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  • Title: An Humorous Day's Mirth: Textual 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

    Textual Introduction


    Of all the sources noted for An Humorous Day’s Mirth the most proximate to its creation is Love’s Labour’s Lost, dated 1595 by Martin Wiggins, and 1594-5 by the play’s most recent Arden editor, H. R. Woudhuysen.[150] The latter admits that links between Love’s Labour’s Lost and An Humorous Day’s Mirth are ‘flimsy’, yet Wiggins suggests that ‘The attentive eye may detect traces’ of Shakespeare’s play in Chapman’s comedy.[151] Among the similarities noted by Woudhuysen between the two plays are the show, or lottery in An Humorous Day’s Mirth, ‘presented by a Boy who is extensively interrupted, during which a maid is revealed to be already pregnant’.[152] Woudhuysen notes the similarity between the name of the maid in Love’s Labour’s Lost, Jaquenetta, and her corresponding double in An Humorous Day’s Mirth, Jaquena, as well as the names Lemot and Moth, both of which facilitate puns on words and motes. Finally noted is Chapman’s use of the ‘proverbial title’ in Scene 6: ‘My lord, my labour is not altogether lost’ (TLN 737; see also the introductory section on Language ).

    Lemot’s courting of Florila in Scene 6 bears striking similarities to the wooing of Francesco Vergellesi’s wife by Zima in Boccaccio’s Decameron.[153] An English translation did not appear in print until 1620, although the Decameron was available in Italian and French. Closest in date to the composition of An Humorous Day’s Mirth were copies printed in Italian in 1594 and 1597, and three French translations printed in 1579 and 1597. Jonson uses the same story as source material for The Devil is an Ass (1616), also printed before the English translation of the Decameron became available, suggesting that both playwrights may have read it in another language, or that the story was available in English in some other format.[154] Baskervill suggests that stories from the Decameron were being incorporated in jestbooks, which in turn provided source material for jigs. A Hundred Merry Tales contains the story ‘Of the wife who lay with her prentice and caused him to beat her husband disguised in her raiment’, or Decameron 7.7, which is remarkably similar to the jig entitled ‘Rowland’s Son’.[155]

    Zima’s successful wooing of Francesco’s wife occurs within sight, but out of earshot, of Francesco, in similar circumstances to Lemot’s tempting of Florila to put on her best attire and meet him at the ordinary. In the source, Zima tricks Francesco by talking to the lady, who is not allowed to say a word, and articulates her imagined response to his advances. He notes her glowing eyes and emotive sighs in response to his words, and concocts a plan: when Francesco has left for Milan on business, the lady will place two towels at the window of her room, overlooking the garden, as a sign for Zima to come to her at night, via the garden door, and consummate their love. Similarly, Florila agrees certain signs with her husband before she is ‘tested’ by Lemot, but, in full sight of her husband, she reinterprets one of these signs for Lemot:

    I told my husband I would make these signs:
    If I resisted, first, hold up my finger,
    As if I said, ‘i’faith, sir, you are gone’,
    But it shall say, ‘i’faith, sir, we are one’.
    (TLN 719-721)

    10Florila dutifully performs the other signs, stopping Lemot’s lips, pushing him away and offering her handkerchief ‘to wipe his lips/ Of their last disgrace’ (TLN 745-746), purely for her husband's reassurance.

    A similar situation occurs in Spenser’s Faerie Queene (1590), Book 3, in which the elderly Malbecco is married to a beautiful younger woman, Hellenore. Spenser’s description of Malbecco is one that equally serves Labervele, and all older, jealous husbands:

    But he is old, and withered like hay,
    Vnfit faire Ladies seruice to supply;
    The priuie guilt whereof makes him alway
    Suspect her truth, and keepe continuall spy
    Vpon her with his other blincked eye;
    Ne suffreth he resort of liuing wight
    Approch to her, ne keepe her company,
    But in close bowre her mewes from all mens sight,
    Depriu'd of kindly joy and naturall delight.

