Monday, 31 May 2021

31 May, 1597 - A Humorous Day's Mirth

Here's what the Admiral's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

Henslowe writes: 31 | tt at the vmers... 03 | 04

In modern English: 31st [May, 1597] ... total at The Humours ... £3 and 4 shillings [i.e. 64 shillings]

Today, the Admiral's Men revived their 
A classic image of a
melancholic, from
Robert Burton's Anatomy
of Melancholy (1622)
Comedy of Humours
, which is almost certainly another name for George Chapman's A Humorous Day's Mirth. You can read more about this eccentric comedy in the entry for 11 May

This is amazing! It's the fourth performance of A Humorous Day's Mirth and the box office is continuing to rise instead of fall! This is almost unheard of at the Rose and shows that the play has received tremendous word of mouth, attracting huge crowds to the Bankside. We should remember John Chamberlain's description of his trip to see the play: "I was drawn along to it by the common applauses". 

Henslowe links



Comments?


Did I make a mistake? Do you have a question? Have you anything to add? Please post a comment below!

Sunday, 30 May 2021

30 May, 1597 - The Life and Death of Harry I

Here's what the Admiral's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

Henslowe writes: 30 | tt at harey the fyrste life & deth ... 00 | 19

In modern English: 30th [May, 1597] ... total at Harry I, Life and Death ... 19 shillings

 
King Henry I depicted in The Book
of the Laws of Ancient Kings (1321)
Today, the Admiral's Men revived their lost history play, The Life and Death of Harry I, which told the story of King Henry I, the twelfth century king of England. You can read more about this play in the entry for 26 May.

The company has rushed Harry I back to the stage, but despite its solid premiere, today's audience is small. Word of mouth has clearly been terrible. 


Henslowe links



Comments?


Did I make a mistake? Do you have a question? Have you anything to add? Please post a comment below!



Friday, 28 May 2021

28 May, 1597 - Alexander and Lodowick

Here's what the Admiral's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

Henslowe writes: 28 | tt at elexsander & lodwicke ... | 00 | 13

In modern English: 28th [May, 1597] ... received at Alexander and Lodowick ... 13 shillings

A very generic illustration accompanying the
printed text of the ballad of The Two Faithful
Friends: The Pleasant History of Alexander
and Lodowick
Today, the Admiral's Men revived Alexander and Lodowick, a lost play about two friends who swap places. You can read more about this play in the entry for 14 January

After a wonderful last performance to a packed house during the Whitsuntide holiday, today's is a comedown, with a very small audience.

Today's entry includes a note that Henslowe paid the license for the Rose to the Master of the Revels; you can read more about this in the entry for 8 November, 1595.


What's next?



There will be no blog entry tomorrow because 29 May was a Sunday in 1597 and the players did not perform. Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will thus return on the 30th for a week that will include a new play! See you then!


Henslowe links



Comments?


Did I make a mistake? Do you have a question? Have you anything to add? Please post a comment below!

Thursday, 27 May 2021

27 May, 1597 - A Woman Hard to Please

Here's what the Admiral's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

Henslowe writes: 27 | tt at womon hard to pleasse | 00 | 05 

In  modern English: 27th [May, 1597] ... total at Woman Hard to Please ... 5 shillings


A woman looks deeply unimpressed by her
rescuer in Paolo Uccello's St George and
the Dragon
(c.1470)
Today, for the last time, the Admiral's Men revived their enigmatic lost play, A Woman Hard to Please. You can read more about this play in the entry for 27 January.

The company has waited two and a half weeks to bring back A Woman Hard to Please, but the box office is absolutely terrible for today's performance.

This is the last record of a performance of A Woman Hard to Please in Henslowe's Diary. The play began in January with a strong premiere, and for a while the company pushed it hard, with frequent performances that received solid audiences. But over the last few weeks the box office has cratered, and the company has performed it less often. They have clearly decided that it has delighted London long enough. 


Henslowe links



Comments?


