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Older Women

I’ve been working from Parrott’s edition of Chapman’s comedies, but the post has kindly delivered an edition of The Gentleman Usher edited by John Hazel Smith. Smith’s comments on Medice are worth transcribing.

“Medice is finally exposed as having done a “mighty scandal” to “honor” (nobility) by assuming noble rank to which he has no claim save the voice of ‘an old sorceress‘…”

“…The greatest “scandal” which Medice has committed is assuming nobility to which he has no claim in merit: he has been “raised to honor’s height without the help of virtue or art or to say true of any honest part” he is incapable of treating with due respect either his servants or his supposed peers (except possibly Corteza, who alone says anything good about him); and the scandal which he has done his own class “the gypsies” is as great as that which he has done to the court of Alphonso.”

Smith views the noble title as the “treasure” taken by Medice. It is the old sorceress who legitimizes Medice’s claim on the “treasure.”

and being told my fortune
By an old sorceress that I should be great
In some great prince’s love, I took the treasure

Our argument needs an earlier example of Elizabeth portrayed as a sorceress. The witch/sorceress Dipsas from Ovid’s Amores appears in John Lyly’s Endymion (likely date – 1588).  Michael Pincombe in The Plays of John Lyly: Eros and Eliza writes;

…in Endymion, Lyly incorporates his Eliza into a triplicity of female figures: as Cynthia, she becomes the heavenly aspect of the triplex dea, Phoebe; but she has Tellus as her earthly counterpart and rival, and infernal counterpart and enemy in that witch Dipsas.”

The old sorceress doesn’t make an appearance in this play, she’s just referenced by Medice/Mendice when he reveals his past. The character of Corteza in the play is, like the sorceress, an older woman. Smith notes above that she alone says nice things about Medice.   Here’s part of their scene together. They are drinking and flirting.

“Corteza. ’Faith, and so they say; Yet I must tell you, since I plied this gear,
I have been haunted with a whoreson pain here,
And every moon, almost, with a shrewd fever,
And yet I cannot leave it; for, thank God!
I never was more sound of wind and limb.

Enter Strozza [behind]

Look you, I warrant you I have a leg,
[Cortezza shows] a great bombasted leg  Holds out as handsomely.” (II,i,23-29)

That’s quite a stage direction – showing the ‘bombasted leg’.  Smith’s gloss is- “stuffed with cotton wool – a stage prop.”

Christopher Hibbert’s The Virgin Queen: A Personal History of Elizabeth discusses her medical history.

In 1569 she [Elizabeth] developed a painful ulcer on her leg, which troubled her intermittently for years and gave rise to further reports that her life was in danger; and, when the discharged dried up, that also was considered dangerous since it was supposed to have compensated for her irregular menstruation. (p.109)

The satire on Elizabeth’s ulcerated leg is quite explicit.  Corteza and Medice, quite the pair.

October 11, 2013   No Comments