1Title

In the Oxford History of English Literature, G. K. Hunter lists George Chapman’s play as ‘A Humorous Day’s Mirth (1597)’. This simple statement combines the two different lives of the play: on stage (the date) and in print (the title). In the summer of 1597 John Chamberlain wrote to Dudley Carleton: ‘We have here a new play of humours in very great request, and I was drawn along to it by the common applause, but my opinion of it is (as the fellow said of the shearing of hogs) that there was a great cry for so little wool’.[141] A play named as ‘the comodey of vmers’ was entered as ‘ne’ in Henslowe’s diary on 11 May 1597.[142] The same play is also referred to as ‘the vmers’ and performed a further ten times before the July break, on 19, 24, 31 May, 4, 7, 11, 17, 21 June, and 7 and 13 July; Henslowe also records performances on 11 October and 4 November of the same year.[143] ‘The Umers’ is also among the play-books Henslowe lists as having bought since 3 March 1598.[144]

The key pieces of information linking this play to the printed text of An Humorous Day’s Mirth lie in two inventories of goods taken by Henslowe on 10 and 13 March. Among the descriptions of various costumes is ‘Verones sonnes hosse’ and ‘Labesyas clocke, with gowld buttenes’;[145] the hose and cloak belonging to two characters specifically unique to An Humorous Day’s Mirth. This information led F. G. Fleay to identify the performed ‘comedy of humours’ with the text printed as An Humorous Day’s Mirth by Valentine Simmes in 1599; this is supported by the title page information identifying it as an Admiral’s Men play.[146]

Hunter records the play under its printed title, but adjacent to the year of first recorded performance, thus muddling the performed and printed life of the text. The printed title is remarkably straightforward and descriptive, alerting the reader to the play’s diurnal framework and its comedic play on characters’ humours or temperaments. The performed title heralds a new comic genre. Martin Wiggins has identified this play as the first of the new humours comedy, of such influence on the genre of comedy as to equal Tamburlaine‘s effect on tragic form.[147]

The question as to whether the authorial title should take precedence over the theatrical one is a philosophical one.[148] Indeed, it is not possible to determine whether Chapman or the printing house was responsible for the printed title. The choice involves either giving precedence to the play’s performed title, or identifying the printed text as the only true witness and closest to the author. Alternatively, one can incorporate both titles.