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Category — Gentleman Usher

A Titled Page

The gentleman usher in the play of  the same name is Bassiolo. He is usher to earl Lasso.  As such, he produces the Earl’s entertainment including the elaborate masque staged in act two. Vincentio is impressed by his service to Lasso and befriends him with an eye to having Bassiolo as his own usher and favorite for when he becomes duke. He complements Bassiolo on the evening’s success.

‘Vincentio.              O sir, believe it;
Twas the best-fashion’d and well-order’d thing

That ever eye beheld ; and, therewithal,
The fit attendance by the servants us’d.
The gentle guise in serving every guest
In other entertainments; everything 
About your house so sortfully dispos’d,
That even as in a turn-spit call’d a jack
One vice assists another, the great wheels.
Turning but softly, make the less to whirr
About their business, every different part
Concurring to one commendable end,
So, and in such conformance. with rare grace,
Were all things order’d in your good lord’s house.

Bassiolo. The most fit,simile that ever was.

Vincentio. But shall I tell you plainly my conceit,
Touching the man that I think caus’d this order?

Bassiolo. Ay, good my lord!

Vincentio, You note my simile?

Bassiolo. Drawn from the turn-spit.

Vincentio. I see you have me.
Even as in that quaint engine you have seen
A little man in shreds stand at the winder,
And seems to put all things in act about him,
Lifting and pulling with a mighty stir,
Yet adds no force to it, nor nothing does:
 So (though your lord be a brave gentleman
And seems to do this business) he does nothing;
 Some man about him was the festival robe
That made him show so glorious and divine.

The bolded quote specifically tells us that the apportionment of responsibilities and credit for the production is not what it seems. In fact, these things are presumably fungible between a nobleman and his ‘man.’  The person getting the credit, may not be the person doing the work. Now in this case, the usher has handled the details of production and that credit has accrued to his lord. But what if the servant is not so scrupulous? Bassiolo’s relationship as the good favorite or minion of Lasso contrasts with Medice’s portrayal as the evil minion. They are presented in the play as contrasing examples of the nobleman/minion relationship as both success and failure.

Bassiolo. I cannot tell, my lord, yet I should know
If any such there were.

Vincentio. Should know, quoth you;
I warrant you know! Well, some there be
Shall have the fortune to have such rare men
(Like brave beasts to their arms) support their state,
When others of as high a worth and breed
 Are made the wasteful food of them they feed.
(III, ii, 6-39)

We know of Vincentio’s anger at Medice. He is stating his case here that Medice is exploiting his father the duke. The bold is nearly a two-line paraphrase of  Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens, where Timon is exploited by many of his servants as they feed off his largess.  With all we know of Vere’s extravagance and all we know of Shakespere’s stinginess, if you put the two together for a time, who would have the money when all was said and done?

In Pseudonymous Shakespeare Penny McCarthy picks up on hints that a steward/usher is somehow involved in the Shakespeare business in her reading of The Gentleman Usher.

“the title if his (Meres’ Paladis Tamia) work means ‘O steward of Pallas’. If Shakespeare was indeed the Gentleman Usher of Chapman’s play, he was a steward, a Sidneaian steward, perhaps Minerva’s steward.” p.138

or Vere’s steward/usher!

She also writes.

“That the usher is both gentleman and base is also interesting.”  p. 130

Which leads us to some closing humor.
Q. What do you call a servant who usurps his lordship’s name?
A. A Titled Page.

I’ll be here all week. Try the veal.

October 16, 2013   No Comments