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Gentleman Ushers Plural

There are two ways to slice up the literary evidence as we work through contemporaneous accounts of the Shakespeare Authorship Question. Plays can be examined individually, with each scene, character, and allusion critically examined. Or themes and allusions can be examined across their various works. Metaphorically we can cut the plank with the grain, or against the grain. The coming series of posts will take one aspect that continually shows up in Shaksper/Vere allusions, the presence of the Gentleman Usher. We’ll examine and catalog that literary allusion in its appearance in various works. There is one play new to the blog that we’ll examine somewhat in depth, as Gentleman Ushers play a significant role in informing the SAQ there. But what is aimed at here is accumulating a weight of evidence, a quantity of information that by its sheer amount disqualifies it from being refuted as mere interpretation or happenstance.

Our first additions to the ledger will be the two plays already examined in this blog that feature Gentleman Usher characters, The Gentleman Usher by Chapman, and Jonson’s A Tale of A Tub.

Gentleman Ushers were a service position in noble households. They ranked below the Steward. In public, they proceeded in front of their noble, literally ushering them through a crowd. They were by tradition bare-headed, which was a sign of respect to the noble they served. We’ve cataloged numerous references here to ‘bare-headed before’ in the literature. I think the large bare and bald head of the Droueshot portrait is a pointer to the Gentleman Usher service position.

In Chapman’s Gent Usher, Bassiolo is the Usher of the title. He is Usher to earl Lasso.  Medice, the villain, is a follower of Duke Alphonso, and a pretender to nobility. I’ve shown in earlier posts how exposing Medice’s fraud is a one of the plots of the play. Medice is not specifically depicted as a Gentleman Usher to Alphonso. But he is set up as a contrast to Bassiolo. Vincentio is Alphonso’s son. Voncentio makes it clear that when he inherits the Dukedom, he wants Bassiolo as his favorite. He disapproves of Medice’s relationship with his father. Medice and Bassiolo are thus, the good and bad sides of a similar coin.  My take is there are two aspects of Shaksper that are portrayed in the period, one is in service to a ranking man, and two is as a usurper of someone’s accomplishments. Chapman has chosen to focus on the latter, but implies the former. Jonson, as we will see has a different way of portraying the relationship. A click of the category drop-down menu at left will bring up all previous posts on The Gentleman Usher so you can see the very strong evidence of Medice as Shaksper contained in the play.

In A Tale of A Tub, Poll-Marten is Gentleman Usher to Lady Tub, a figure I think stands for the Queen Elizabeth. Poll-Marten eventually wins the hand of Audrey, who stands for the plays. Chapman’s Medice and Jonson’s Poll-Marten share an important characteristic. Both changed their names with slight alterations to the spelling; Mendice became Medice and Marten Polecat became Poll-Marten  These name changes are allusions to the slight spelling change Shaksper underwent to become later known as Shakespeare. In Tub, it is the Queen figure, Lady Tub who changes his name, she also elevates him to gentleman status. And when he doesn’t behave, she threatens to change his name back to Polecat. Again, the categories menu at left will access previous posts on Tub. I think the play represents a much larger allegory of the authorship switch, but I have not made that argument yet in the blog.

For the now on-going count of works that reference Gentleman Ushers as relevant to the SAQ, we have two; the play of the same name, and A Tale of A Tub. In the next post, I’ll add two more.


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