Digital Renaissance Editions

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    Not Peer Reviewed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

    1The Lottery

    Towards the end of Scene 7, the hen-pecked young Moren attempts to persuade his jealous wife to let him go to Verone’s ordinary for one meal. As a means of pacifying her, he explains the ‘reason’ for his visit is to buy the best of Verone’s Italian jewels for his wife (TLN 979-981). When the jewels are next mentioned the context of their appearance as part of the plot has transformed from a sale to a lottery. Jaques uses the news to delay Moren in Scene 13 while his wife is hot on his heels, after discovering through Lemot that Moren has been dining at the ordinary with ‘that light hussy Martia’ (TLN 1364). By now a ‘device’ has been created to frame the lottery of the jewels, and includes Jaquena playing Queen Fortune, and torchbearers. This framework inverts the more common representation of a maid or similarly lowborn character by a queen or lady, rather than vice versa.

    The lottery furnishes those purchasing jewels with an entertainment: exchange of money (here, five crowns) and receipt of jewels occurs as if guests were buying them outright. The lottery was a popular form of entertainment and gift-giving procedure rolled into one. A similar occasion is recorded by Sir John Davies as a lottery to entertain the Queen at Harefield House, the home of Sir Thomas Egerton, Lord Keeper during Elizabeth’s 1602 progress.[1] In place of Queen Fortune, or Verone’s maid Jaquena with her two pots, is a mariner who sings, delivers a short speech, and introduces a small box of booty in his possession by the grace of Fortune. The box contains ‘trifles’ which he promises to divide amongst the guests.

    There are twenty-nine lots listed, including Fortune’s wheel, a looking-glass, a ring engraved with the posy ‘As faithful as I find’, a pair of gloves, a pair of knives, a pair of writing-tables, a stomacher, a pair of scissors, a prayer-book, and a cushionet or pin-cushion.[2] The gifts, which are useful or decorative items, have been carefully selected for their female recipients, and the list contains jewelry, a religious item, and lots of some reasonable worth similar to Lemot’s lottery. A second record of the same lottery includes the allocation of the lots to their lucky recipients.[3] To add a frisson of chance, five items at the Queen’s lottery were blanks. The mariner explains that if one of the company receives a blank, it means that Fortune aims to pleasure that person in greater matters (perhaps some comfort for Labervele). It is noted that the Queen received Fortune’s wheel, suggesting that the lottery at Harefield was as little left to chance as the one in Chapman’s play.

    At the lottery in the play, which is put together somewhat hastily, Lemot is entrusted with making the posies at the suggestion of the King and with the agreement of the other characters. However, when the lottery begins in Scene 14, it becomes clear that posies have been penned for specific people and are not drawn from the pots by chance; the jewels also have pre-destined courses. The posies provide Lemot with the opportunity to issue warnings and advice to various characters about their behaviour. The lottery thus serves as Lemot’s vehicle of judgement, with the jewels allocated carrying further messages to their recipients. Labervele receives nothing, a blank, perhaps as an allusion to his childlessness, while his wife, the excessive Puritan, is given a crucifix as a warning against her superficially overabundant religiosity.

    5Up to and including this point, Lemot has been solely in charge of proceedings. This scene sees the gradual transfer of power from Lemot, who exercises his final control during the lottery, to the King, whose unifying speech ends the play. The presentation of this particular gift to the King begins a sequence in which each character receives their just desserts. The compact, orderly procedure of the lottery neatly summarises and concludes the events of Lemot’s day of omnipotence, the judgement of characters thus systematically and wittily executed, in parallel with Lemot’s exposition of their humours. The summary is a necessary and essential part of the action, suggesting that although Lemot has caused great discomfort and awkwardness between characters, the experience might be a productive and fruitful one for them if lessons can be learned. His warnings to them are condensed in his advice to Martia: ‘Change for the better’ (TLN 1946).

    The Queen’s heart of gold seems to signify her simplistic marital devotion. The King’s prize of ‘the sum of four shillings in gold’ (TLN 1918-1919) is possibly a reference to a coin, the old French crown, which was valued at 4s in 1562.[4] Since the play is set in France, awarding a French crown to the French King is entirely appropriate. The King’s response (that there is no such coin in France), is a joke aimed at the English audience, the tautological presentation of the French King with a French crown, thus restoring to him governance and power. It is also suggestive of the baldness caused by syphilis, itself known as morbus gallicus or the French pox, although no further references to the King having this disease have been found in the play.[5] In this context, the prize would function as a warning to the King to remain faithful to the Queen and not allow his roving eye to alight on young women such as Martia.

