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  • 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    Not Peer Reviewed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 the Card Game

    Throughout Scene 8, the characters arrive at the ordinary and play a game of cards whilst waiting for dinner to be ready. Although the game has a very clear beginning, with Berger calling for the cards from Verone and inviting Rowley to play, only occasional reference is subsequently made to it. By analysing each small reference it is possible to decipher that the most likely game being played is Primero, also referred to by Shakespeare in Henry VIII Internet Shakespeare EditionsTLN 2778–780, where Gardiner has left the King playing the same game with the Duke of Suffolk.[19]

    Identification of the card game is useful not only for the sake of labelling the game, but also to aid understanding of the dynamics of the scene. It helps to be aware that Primero can involve any number of players, who may enter or leave the game at any point, such as happens in Scene 8. The popularity of this game amongst gentry and commoners also suggests that while the audience are watching gallants of the King’s court, they would be able to identify easily with the game being played onstage. The game chosen fulfils the demands of the dramatic action: the majority of characters are involved with the game, apart from Lemot and Catalian, who circumnavigate the action, commenting and plotting. However, the rules of Primero also allow Lemot to pick out characters and draw them from the game with ease and realism. These details inform an editor’s choices in terms of directing stage action through inserted stage directions, but also through commentary, which enlightens readers who do not have the benefit of witnessing the action themselves.

    25The card game appears to give Lemot and Catalian, who exclude themselves from it, a good opportunity to observe the other characters, speak about them and experiment with Lemot’s predictive word games. This kind of aside, whereby the dialogue between two characters is audible to the audience but not any other characters present on stage, is known as the ‘dialogical aside’.[20] Pfister observes that it requires particular staging, by grouping ‘the figures participating ... together at the front of the stage, well away from the other figures’ (p. 140). Theatrically, the card game focuses the other characters’ attention and keeps them stationary, so the audience can observe them, while Lemot and Catalian’s running commentary continues. If those playing the card game were positioned in the middle of the stage, the stage posts would perfectly frame their idiosyncrasies and humours, just as in Every Man out of His Humour, the Grex frames the action with commentary. The broad stage of the Rose would allow Lemot and Catalian space away from the card players, with the stage posts serving almost as a physical boundary framing the card players and providing a private space for Lemot and Catalian to discuss the gamers, overheard only by the audience. Since Verone and his servants have set up at least one table onstage, it seems sensible that the card players are seated at it when playing their games.

    Pfister further comments that the dialogical aside ‘is generally conditioned by conspiratorial dialogue or dialogue in an eavesdropping situation’ (p. 140). Lemot and Catalian are conspiring with one another, as well as ‘eavesdropping’ in their observation of the other characters, and interruption of the game. Through these two characters, the audience become eavesdroppers and conspirators also, drawn into the action by the osmotic device of the aside. Chapman exploits the aside almost exclusively for Lemot’s usage, particularly the aside ad spectatores, which Pfister observes is generally reserved for comedic drama and most often for ‘The speakers who are keenest to make contact with the audience’, mainly ‘scheming villains or servant figures’ (p. 139). Lemot arguably merges both categories, being the King’s scheming servant. The point of his asides is to inform the audience of his schemes, ‘and thus both to create a level of suspense for what is to follow and to ensure that the audience has an informational advantage over the victims of the intrigue – an important factor in the creation of a comic effect’ (p. 140). The anticipation of what is to come is further heightened by ensuring the audience’s complicity, which in turn renders Lemot less harmful and more of a trickster.

    Rowley is persuaded to begin playing cards by Berger. This first reference to the game is clear but the actual start of play is more complex. By TLN 1212 Rowley has lost the 'two or three crowns' he ventured in the game. When Rowley decides to quit at this point, Catalian persuades him to continue with his financial backing, ‘to him again’. This suggests an alternative scenario to the Primero hypothesis: Rowley might be engaged in a game with Berger, while the other three card players, Moren, Foyes and Labesha, play a different game.

    The card game is still being played at TLN 1234-1235 where Lemot asks Rowley if he is winning or losing. If only Lemot and Catalian are excluded from the card game, it would be necessary to include Blanvel in the gaming party, despite his not being invited to join them. In fact, he seems to have been forgotten about altogether and doesn't speak for the rest of the scene after his final words at TLN 1129. Blanvel often ‘disappears’ from scenes, a possible indication of a pre-theatrical manuscript used as copy text for this quarto. However, another explanation lies in Lemot’s description in Scene 2 of Blanvel’s humour, in which he retreats to stand by a wall or chimney with his arms folded and refuses to budge. Blanvel’s lack of lines in Scene 8 might suggest that he has once again taken up his position and will remain silent for the rest of the scene. Alternatively, he might be allowed to join in the card game.