Did I make a mistake? Do you have a question? Have you anything to add? Please post a comment below!

Wednesday, 26 May 2021

26 May, 1597 - The Life and Death of Harry I

Here's what the Admiral's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

Henslowe writes: 26 | ne | ... tt at harey the firste life & deth ... 02 | 10

In modern English: 26th [May, 1597] ... New ... total at Harry I, Life and Death ... £2 and 10 shillings [i.e. 50 shillings]


Today, the Admiral's Men premiered a new play! Unfortunately, The Life and Death of Harry I is lost, but its title tells us very clearly that it was a biographical history play about Henry I, the twelfth century king of England. 

The reign of Henry I was long and complicated (and almost everyone involved in it was named William, Robert or Matilda), so it is hard to know exactly which events were portrayed in this play. However, if one cuts through the details, it is possible to see how Henry's story could have made for a play that might have appealed to the Rose audience.  

The life


King Henry I depicted in The Book
of the Laws of Ancient Kings (1321)


Henry came to the throne in a contentious manner when King William II died unexpectedly in a hunting accident. Even though Henry was the youngest of William's brothers, he persuaded the lords to crown him king because his older brother, Robert, was far away on a crusade in the Holy Land. Robert was not pleased and returned to claim the English throne. Basing himself in his duchy of Normandy, he attempted an invasion, and the brothers entered into a long contest of wars and negotiations. Robert's story came to an end when Henry invaded his duchy of Normandy and imprisoned him. 

The Battle of Brémule depicted in the Grandes
Chroniques de France
(late 1370s)
Further wars ensued when the King of France, Louis VI (known as Louis the Fat), attempted to take Normandy; the various conflicts included the Battle of Brémule, in which Henry led a victorious army against the French.

Henry also fought the Welsh on the English marches and led an army into Wales, forcing its rulers to sue for peace. However, these events may not have been in the play. In his catalogue of British drama, Martin Wiggins points out that next year the company will perform another play about Henry entitled The Famous Wars of Henry I and the Prince of Wales. This implies that the present play did not cover the Welsh campaign. 

Either way, this summary suggests that Henry could have been played on the stage as a triumphant warrior king; if so, he would have been a perfect role for the company's leading actor, Edward Alleyn, who specialized in these kinds of roles. 

The death


The shipwreck that killed young William and
Matilda, depicted in The Book of the
Laws of Ancient Kings (1321)
The Life and Death of Henry I probably ended in tragedy, however. Henry's son William was confirmed as Duke of Normandy, but he returned to England on The White Ship, which capsized; young William drowned trying to rescue his sister Matilda. Henry was left without an heir.

The title tells that the play included Henry's death. This is surprising, since his end was ignominious. Henry famously died from eating "a surfeit of lampreys", that is, too many portions of this tasty fish. As he lacked a clear successor, Henry's death plunged England into anarchy. 


Drawing a crowd


In her entry on Harry I for the Lost Plays Database, Roslyn L. Knutson points out that Belin Dun, the company's much-performed lost play about a highwayman, is set during the reign of Henry I. Indeed, the two men were linked in a lost ballad recorded in 1594 (the year Belin Dun was premiered), entitled The Famous Chronicle of Henry the First, with the Life and Death of Belin Dun, the First Thief that ever was Hanged in England. Perhaps Henry appeared in the play of Belin Dun; could its recent return to the stage have been a way of raising excitement about the upcoming Harry I?

Whatever the exact content of The Life and Death of Harry I, today's box office is positive; the Rose is not full, but a very large audience has arrived. The prospect of a new English history play seems to have been very attractive to Londoners.


FURTHER READING


The Life and Death of Harry I information


  • Andrew Gurr, Shakespeare's Opposites: The Admiral's Company, 1594-1625 (Cambridge University Press, 2009), 229.
  • Roslyn L. Knutson, "Henry I, Life and Death of", Lost Plays Database (2019), accessed May 2021. 
  • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vol. 3 (Oxford University Press, 2013), entry 1075.

