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  • Title: An Humorous Day's Mirth: Critical Introduction
  • Author: Eleanor Lowe

  • Copyright Digital Renaissance Editions. This text may be freely used for educational, non-profit purposes; for all other uses contact the Editor.
    Author: Eleanor Lowe
    Peer Reviewed

    Critical Introduction

    Architects of Intrigue

    According to Madeleine Doran, intrigue plays are reliant on ‘disguise, lies, clever excuses, manipulation to get characters together at the right time or keep them separate’.[75] This description perfectly fits the action of An Humorous Day’s Mirth, whose catalyst is found in an intriguer, also known in Roman comedy as the architectus.[76] Lemot is one such figure, a master-intriguer of plot and persons for the purposes of entertainment: ‘this day let’s consecrate to mirth’ (TLN 99) Lemot announces in the second scene of the play. This is the main drive of the plot: to provoke the characters into acting as predicted and enjoy the resulting confusion. Yet Lemot’s role as intriguer also invests in him the expectation of resolving all problems before he hands his power back to the King at the end of the play.

    Cuckold coat-of-arms Lemot’s plan very nearly backfires and causes him to run from the situation he has created. In Scene 14 Lemot brings the Queen and her party to the place where she expects to find the King being threatened with removal of his ‘instrument of procreation’ (TLN 1736). Encouraged by Lemot, she has interpreted this as referring to the King’s penis. Instead she encounters the angry Dowsecer, intent on gelding an ‘adulterous goat’, removing from him ‘The instrument that plays him such sweet music’ (TLN 1705). Lemot decides that since this adds truth to his lie, he’ll not flee, but stay to hear the outcome. Fortune lies in Dowsecer’s choice of words, which corroborate Lemot’s fiction and excuse him from the otherwise necessary task of explaining himself and perhaps admitting to the erroneous manufacture of lies.

    Although Lemot appears as a new manifestation of the ‘cunning slave’ stock character of Roman comedy, his status indicates a merging of categories. Doran claims that ‘The intriguer in English comedy is not often a servant; he is more likely to be one of the principals’.[77] Often referred to derisively by other characters in the play as the King’s ‘minion’ (TLN 311, 552, 698), Lemot’s status is as upper class servant to his monarch, and is thus a principal in terms of status and function in both the play and the court.

    100Charlotte Spivack invests essential importance in Lemot: ‘[The play] obtains its unity and coherence not so much from the satirical theme as from its intriguer-hero Lemot, who supervises the paradox of “humours” and manipulates the disparate characters in a highly complex plot’.[78] Lemot is crucial to the forward movement of plot, and as a uniting presence amongst characters of differing social status and age. The name given to this character is of particular interest. ‘Le mot’ very literally means ‘the word’ in French and it is therefore highly appropriate that his chief differentiating quality is his quick-witted talent with language. The use of puns, quick-fire word play, noting other characters’ language quirks, predicting speech and use of misleading language are all basic skills in Lemot’s repartee and also tools with which he advances the plot. Grant points out that ‘Monsieur Verbum’ (TLN 496), as Martia call him, preys on victims who cannot join in his word games.[79] While Martia rises admirably to the task in Scene 5, her doting guardian, Labesha, is ridiculed and distracted from his charge with flattery.

    Jonathan Hudston goes one step further in his identification of Lemot as ‘the word’, suggesting a link with the opening of John’s Gospel: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God’ (John 1:1). This point places Lemot even more explicitly in a seat of power, not merely placing the crown of the King upon his head in mock-imitation of Cambyses, but also adorning himself with God’s mantle of power. The suggestion would be blasphemous to the original audience and particularly for the play’s resident Puritan. Lemot’s assumed role of all-powerful plot orchestrator admittedly places him in an omnipotent position. The King’s melancholy prompts Lemot’s intrigues as a way of lightening the monarch’s mood. Thus the departure of the King’s reasoning, which he laments in Scene 7, is indeed a cause for concern, since the power lies in Lemot’s hands to bring the King back to health with his mirthful remedies. A new order ensues, and the Puritan, whose allegiance is verbally pledged to God, turns her affections to Lemot. In this sense, Lemot really is ‘playing’ God, as the new subject of her idolatry.

    The importance of an intrigue character like Lemot is summarised by Northrop Frye: ‘Such a character, who needs no motivation because he acts merely for the fun of seeing what will happen, is to comedy what the Machiavellian villain is to tragedy, a self-starting principle of the action’.[80] With his dynamism and humorous predisposition, Lemot has been likened to the medieval Vice figure by several commentators.[81] Spivack points to him being referred to as ‘Monsieur Satan’ (TLN 689). A key factor in Lemot’s character is that although he provokes confusion and distress in some of his victims, his principal aim is to amuse himself and the King. The focus is not so much on good versus evil, as on firing warning shots suggestive of the potential each character has to be tempted into sin. Doran describes the English intriguer as ‘more apt to be a healthful exposer of men’s follies than a malicious instigator of them’.[82] Because the focus of this action is comedic, Lemot only pushes so far. The threat of temptation is welcomed by Florila, and, although she is eager to sin with Lemot, he withdraws, biting her hand in place of a kiss. Similarly, Moren is enticed to the ordinary, but Lemot knows that since so many people will be present, including the doting King, Moren will have no chance to betray his suspicious wife. Thus, Grant summarises Lemot as ‘intriguer, expositor of folly and lord of misrule’.[83]

    But the intriguer doesn’t merely invent the plot. His desire for mirth prompts him to share it with his offstage audience. Lemot’s continual commentary and critical display of character invites detachment and satirical evaluation of onstage action from the audience. As Brian Gibbons observes, ‘Lemot’s function is also to effect the isolation of a character, from his stage companions and from the audience’s sympathy’.[84] He does this most effectively with the display of Blanvel’s humour in Scene 2 and the taunting of Labesha in Scene 8.

