t so resolv’d; unartiﬁcial truth
An unfeign’d passion can decipher best.
Vincentio. But ’twill be hard, my lord, for one unleam’d.
Med. Unleam’d! I cry you mercy, sir; unleam’d ?
Vincentio. I mean untaught, my lord, to make a speech
As a pretended actor, without clothes
More gracious than your doublet and your hose.” (I, i, 228-240)
When he fails to perform, Medice later complains…
Medice: … Oh, I would give a limb
To have their knavery limn’d and painted out.
They stand upon their wits and paper-learning;
Give me a fellow with a natural wit
That can make wit of no wit; and wade through
Great things with nothing, when their wits stick fast. (II, i, 54-61)
Medice’s wit is ‘natural,’ not from paper learning. In the previous segment, he complains when he is called ‘unlearned’ but admits to being ‘untaught.’
A comparison of these passages with Jonson’s statements on Art and Nature in the First Folio will be a separate post.
The primary point to make here is that Chapman is taking pains to show that Medice is BOTH unable to read poetry AND unable to act in a device. Why was it important to make BOTH of those points about Medice? Who is this character alluding to who both claimed to be a poet (writing something like Venus and Adonis) and an actor? Anyone we know?
September 27, 2013 2 Comments