Henslowe links


Comments?


Did I make a mistake? Do you have a question? Have you anything to add? Please post a comment below!



Tuesday, 25 May 2021

25 May, 1597 - Hieronimo

Here's what Lord Strange's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...
Henslowe writes: 25 | tt at Joronymo ... | 00 | 19

In modern English: 25th [May, 1597] ... total at Hieronimo ... 19 
shillings 

Woodcut from the 1615 edition of The Spanish Tragedy.
Today, the Admiral's Men revived Hieronimo, which is almost certainly an alternate title for Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy, a famous and much-loved old play about the revenge of a grieving father for his son's death. You can read more about this play in the entry for 14th March, 1592.

The company has waited three weeks to return this classic to the stage. The box office has improved somewhat, as has also been the case with some other plays this week; perhaps the weather is improving as summer comes in. 


    Henslowe links



    Comments?


    Did I make a mistake? Do you have a question? Have you anything to add? Please post a comment below!

    Monday, 24 May 2021

    24 May, 1597 - A Humorous Day's Mirth

    Here's what the Admiral's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

    Henslowe writes: 24 | tt at comody of vmers... 02 | 18

    In modern English: 24th [May, 1597] ... total at Comedy of Humours ... £2 and 18 shillings [i.e. 58 shillings]

    Today, the Admiral's Men revived their 
    A classic image of a
    melancholic, from
    Robert Burton's Anatomy
    of Melancholy (1622)
    Comedy of Humours
    , which is almost certainly another name for George Chapman's A Humorous Day's Mirth. You can read more about this eccentric comedy in the entry for 11 May

    Wonderful news for the company! The third performance of A Humorous Day's Mirth is a tremendous success, with the box office rising instead of falling, and almost filling the Rose playhouse. This is an utterly different turn of events from what one normally expects, and the actors must be thrilled to have finally scored a hit after so many plays have disappointed. 

    Henslowe links



    Comments?


    Did I make a mistake? Do you have a question? Have you anything to add? Please post a comment below!

    Sunday, 23 May 2021

    23 May, 1597 - Five Plays in One

    Here's what the Admiral's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

    Henslowe writes: 23 | tt at v playes in one | 01 | 00
    In modern English: 23rd [May, 1597] ... total at Five Plays in One ... £1 [i.e. 20 shillings]

    The number 5 in a
    column of figures
    in Henslowe's Diary
    Today, the Admiral's Men revived their lost piece Five Plays in One, which was probably a collection of one-act plays, perhaps linked by a narrative device; you can read more about it in the entry for 7 April

    The company seems to be following a rule of performing Five Plays in One every ten days or so. The box office has this time risen from awful to adequate; the play's fortunes seem hard to predict. 



    Henslowe links



    Comments?


    Did I make a mistake? Do you have a question? Have you anything to add? Please post a comment below!

    Friday, 21 May 2021

    21 May, 1597 - A French Comedy

    Here's what the Admiral's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

    Henslowe writes: 21 | tt at frenshe comodey ...  | 00 | 14

    In modern English: 21st [May, 1597] ... total at French Comedy ... 14 shillings

    Antoine Watteau, Actors of the
    Comédie-Française
    (1710s)
    Today, the Admiral's Men performed A French Comedy, a lost play. You can read more about this play in the entry for 18 April.

    Following its debut in mid-April, the company had been staging A French Comedy more frequently than any other play, often more than once a week. However, they have now given it a break for over a fortnight. Perhaps surprisingly, the box office has dropped considerably.

    What's next?


    There will be no blog entry tomorrow, because 23 May was a Sunday in 1597 and the players did not perform. Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will thus return on the 24th, for a week that will include a new play. See you then!

    Henslowe links


    Comments?


    Did I make a mistake? Do you have a question? Have you anything to add? Please post a comment below!

