The Gentleman Usher Further Critical Evaluation of the Work - Essay

George Chapman

Further Critical Evaluation of the Work

(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

THE GENTLEMAN USHER is in many ways typical of the comedies of Renaissance England; it includes such stock characters from Italian comedy as the young lovers, the old man who impedes the consummation of young love, the old woman who perversely impells it, and the scheming servant who aids in its details.

The play combines romance with comic satire in the story of Vincentio and Margaret. This ideal relationship is threatened from the start by the boy’s own father, Alphonso, who desires the girl for his own wife. As Duke, Alphonso has nearly absolute sway over every person in the play, thus giving occasion for satire upon cruel despotism as practiced by a man who does not deserve his position of power. The Duke is a lecher, desiring Margaret, evidently, solely for purposes of erotic pleasure; in this he contrasts with his son who proves the completeness of his love by continuing to love Margaret even after she has deformed her beautiful face. As an illustration of what Vincentio and Margaret’s marriage presumably will become, Chapman presents the happy marriage of Strozza and Cynanche. Cynanche epitomizes the ideal Elizabethan wife, whose virtues are summarized in Strozza’s eloquent appraisal (IV, iii, 2-37).

Once he has resigned himself to living with the extreme pain of the arrow in his side, Strozza displays the ability of the virtuous man to rise above the pains (and lusts) of the body and to exist upon a more spiritual plane. It is this ability which allows him his supernatural knowledge and his power, in the final scene, to unmask Medice and to dare the Duke’s wrath by forcefully and logically revealing the evil in the Duke’s lust. In doing so, he aids the young lovers in their movement toward marriage, the end of all romantic comedies.