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

    Lemot始s courting of Florila in Scene 6 bears striking similarities to the wooing of Francesco Vergellesi始s wife by Zima in Boccaccio始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始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始, or Decameron 7.7, which is remarkably similar to the jig entitled ‘Rowland始s Son始.[155]

    Zima始s successful wooing of Francesco始s wife occurs within sight, but out of earshot, of Francesco, in similar circumstances to Lemot始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始 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始faith, sir, you are gone始,
    But it shall say, ‘i始faith, sir, we are one始.
    (TLN 719-721)

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

    A similar situation occurs in Spenser始s Faerie Queene (1590), Book 3, in which the elderly Malbecco is married to a beautiful younger woman, Hellenore. Spenser始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始s character. Like Florila and Francesco始s wife, Hellenore circumvents her husband始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始s wife flashes her eyes and sighs to communicate with Zima, Hellenore始s secret signs to Paridell include spilling wine, ‘By such close signs they secret way did make始 (3.9.31).

    While Florila is prevented from committing adultery because of Lemot始s deceit, and Francesco始s wife enjoys a fulfilling secret relationship with Zima, Hellenore始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始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始s petitions are false and he abandons Florila once she has committed herself to him, but, unlike poor Hellenore, Florila始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始s devout Puritanism by having her quote ‘Habbakuk the fourth始 (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!始 (TLN 418). Later, when Lemot has bitten Florila始s hand, he admonishes her for bad behaviour, urging her back to her husband with the words ‘Go, Habbakuk, go始 (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始s Speculum Stultarum, the phrase also appears in Lily始s Grammar (1540) to explain the relative case, thus confirming Catalian始s suspicions: ‘you shall hear him begin with some Latin sentence that he hath remembered ever since he read his accidence始 (TLN 1509-1511). Dowsecer, whom Labesha imitates, quotes not from his school grammar book, but from Cicero始s Tusculan Disputations upon his entry in Scene 7.

    Lemot始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始 (TLN 43-44). He continues by quoting from Thomas Preston始s Cambyses, King of Persia (1561), ‘My council grave...始 (TLN 46). In I Henry IV, written during the twelve months preceding the first performance of An Humorous Day始s Mirth, Sir John Oldcastle announces that he will play the part of Hal始s father in their role-play ‘in King Cambyses始 vein始 (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始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始s devout Puritanism is undermined by choice of a chapter which doesn始t exist from a biblical book which does, highlighting an erroneous knowledge of the Bible cloaked in piety. Similarities noted between An Humorous Day始s Mirth and Love始s Labour始s Lost, minor as they are, point to a similar, if unintentional, unveiling of the playwright始s own influences, in which plot device and word play are plundered for Chapman始s comical effect. For further discussion, see ‘Language始.