Digital Renaissance Editions

Become a FriendSign in

About this text

  • Title: Additional Footnotes to An Humorous Day's Mirth
  • Author: Eleanor Lowe
  • ISBN: 978-1-55058-513-1

    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
    Not Peer Reviewed

    Additional Footnotes to An Humorous Day's Mirth

    Staging and Properties


    ‘Many scenes in which meaning is closely linked to decisions about staging have no directions whatsoever’, writes Alan C. Dessen. ‘Moreover, the signals that are provided often are uninformative or confusing or inconsistent’.[28] The first instruction of Scene 1 of The Comedy of Humours provides a good example of an incomplete stage direction: ‘Enter the Count Labervele in his shirt and night-gown, with two jewels in his hand.’ The action of the scene resides solely in placing the jewels in Florila’s private walk, while Labervele’s speech serves as exposition. At the end of the monologue, Labervele pointedly leaves the jewels in the walk where they can be ‘discovered’ by Florila.

    Labervele vocalises his actions, making it very clear to the audience that he is placing the jewels somewhere onstage in preparation for their discovery by Florila later in the play; however, this discovery does not take place until Scene 4, roughly 150 lines later, during which a maximum of four characters are onstage at any one time. The actors playing the seven characters who appear onstage in this intervening action must be aware of the properties’ presence, suggesting the agreement of a pre-determined location, for example, safe placement next to a permanent feature of the stage, such as a door or stage-post, or within the proximity of the discovery space. This edition inserts a direction for Labervele to put the jewels down at TLN 29.


    Scene 8 is set in an ordinary, an inn serving food. In his survey of tavern scenes, Dessen notes that commonly all that is required to set the scene is ‘the presence of such a drawer (or host or vintner) along with hand-held bottles and glasses’ plus some dialogue.[29] So Chapman’s inclusion of tables exceeds usual requirements, especially when considering that this play was written for performance at the Rose theatre and its comparatively small stage; later in the scene it has to accommodate six to eight actors, plus tables.

    The tables emphasise the location as being an ‘ordinary’, i.e. an inn that serves not only drink, but food as well. With reference to the table in Heywood’s A Woman Killed with Kindness, Catherine Richardson points out: ‘Seeing a table on stage then, and being told that it is in a parlour [or for Chapman’s play, read ‘ordinary’], permits an early modern audience to complete the representation from memory in ways that it has been possible to begin to reconstruct here’.[30] Richardson does so with the help of inventories listing household goods. The tables would serve firmly to establish the setting of the scene in an ordinary, in contrast with private dwellings as locations, and remind the audience that characters are congregating to share a meal. This semblance of civility is comically undermined by the chaotic scenes which follow.

    50The host’s opening lines of Scene 8 specify these large properties quite clearly: ‘Come on, my masters, shadow these tables with their white veils ...’. Thus Verone directs the Boy and Jaques to lay tablecloths upon ‘these tables’, indicating that at least two tables (probably trestles since they are easily portable) have been set up onstage before the beginning of the scene or as part of the stage action. The omission of a stage direction dictating the action of setting up the tables possibly points to the copy text’s pre-theatrical status, since no mention of them is made by either the author, or what William B. Long prefers to term the ‘glancing bookkeeper’.[31] Long further adds: ‘Regularization and completeness simply were not factors in theatrical marking of an author’s papers. Theatrical personnel seem to have marked the book only in response to problems’ (123). Perhaps Chapman felt no need to insert a stage direction in the pre-theatrical script when the action is made clear by Verone’s lines.

    The flow of the performance is interrupted by the need to erect tables, and the potentially laborious action of doing so serves not only to prepare the scene but also to set up a joke at TLN 1038-1039. Once the tables have been erected, Verone instructs Jaques and the Boy to lay the tables with cloths, a task which in performance could be carried out at some length and with laboured efforts. Jaquena enters whilst Verone is otherwise engaged (or at least out of earshot) and challenges the use of the room, threatening to dismantle all the hard work previously witnessed onstage: ‘Come, whose wit was it to cover in this room, in the name of God, I trow?’ (TLN 1038-1039).

    Verone must remove himself to another part of the stage in order that his asides are not heard by Jaquena or, more importantly, his son or servant. Verone withdraws himself from the Boy and Jaques with his final comments at TLN 1035-1036, since the dialogue between the latter two and Jaquena indicates that Verone must be standing apart from them. His aside indicates that he is aware of her presence and although he can observe the debate, it may or may not be audible to him. He is introduced to the argument by Jaques at TLN 1051. Verone’s withdrawal from the main action allows him to reveal his secret affair with Jaquena for the benefit of the audience, as well as carry out other stage business, for example, setting the other table/s.

    During the following dialogue, Jaquena removes one of the tablecloths from the table to display her dissatisfaction with the current room and her intention to set up the tables in another. At TLN 1061 Jaquena acknowledges that she ‘did but take up the cloth’ which suggests she takes it up before TLN 1051, when Jaques calls on Verone to admonish her. The exchange between her and Jaques becomes somewhat heated, presumably in exasperation at her interference and threat to dismantle his efforts. Placement of the stage direction at TLN 1045 explains Jaques's sudden outburst at TLN 1047 and his calling her ‘baggage’. Placing the action here therefore prompts the spiteful exchange, culminating in the intervention of Verone.