    The spying and protective jealousy of Labervele is also manifest in Malbecco’s character. Like Florila and Francesco’s wife, Hellenore circumvents her husband’s protectiveness using special signs which she exchanges with the attractive younger male, Paridell, who has caught her eye. While Florila reinterprets pre-agreed signs and Francesco’s wife flashes her eyes and sighs to communicate with Zima, Hellenore’s secret signs to Paridell include spilling wine, ‘By such close signs they secret way did make’ (3.9.31).

    While Florila is prevented from committing adultery because of Lemot’s deceit, and Francesco’s wife enjoys a fulfilling secret relationship with Zima, Hellenore’s story is much less fortunate. Once she has run away with Paridell, he abandons her, leaving her to be taken in by satyrs, who are attentive to all their charge’s needs, sexual and otherwise. In comparison, it is clear that while Lemot tempts Florila, he violates only her Christian purity; sexually she remains untainted, unlike Hellenore. Lemot’s petitions are false and he abandons Florila once she has committed herself to him, but, unlike poor Hellenore, Florila’s fate is contained within the boundary of mirth. The incident thus serves as a stark warning, both to Florila, against temptation, and for Labervele, to turn his back on jealousy and trust his wife.

    Chapman appears to undermine Florila’s devout Puritanism by having her quote ‘Habbakuk the fourth’ (TLN 417), a non-existent chapter of the Bible, since Habbakuk has only three chapters. The chosen book enables Labervele to explode with jealousy by aural association with cuckoldry: ‘Cuck me no cucks!’ (TLN 418). Later, when Lemot has bitten Florila’s hand, he admonishes her for bad behaviour, urging her back to her husband with the words ‘Go, Habbakuk, go’ (TLN 1468), which sarcastically remind her of her supposed Puritan wisdom and piety.

    15Another foolish character, Labesha, enters with a quotation in Scene 11 as part of his affected melancholic state. Copying Dowsecer in Scene 7, Labesha quotes in Latin. Although the source has been identified as a misquotation of Nigellus Wirekerus’s Speculum Stultarum, the phrase also appears in Lily’s Grammar (1540) to explain the relative case, thus confirming Catalian’s suspicions: ‘you shall hear him begin with some Latin sentence that he hath remembered ever since he read his accidence’ (TLN 1509-1511). Dowsecer, whom Labesha imitates, quotes not from his school grammar book, but from Cicero’s Tusculan Disputations upon his entry in Scene 7.

    Lemot’s statement at the beginning of the play explains his intention to assume a royal position and ‘sit like an old king in an old-fashion play’ (TLN 43-44). He continues by quoting from Thomas Preston’s Cambyses, King of Persia (1561), ‘My council grave...’ (TLN 46). In I Henry IV, written during the twelve months preceding the first performance of An Humorous Day’s Mirth, Sir John Oldcastle announces that he will play the part of Hal’s father in their role-play ‘in King Cambyses’ vein’ (2.5.390).

    The few sources selected by Chapman to supplement his comedy fall into two distinct categories: those mined for quotations to be placed in the mouths of his characters, and those which may have provided inspiration for the plot. They also supply a healthy cross-section of available Elizabethan source material, including classical, biblical and pedagogic writings, as well as secular influences from medieval prose and early drama through to contemporary poetry and very recent theatrical influences. The direct quotations have been carefully chosen for each character: Cicero confirms Dowsecer’s stoical sympathies whilst also exemplifying his intellectual reputation; Labesha, in contrast, proves his idiocy by aping Dowsecer, choosing to recite Latin any school boy could remember from his grammar book, and thus demonstrating a lack of continued intellectual vigour since school; Florila’s devout Puritanism is undermined by choice of a chapter which doesn’t exist from a biblical book which does, highlighting an erroneous knowledge of the Bible cloaked in piety. Similarities noted between An Humorous Day’s Mirth and Love’s Labour’s Lost, minor as they are, point to a similar, if unintentional, unveiling of the playwright’s own influences, in which plot device and word play are plundered for Chapman’s comical effect. For further discussion, see ‘Language’.