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Chapman's Ambitious Comedy

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Abstract

Two of George Chapman's comedies, The Gentleman Usher and Monsieur D'Olive, alluding explicitly to Twelfth Night, challenge that play's version of the motives and opportunities belonging to the servant's position. While Shakespeare's play mocks the ambition, arrogance, and blindness of Malvolio, The Gentleman Usher presents Bassiolo as a very conventional servant who is lured out of his depth by aristocrats claiming friendship. In lengthy exchanges fraught with tension about the relations of the servant to the nobility, the play displays a sympathy with the difficulties and satisfactions of the gentleman usher's situation. Importantly, though the play mocks Bassiolo, it eventually welcomes him into the romance resolution. Similarly deceived by a fake promotion, Monsieur D'Olive offers a complex critique of the plight of the lowly ranked courtier. This play also accepts the deluded figure into the comic reconciliation. In distinct reversal of Shakespeare's treatment of Malvolio, Chapman shows himself acutely aware of how the system of rank restricts and shapes a servant's conception of what is socially possible, and he appreciates the way those of the middle rank accommodate themselves to their situations. (J.H.)

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