    Another option is to place the stage direction after Jaquena’s first lines (TLN 1038-1039). At this point the Boy rather pathetically tries to defend his and Jaques’s actions, but proves himself no match for Jaquena’s cutting retorts. It seems more appropriate to place the action of removing the tablecloth just after Jaquena’s final remark in her exchange with the Boy, allocating the duration of Verone’s aside to remove the tablecloth. Finally, in her explanation of events to Verone, Jaquena points out that ‘I did but take up the cloth ... and he called me baggage’, situating the removal of the cloth very firmly as a prompt to Jaques’s outburst.

    55Once the tables are onstage, their removal becomes another point of consideration. They could remain onstage for the rest of the play, positioned centrally between the stage posts, therefore leaving the rest of the stage free for alternative locations (such as the street). In this scenario, the tables could have the cream, cake and spoon placed on them in Scene 11, highlighting their presence for Labesha. His fixed central position would make it easier for the other characters to creep up on him and ‘catch’ him eating the cream, increasing the comic potential of his denial of its existence.

    In Scene 14, the tables might either help or hinder the lottery: those in the audience could be seated at them, however, the tables may also obstruct the lottery. Participants in the lottery spectacle could enter through the central doors, and removal of the tables would facilitate this entrance. If the tables remain onstage until the end of the play, they and the stage posts would mark a theatrical boundary between the site of the ordinary and the street outside, since action from Scene 10 onwards appears to occur in these two locations, blending into one another in Scene 14. Parrott suggests that Scene 10 takes place in the street outside the ordinary: ‘After the exit of the actors in the preceding scene, the main stage, cleared of its tables, chairs, etc., is supposed to be the street on which Labervele and the others appear’ (p. 693). Parrott thus posits the alternative view that the tables are removed at the end of Scene 8, possibly as part of the action.


    Scott McMillin points to evidence in Rose plays for three doors serving the frons, unlike De Witt’s drawing of the Swan stage. A stage direction in Patient Grissel reads ‘Enter Urcenze and Onophrio at several doors, and Farnezie in the midst’, with a similar stage direction occurring in the plot of 2 Seven Deadly Sins (160). McMillin suggests the middle door could have been a curtained entrance that doubled as a discovery space. It may have been larger than the other two on either side, since ‘“In the midst” says something about location, but nothing about size’ (160).

    The action of Scenes 8 and 10 suggests that the three doors could represent various locations. At the end of Scene 8, Lemot instructs Jaques to ‘shut the doors. Let nobody come in’ (TLN 1385). Since this exit involves several characters it seems obvious to suggest that they leave through the central opening, particularly if it is larger than the other two, as McMillin suggests. The doors are then shut before Labervele and his heated crew storm on stage and begin knocking at the same doors, craving admittance.

    If the tables from Scene 8 are left onstage, Labervele and company can still knock on the central opening, as if wishing to gain entry to an internal private room within the ordinary. However, dialogue specifies that they are standing in the street (TLN 1393), which is rendered less credible if they are amongst the tables. In this case it is suggested that they knock at a door other than the central opening. Scene 10 consists of a series of entrances and exits by groups of characters, (without bumping into one another), thus requiring the use of two separate doors, e.g. the two doors either side of the central opening. However, as with much other drama of the period, this is not to say that the doors onstage must lead to prescribed, fixed locations; the space’s fluidity accommodates the action’s demands.

    60In Scene 7, the King erroneously predicts the entrance of Dowsecer with the words, ‘See where he appears’ (TLN 821), when it is Lavel who enters, heavily burdened with a picture, a pair of large hose, a codpiece and a sword. This misidentification suggests that either Lavel’s burdens are piled high and obscure his face, or he enters backwards, in order to push through the door or curtain from the tiring house without risk of dropping his objects.

    It has been established that the Rose had two doors either side of a central discovery space. In recent years debate concerning these doors has occurred, mainly in Theatre Notebook. Initial discussion was inspired by Gabriel Egan’s suggestion that the ‘strange geometrical hinges’ referred to by the Duchess in The Duchess of Malfi (4.2.213) might refer to a new kind of hinge used on theatre doors, allowing them to open into the tiring house, or onto the stage, and be pinned back.[32] Andrew Gurr responded by pointing to A Knack to Know an Honest Man (1594), in which plural doors are referred to in one location, and are ordered to be removed from their hinges, while another location refers to an individual door, thus suggesting that the Rose had the option of hinged doors both at either side of the stage and covering the central entrance into the tiring house.[33] Gurr suggests that a combination of hangings (also referenced in plays) and doors could be employed to best serve dramatic requirements, and supports Dessen’s warning that the difference between ‘fictional’ and ‘theatrical’ stage directions must be observed. Reference to a door does not mean it is literally onstage, but may simply call the audience’s attention to the fact that it is imagined.

    The z-hinges thought referred to in The Duchess of Malfi appear to be a new invention, given that they are described as ‘strange’. Egan points out that the play must have been written before December 1614, due to the death of a named actor in this month (p. 63). His discussion is largely concerned with the Globe rather than the Rose; however, it is perfectly reasonable to suggest that Lavel might enter backwards, to open the door or push aside the curtain masking his point of entrance, and thus lead the King to believe he is Dowsecer.

    Smaller properties used in the play consist of the usual requirements for Elizabethan drama and are items easy to acquire: swords, a tobacco pipe, cards, various table-linen, a halter, pots, prizes and posies for the lottery, money and Labervele’s jewels. They are inventoried in Dessen and Thomson’s helpful dictionary.