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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: May ::
Re: Questions on Much Ado About Nothing
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1258  Tuesday, 7 May 2002

From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Monday, 6 May 2002 23:06:49 -0400
Subject: 13.1197 Re: Questions on Much Ado About Nothing
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1197 Re: Questions on Much Ado About Nothing

> Conrade says "I am a Gentlemen" and Borachio clearly is not...he is
> "entertained for a perfumer"

Christopher Moore needs to understand that the early modern categories
"servant" and "gentleman" were not mutually exclusive.  Gentility was a
function sometimes of birth (originally, son of somebody who owned land
at some point given by the monarch to the someone or one of his
ancestors for services rendered; later, son of somebody who bought that
land from the someone or one of his descendants-Shakespeare applied for
a coat of arms and the right to be called Mr. on that basis), sometimes
of education (if you earned an Oxford or Cambridge M.A. you also earned
gentility), sometimes of achievement on the battlefield or in some other
socially valuable activity.

Service, by contrast, was a more or less freely chosen social role, in
which a person put her or himself under the more or less absolute
control of somebody of higher social or economic status for primarily
economic (but sometimes political, to the extent that these categories
are distinct) reasons.  Thus William Cecil, later Sir William, later
Lord Burghley, became the servant of Elizabeth Tudor, and remained in
that role until his death.  Thanks especially to the law of
primogeniture, the younger sons (and daughters) of gentlemen routinely
took service under gentlemen and women in order to sustain themselves.
By 1600, one quarter to one third of all London apprentices were
gentlemen's sons.  The personal servants-gentlemen and ladies in
waiting-of gentlemen and women were likely to be gentlemen and women
themselves; the higher the rank of the master the more likely that this
was the case.  A prince, like Don John, was almost certain to have
gentlemen as his servants.  Borachio is perhaps less high-born than
Conrade-he speaks in a somewhat freer and more demotic vein, and he
seems to take a more largely entrepreneurial approach to his life.  When
assignments are given out for Leonato's party, Borachi apparently  gets
one nominally more onerous than Conrade's, but still pretty
agreeable-he's not seeing to it that there is wood in the fireplaces,
nor emptying the chamberpots.  And is still able to retail the new he
has gathered on a pretty free and easy basis to his demi-royal master,
and to his fellow-servant.  Note, by the way, that it is Conrade, not
Borachio, who repeatedly addresses the bourgeois gentlemen of the
Messina town watch as "Masters" (Arden 3.3.165-68).

Serviceably,
Dave Evett

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