George Chapman, The Gentleman Usher (1606): "a fine taste of Chapman at his strangest"
|Showing dogged determination after I initially, and inadvertently, ignored an earlier submission, Spurio contacted BtR again with this delightful summary of Chapman's The Gentleman Usher. This is yet another play I've never read, but with a hook like "a fine taste of Chapman at his strangest," I assume it'll soon be showing up on graduate reading lists across the world (it's now on my play reading list).|
I present you, Spurio...
The Gentleman Vsher by George Chapman (London, 1606).
(This play has a fine taste of Chapman at his strangest -- see also his Widow's Tears -- and is, as far as I know, the only one of his plays in which Stoicism leads to the ability to see the future. Anyone interested in play-within-a-play scenes, or looking to supplement Hamlet's advice to the players, will benefit from the first two acts; and the comic scenes with Bassiolo in Acts 3 and 4 are priceless. And *what* is going on with the widow Corteza?)
Alphonso, the Duke -- in love with Margaret
Vincentio -- Duke's son, also in love with Margaret
Sarpego -- a courtier
Medice -- a courtier, the Duke's favorite, unable to read and write
Strozza -- a courtier, Poggio's uncle, Cynanche's husband
Cynanche -- Poggio's aunt, Strozza's wife
Poggio -- the foolish nephew
Lasso -- Margaret's father
Corteza -- Lasso's sister, Margaret's aunt, a widow
Margaret -- fair lady under dispute
Bassiolo -- Lasso's "gentleman vsher"; he is described as ambitious and convinced of his own worth, and has an endearing habit of taking to heart even the most ironic flatteries
Enchanter -- a character in the masque; later characters in later shows include Broom-wench, Rush-wench, Sylvan, Nymph, and "Man-Bugge" with his female counterpart
Pages, maid(s) servant(s), huntsman
Strozza and Cynanche enter to Poggio, who tells his dreams. We discover that Vincentio loves Margaret although she is being courted by his father (Alphonso the Duke); Strozza advises Vincentio to get an attendant to woo her. Alphonso comes on with Sarpego and Medice, and announces he wants not to hunt but to see a play: various courtiers show off their elaborate writing and acting skills (an example from the writing: "The busky groues that gag-tooth'd boares do shrowd / With cringle crangle hornes do ring alowd."; an example from how the acting was played: "When I in Padua schoolde it, / ... I acted, / Projecting from the poore summe of foure lines, / Forty faire actions."), and Vincentio mocks Medice for not being able to read and write.
Strozza and Vincentio plot to "ouerthrow" the upcoming show that the Duke will stage to express his love for Margaret, and they heckle Medice so much that he forgets his part and Strozza his understudy takes over. The Duke comes on stage bound with the Enchanter, and there is an "amorous deuice" directed towards Margaret; in the end, Vincentio asks Margaret as she is leaving who he could corrupt in her household, and she tells him to seek out the usher, Bassiolo.
In the incredibly strange scene which starts the act and which first brought me to the play, Medice comes on stage determined to get Corteza drunk, to flirt with her, and to get her to tell him whom Margaret loves (as she has been coy with the Duke). Corteza tells him that since she started drinking,
I haue been hanted with a horson paine heere,
[anyone with a guess as to what is going on in these lines, I'd love to hear it -- I have a few ideas but suspect I might just be twisted]
The leg is then dropped, so to speak, and Medice learns from Corteza that Margaret has eyes for Vincentio.
The show follows, including a prologue describing who is who, an encomium to brooms then rushes, a dance of sylvans and nymphs, and a song by the he- and she-bug.
Medice charges his servant to "accidentally" shoot Strozza during the hunt later. Vincentio goes to Bassiolo, befriends him, bejewels him, and gets him to woo Margaret. The hunt begins, with Corteza making moves on Medice and eventually being sent home for being too drunk and randy (although the Duke concedes that, to drink, "Tis good ... sometimes"). Bassiolo begins to ply Margaret to respond to Vincentio's letter of love, and they play a very amusing game where Margaret confuses him while he tries to write a letter on her behalf, then teases him while she writes her own letter.
Strozza has been shot with an arrow while hunting; the doctor advises that Strozza just wait for it to fall out, and Strozza complains about how much it hurts. Cynanche tells him he is being a wuss and needs to stop his whining (although in pleasant Stoic metaphors).
Bassiolo brings Margaret to Vincentio, and gives him tacky pickup lines to use to court her (the modern-day equivalents to which would be along the lines of, "there's a party in my pants and you're invited"). Margaret and Vincentio decide to marry unofficially before the Duke gets back from hunting.
Meanwhile, Strozza has quit whining and embraced Stoicism, and claims that his Stoicism has given him an ability to predict the future! He claims to know that the arrowhead will fall out in seven days, and that his physician and Vincentio are coming to visit, which they do promptly; Strozza predicts that Vincentio will be in great danger.
Alphonso and Medice convince Corteza to find evidence of wrongdoing and she finds Vincentio's letter; Lasso tells Margaret he will punish her panderer and Bassiolo gets squeamish, but remains true to Vincentio when Margaret threatens to blackmail him.
Alphonso, Medice, Corteza, and Lasso lie in wait and watch Bassiolo, Vincentio, and Margaret together. Bassiolo, keeping watch, gives a false alarm to toy with the two kids, so when he gives a proper alarm ten lines later they don't believe him and are caught and carried away. Alphonso orders Vincentio's death but quickly changes his mind.
Strozza's arrow falls out as predicted, and he says he will carry it to Rome and then gives a long justification about why doing this will not be superstitious.
In an incredibly bizarre scene, Corteza tells Margaret that Vincentio is dead, and tells her "not" to kill herself. Eventually Margaret says she wishes she was not so pretty, and Corteza tells her "not" to mutilate herself ("That were a cruel deed; yet Adelasia / In Pettis Pallace of Petit pleasure, / For all the worlde, with such a knife as this / Cut off her cheeks, and nose, and was commended / More then all Dames that kept their faces whole; / O do not cut it."), then gives her an ointment that will allow her to do so. Margaret's face becomes blistered and gross.
Medice has badly wounded Vincentio, and Strozza tells Alphonso he's being a jerk. Alphonso admits this is so, and gives Margaret to Vincentio. Vincentio nobly says he loves her even when she's gross, and we then learn the physician can reverse the ointment's effects. Bassiolo gets promoted to Alphonso's usher, while Medice is sentenced to death. He confesses that his name is actually Mendice and that he grew up with Gypsies and tried to have Strozza killed; his sentence is reduced to banishment.