    Martia and Dowsecer’s prize allows several different angles of interpretation. Martia receives ‘the two serpents’ heads set with diamonds’ (TLN 1951-1952). The serpent is most overtly associated with the temptation of Eve in the Garden of Eden. Martia’s prize seems to warn her of the temptations her beauty provokes in the male characters. The OED lists ‘serpent’ as a symbol of envy (serpent n. 3a) and although Martia herself is not envious she has the ability to arouse envy in other women. Her list of suitors is long and impressive, equalling that of Rachel in The Case Is Altered, and is composed of Colinet, Labesha, Dowsecer, Moren and the King. Her beauty draws Dowsecer out of his melancholy, provokes affected melancholy in Labesha, and entices the King and Moren away from their anxious spouses, thus proving a large threat to the stability of the play’s social and political world.

    Woman with a caduceusSnakes also had positive connotations. When in 1556 John Caius gave, among other things, a caduceus to the Royal College of Physicians he explained that ‘the snakes, symbols of prudence, teach that one should rule and act with prudence’.[6] Walter Friedlander includes a description of Caius’s coat of arms: ‘two [separated] serpents, resting upon the square marble stone, wisdom [i.e., one of the serpents] with grace [i.e., the other serpent] founded and stayed upon virtue’s stable stone’.[7] Edelman persuasively suggests that Martia’s serpents’ heads are those on Dowsecer’s prize, so that the couple receive a joint prize (Edelman, 13.273n). The two serpents which coil round the rod of the caduceus suggest intimacy for the couple, but also that Martia will be controlled by the rod presented to her future husband; he will become head of her household and her self.

    Joseph A. Porter explains that the caduceus was a symbol of peace ‘because Mercury, having found two serpents fighting, threw between them the wand given him by Apollo, and so established concord’.[8] In this context, the donation of the caduceus to Dowsecer implies a bestowal of power upon him and governance of his wife-to-be. If Mercury is thought to have brought love out of hostility, then Lemot is also playing Mercury by throwing the mercurial rod between Dowsecer and Martia: in Scene 7 Dowsecer enters as a misanthropic scholar, disinterested in women or procreation until he spies Martia. The two would-be lovers have become embroiled in the intrigues of Lemot, who now offers them the caduceus as a sign of peace and fertility. Mercury is also known as god of thieves, and as such becomes a powerful patron of this love affair, since Dowsecer has stolen Martia from the person of the King and affections of her other admirers.

    10Mercury’s rod is also particularly associated with scholarship and verbal proficiency. In John Eliot’s French language manual Ortho-epia Gallica: Eliots Fruits for the French (1593), the introduction explains that his rules will be ‘as Mercury’s finger to direct thee in thy progress of learning’ (C1). In his introductory letter, Eliot describes Mercury as ‘the God of cunning’ (A4v). Betty Radice describes the mercurial temperament as ‘lively, inquiring, ingenious’, which is certainly compatible with Dowsecer’s meditations in Scene 7. Radice also notes that for the Renaissance philosophers Mercury occupies an important position as ‘mediator between the human mind and the divine wisdom’.[9]

    But perhaps a different kind of eloquence and intelligence is being wished on Dowsecer. Stephen Batman elucidates that the caduceus ‘is a token of Peace, but the knot with two serpents, clasping each other about the said sceptre, doth intimate that no promise must be broken’.[10] An emblem of Cupid holding a caduceus carries the motto ‘The power of eloquence in love’, while the epigram reads ‘Eloquence has the power to sway a lady’.[11] The caduceus might therefore endow Dowsecer with emotional intelligence, wishing him good judgement in marriage, a wisdom different from scholarly learning.

    The lottery concludes for control to be returned to the King, and is signified in his final unifying speech, ending both the scene and the play with an invitation for all to return to his court, where they can ‘crown’ the mirthful day Lemot has orchestrated. The invitation also functions as an attempt by the King to bring his subjects back within his auspices, reassuring them that no harm has been done.