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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


    Wiggins notes that Chapman recognises marital jealousy as a good subject for stage comedy.[73] In An Humorous Day’s Mirth there is the protective and manipulative Labervele who plants jewels in his wife’s private walk, hoping she, with her staunch religious convictions, will think they have come from heaven. The jewels bear posies advising Florila to stick by her husband and not despair, for God’s power is most potent when human strength is low. It is stressed in the play that Florila, his wife, is young, and that Labervele already has a son, Dowsecer, presumably from a previous union. No maternal connection is made between Florila and Dowsecer, and it is likely that Labervele’s first wife has died and he has remarried. However, the couple seem to have some reproductive trouble, for which Labervele takes the blame: ‘She longs to have a child, which yet, alas,/ I cannot get’ (TLN 20-21). Hence Labervele’s anxiety for his scholarly son, Dowsecer, to reproduce, and thus continue the family line: Labervele seems convinced his opportunities are over.

    Anxiety about fecundity seems to drive Labervele’s desperate attempts to improve his wife’s mood and their chances of conceiving, knowing that without children to occupy and satisfy her, she might soon look elsewhere. He encourages her to wear the jewels and a velvet hood, as befits her status, ‘Not to go thus like a milkmaid’ (TLN 231-232). After her outburst at his vain suggestion, Labervele explains that maybe Florila’s reclusiveness and melancholy is the reason why she is not pregnant, suggesting she leave the house and socialise. Florila takes surprisingly quickly to this suggestion, warming to the idea that since the end of marriage is procreation,

    ... I should sin,
    If by my keeping house I should neglect
    The lawful means to be a fruitful mother
    (TLN 247-249)

    She quickly decides to follow her husband’s advice, and he is surprised by the willingness with which she abandons her former course and succumbs to his temptation, thinking it the correct solution.

    90Florila similarly abandons her Puritan stance when Lemot attempts to woo her, even devising a system of signs so that her jealous watching husband can be assured of her constancy to him; all the while she is confirming her allegiance to Lemot. While Labervele is debating whether or not he really does want his wife to leave the house, Catalian interrupts, and it is clear how Labervele fills the role of the jealous husband from this point on. He objects to being ‘thrust upon in private walks’ (TLN 270), and takes an instant dislike to everything Catalian says. Just as Labervele is whipping himself up into a frenzy, Lemot enters, announcing that it is good Christian practice to test fellow Christians’ constancy. The following scene exposes Labervele’s acute jealousy and his wife’s hypocrisy, since Lemot easily wins her over.

    In Every Man in His Humour, Thorello is similarly jealous of his wife, since her brother, who is lodging in the house, frequently invites gallants to visit and make merry. He suspects that, faced with temptation, she might not remain faithful for long. Soon after he has admitted this, he groans, ‘Troth, my head aches extremely on a sudden’ (1.4.194), which Bianca identifies as ‘this new disease’ (l. 198). Thorello agrees, but knows he is afflicted with fear of cuckoldry, which he goes on to describe as ‘poor mortals’ plague’ (l. 209), one which infects imagination and memory.

    As Deliro in Every Man out of His Humour turns his house into a shrine for his divine wife with incense and strewn flowers, Thorello talks of Bianca as his treasure and ‘Beauty’s golden tree’ (3.1.19). Just as Florila is observed enclosed within her private walk, so are Bianca and Fallace. Ironically, though, Deliro misguidedly worships his wife and is convinced by her fidelity to him, while she is dreaming of Fastidius Brisk, the handsome courtier, and each of his good parts. Only when Deliro is sent to the Counter to release Fastidius is his illusion shattered: Macilente has also sent Fallace to see her idol, and she kisses him just as Deliro enters. Thus the gullible husband is put out of his humour.

    Thorello, on the other hand, leaves his wife Bianca in the house while he goes to attend to his business and asks Piso to inform him if anyone enters the house. It is Cob who tells Deliro that several men have entered his house, to which Deliro hysterically responds ‘A swarm, a swarm’ (3.3.8), concluding that he has already been cuckolded. This hysteria is comparable with Labervele’s confused panic at an associated reference to cuckoldry, when he cries, ‘Thieves, Puritans, murderers!’ (TLN 419), whilst ushering his wife indoors.

    Indeed, Thorello displays some of Giuliano’s choleric heat when Prospero plants the idea in his head that his clothes and wine might have been poisoned. Thorello then displays the exact signs of the cuckold’s malady he described, tainting his own thoughts and memories with the notion that Bianca has indeed poisoned his cup and bid him wear that particular suit. Instantly he begins affecting illness and sends for remedies, at which Prospero exclaims: ‘Oh, strange humour! My very breath hath poisoned him’ (4.3.27-8).[74] Prospero then correctly identifies that ‘His jealousy is the poison he hath taken’ (l. 40), a point which concurs with Bianca’s conclusion: ‘If you be sick, your own thoughts make you sick’ (l. 39).

    95The additional problem of this particular illness is that it infects those around the sufferer. Prospero engineers for both Bianca and Thorello to be sent to Cob’s house on the pretext that the other is having an affair with one of the occupants. The real reason for this is to get the couple out of the house so Lorenzo Junior and Hesperida can meet one another. When the jealous couple arrive at Cob’s house, Bianca, infected by her husband’s jealousy, and acting upon Prospero’s suggestion that Thorello is a frequent visitor, assumes that Tib is a waiting-woman to her husband’s mistress. Thorello sees Bianca and assumes she has come to meet Lorenzo Senior, when he is actually there looking for his son. The mess cannot be untangled without the help of Doctor Clement.

    In Every Man out of His Humour, Deliro is to discover the truth in Thorello’s conclusion, ‘Horns in the mind are worse than on the head’ (5.3.432). This is also sound advice for Labervele, who perhaps drives his wife to temptation by closeting her up. One might also suggest, as in the case of the old Countess and her youthful husband, that some of these marriages are unsuitable matches, since they involve couples of differing ages and thus breed their own anxieties. Unions between couples such as Dowsecer and Martia, and Lorenzo Junior and Hesperida, are most healthy in promising happiness and fecundity.