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A Post Stratfordian Shake-speare Blog
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a kind of tumbling boy

The finale of The Gentleman Usher has Medice reveal his life’s story, depicting his rise from low birth to the company of nobility. Here’s the entire relevant section.

“Strozza. …Is thy name Medice ?

Medice.  No, my noble lord.
My true name is Mendice.

Strozza. Mendice ? See,
it first a mighty scandal done to honour.

Of what country art thou?

Medice. Of no country I,
But born upon the seas, my mother passing
’Twixt Zant and Venice.

Strozza. Where wert thou christen’d

Medice. I was never christen’d,
But, being brought up with beggars, called Mendice,

Alphonso. Strange and unspeakable!

Strozza. How cam’st thou then
To bear that port thou didst, ent’ring this Court?

Medice. My lord, when I was young, being able-limb’d,
A captain of the gipsies entertain’d me,
And many years I liv’d a loose life with them;
At last I was so favour’d that they made me
The King of Gipsies; and being told my fortune
By an old sorceress that I should be great
In some great prince’s love, I took the treasure
Which all our company of gipsies had
In many years by several stealths collected;
And leaving them in wars, I liv’d abroad
With no less show than now; and my last wrong
I did to noblesse was in this high Court.

Alphonso. Never was heard so strange a counterfeit.

Strozza. Didst thou not cause me to be shot in hunting ?

Medice.. I did, my lord; for which, for heaven’s love, pardon.

Strozza. Now let him live, my lord ; his blood’s least drop
Would stain your Court more than the sea could cleanse ;
His soul’s too foul to expiate with death.

Alphonso. Hence then; be ever banish’d from my rule,
And live a monster, loath’d of all the world.

Poggio. I’ll get boys and bait him out 0’ th’ Court, my lord

Alphonso. Do so, I pray thee; rid me of his sight.

Poggio. Come on, my lord Stinkard, I’ll play ‘Fox, Fox,
come out of thy hole ’ with you, i’faith.

Medice. I’ll run and hide me from the sight of heaven.

Poggio. Fox, fox, go out of thy hole! A two-legged fox,
‘a two-legged fox! Exit with Pages beating Medice.

Benevemus. Never was such an accident disclos’d.”

Alphonso. Let us forget it, honourable friends,
(V, iv, 245-284)

At the beginning of the passage Duke Alphonso states “Strange and Unspeakable.” Near the end, Dr. Benevemus says, “Never was such an accident disclosed.”  These lines each go to the taboo nature of the authorship question.  It was an unspeakable topic, and it was never to be disclosed. Yet it is between these two words that Chapman opens the door and lets us in on the secret.  But Chapman had to couch the story well in allusion.  If we ask, was the Shake-speare/Shakespere ruse a taboo topic at the time?  The Chapman Solution says it was.

“Medice. I was never christen’d,
But, being brought up with beggars, called Mendice,

AlphonsoStrange and unspeakable!”

Mendicus is latin for beggar.  Rambler’s July 13 post demonstrates the link between beggars and actors.  His more recent posts on this play note the repeated use of ‘strange’ in Act I, and notes it was the name of Lord Strange (pronounced strang) prior to becoming the 5th earl of Derby.  The word strange being adjacent to Mendice here may reference Lord Strange’s troupe of actors (or tumblers.)

“Medice. My lord, when I was young, being able-limb’d,
A captain of the gipsies entertain’d me,
And many years I liv’d a loose life with them;
At last I was so favour’d that they made me
The King of Gipsiesand being told my fortune
By an old sorceress that I should be great
In some great prince’s love, I took the treasure
Which all our company of gipsies had
In many years by several stealths collected;
And leaving them in wars, I liv’d abroad
With no less show than now; and my last wrong
I did to noblesse was in this high Court.”

So “Gipsies” would be a troupe of actors or “beggars.” Rambler in his May 14 post states:  “When you see a ‘Captain’, you have to suspect prima facie that it’s Vere.”

Now what about “able-limb’d?” That word suggests he was a tumbler. We already know Shakespere’s illiteracy precludes his being an actor for anything more than bit roles. Lord Strange had a troupe of tumblers, led by John Symmons. Their tour took them to Coventry each year, just up the road from Stratford-upon-Avon. The troupe came under the patronage of Vere in the early 1580s, and then reverted to Lord Strange. Some of Strange’s troupe eventually became the Chamberlain’s Men.

So- Shakspere leaves the village of Stratford, joins a troupe of tumblers, and then ‘in some great prince’s love,‘  and he becomes head of the troupe.  This story would put Shakepere and Vere together in the early to mid 1580s. If the prince took a shine to the young tumbler, he would likely be among his personal, household staff – not simply an actor on retainer.

There’s an interesting letter from Burghley to Christopher Hatton dated March 1583.  There had been complaints to the Queen about Vere being seen with a retinue of ‘fifteen pages.’  Presumably the complaint is from a creditor who wonders why Vere can afford fifteen pages, but the creditor can’t be paid.  Burghley tells Hatton that Vere only has four servants in his employ…

“…Indeed I would he had less than he hath, and yet in all his house are, nor were at any time, but four. One of them waiteth upon his wife, my daughter; another in my house upon his daughter Bess; a third is a kind of tumbling boy; and the fourth is the son of a brother of Sir John Cutts, lately put to him…”
Burghley to Hatton, 12 March 1583

I suspect that tumbling boy’s name is William Shakspere, who was a few weeks short of his nineteenth birthday at the time. Oxford was 33.

We’ll tackle the ‘aged sorceress‘ next. Who could that be?

 

 

 

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