    G. K. Hunter offers high praise for this development in character: ‘George Chapman is the author whose comedies show best the double role of intriguer and commentator in a dramaturgy that aims to reconcile witty exposé and well-plotted comedy’.[85] Hunter continues by falsely crediting Lemot with the ability ‘to mislead but not to understand his victims’.[86] Surely it must be essential for Lemot to comprehend exactly his fellow characters, their humours, the predictability of their actions and speech. He perfectly acknowledges the jealousy of Labervele and the Countess, Florila’s hypocritical Puritanism, Martia’s feisty, flirtatious spirit and Labesha’s dull wit, further recognising the amusement to be gained from encouraging these follies. He may not entertain sympathy for such ‘humours’, but that is not his concern. As Millar MacLure points out: ‘Lemot is for the green world: for youth against age, for crowds against solitude, for cakes and ale against sobriety, for free love against jealousy. He is an active verb too, for he, as the tale-teller, sets all in motion and dissolves all secrecy’.[87]

    105While Lemot recourses to the earlier dramatic authority of Cambyses to claim his mock-monarchic role, the intriguer of Every Man in His Humour uses New Comedy’s staple ingredient of disguise to maintain his control of the plot. Musco, servant to Lorenzo Senior, but intent on his son’s favour, first employs the disguise of a soldier to effect his influence on the action, and overtly relishes his new role:

    ’Sblood, I cannot choose but laugh to see myself translated thus, from a poor creature to a creator; for now must I create an intolerable sort of lies or else my profession loses his grace.
    (2.1.1-4)

    In these lines Musco gestures towards the Tamburlainic rise to power, despite employing the false means of disguise, just as Irus had done in Chapman’s The Blind Beggar of Alexandria. Although Lemot becomes embroiled in the plot much in the same way as Musco, the extent of his entanglement is lies, mentioned above by Musco as the intriguer’s staple. Lemot’s only attempt at sartorial disguise comes in the form of a scarf tied about his allegedly injured arm in Scene 12, suggestive of encountered violence, and excusing him from fighting alongside the others.

    Musco’s wit, like Lemot’s, is almost defeated by a threatened excision when Doctor Clement teaches him a lesson about use of the word ‘must’ by threatening to cut off Musco’s legs, ears, nose and head. The threat works in Musco’s favour by prompting him to reveal his true identity and plotting, earning him Doctor Clement’s praise and the honour of wearing his robes. Similarly, Lemot’s frenetic plot nearly evades his management when he tells the Queen that her husband’s ‘instrument of procreation’ is under siege. He is saved by Dowsecer who enters at just the right moment and angrily vows to remove ‘The instrument that plays him such sweet music’ (TLN 1705), thought by the Queen to confirm the threat to her husband’s penis. Lemot realises that this saves his skin and remains onstage just at the point when he was ready to abandon his plot. Lemot’s machinations, like Musco’s, delight the governing character, here the King, who organises a final convivial celebration of marriage, just as Doctor Clement similarly announces the wedding of Lorenzo Junior and Hesperida as a reason to bury the hatchet.

    So while Every Man in His Humour has one intriguer, Musco, and one higher status character, Doctor Clement, to tangle and untangle the plot, Chapman employs only Lemot as intriguer to manipulate the characters of An Humorous Day’s Mirth. Admittedly, the King functions as a peacemaker at the conclusion, but he has no real power during the course of the play, perhaps because sympathising with Dowsecer’s sentiments in Scene 7 has rendered him inactive. This may also explain why there are no punishments at the end of An Humorous Day’s Mirth. Clement is placed in a judicial role with power to mete out retribution. Besides, the transgressive characters in An Humorous Day’s Mirth have been exposed to their partners and their public, for example, Moren, hiding from his wife, and Jaquena, whose pregnancy is revealed in the course of Lemot’s lottery. Labervele does not discover his wife’s attendance at the ordinary, but she is punished by Lemot, who bites her hand when she expects a kiss. If the punishments are contained within the action, there is no need for situations such as the exclusion and humiliation of Matheo and Bobadilla in Every Man in His Humour.

    The didactic purpose of Every Man out of His Humour is made explicitly clear in the Induction when Asper promises to ‘strip the ragged follies of the time/ Naked as at their birth’ (ll. 15-16) and ‘give these ignorant well-spoken days/ Some taste of their abuse of this word humour’ (ll. 77-78). In contrast with Lemot, whose comparatively innocent aim is to ‘consecrate [the day] to mirth’ (TLN 99), Asper announces his intentions with the following claim:

    ...My strict hand
    Was made to seize on vice, and with a grip
    Crush out the humour of such spongy souls
    As lick up every idle vanity.
    (ll. 142-45)

    110The apparent venom with which Asper’s objectives are voiced might provoke alarm at his force and lack of control. The following section discusses the dramatic boundaries imposed on the action of seemingly unpredictable and omnipotent intriguers.