    Thursday, 20 May 2021

    20 May, 1597 - Belin Dun

    Here's what the Admiral's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

    Henslowe writes: 20 | tt at bellendon | 00 | 10

    In modern English: 20th [May, 1597] ... total at Belin Dun ... 10 shillings

    A highwayman portrayed in Richard
    Head's The English Rogue (1666)
    Today, the Admiral's Men performed Belin Dun, their lost play about the notorious robber who terrorized the highways around Dunstable during the reign of King Henry I; you can read more about this play in the entry for 10 June, 1594.

    After a spell of performing Belin Dun weekly, the company has now waited three weeks to return it. Unfortunately, the box office has declined.

    Henslowe links



    Comments?


    Did I make a mistake? Do you have a question? Have you anything to add? Please post a comment below!

    Wednesday, 19 May 2021

    19 May, 1597 - A Humorous Day's Mirth

    Here's what the Admiral's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

    Henslowe writes: 19 | tt at the comody of vmers... 02 | 15

    In modern English: 19th [May, 1597] ... total at The Comedy of Humours ... £2 and 15 shillings [i.e. 55 shillings]


    Today, the Admiral's Men revived their 
    A classic image of a
    melancholic, from
    Robert Burton's Anatomy
    of Melancholy (1622)
    Comedy of Humours
    , which is almost certainly another name for George Chapman's A Humorous Day's Mirth. You can read more about this eccentric comedy in the entry for 11 May

    Today's box office is a happy surprise! The second performance of the company's new comedy is a great success, attracting an even bigger crowd than the premiere. This is a very rare occurrence and the company may be wondering whether they have a new hit on their hands. However, the festival of Whitsuntide may still be having an effect on audience size, so the players should try not to get too excited. 


    Henslowe links



    Comments?


    Did I make a mistake? Do you have a question? Have you anything to add? Please post a comment below!

    Tuesday, 18 May 2021

    18 May, 1597 - Captain Thomas Stukeley

    Here's what the Admiral's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

    Henslowe writes: w | 18 | tt at stewtley ... | 01 | 12
    In modern English: Wednesday, 18th [April, 1597] ... Received at Stukeley ... £1 and 12 shillings [i.e. 32 shillings]

    1629 Portuguese illustration of the Battle of Alcazar
    Today, the Admiral's Men revived Captain Thomas Stukeley, their tale about the titular English mercenary's adventures in Ireland, Spain and Morocco, and his death at the Battle of Alcazar. You can read more about this play in the entry for 10 December, 1596.

    The company continues to perform Stukeley only once a month. Today's staging is more successful than it has been of late, with the playhouse half full. No doubt this is due to last days of the festive Whitsuntide festive season. 


    Henslowe links



    Comments?


    Did I make a mistake? Do you have a question? Have you anything to add? Please post a comment below!


    Monday, 17 May 2021

    17 May, 1597 - Alexander and Lodowick

    Here's what the Admiral's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

    Henslowe writes: T | 17 | tt at elexsander & lodwicke ... | 03 | 00

    In modern English: Tuesday, 17th [May, 1597] ... received at Alexander and Lodowick ... £3 [i.e. 60 shillings]

    A very generic illustration accompanying the
    printed text of the ballad of The Two Faithful
    Friends: The Pleasant History of Alexander
    and Lodowick
    The Whitsuntide holidays continue today! The Admiral's Men have decided to revive Alexander and Lodowick, a lost play about two friends who swap places. You can read more about this play in the entry for 14 January

    Today is a splendid day for the Admiral's Men, as the Rose is almost full with patrons. This has been an extremely rare occurrence over the last few years, and the players are likely savouring it. 

    Henslowe links



    Comments?


    Did I make a mistake? Do you have a question? Have you anything to add? Please post a comment below!

    Sunday, 16 May 2021

    16 May, 1597 - Uther Pengragon

    Here's what the Admiral's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

    Henslowe writes: whittsone mvnday | 16 | tt at pendragon ... | 02 | 19

    In modern English: Whitsun Monday ... 16th [May, 1597] ... total at Pendragon ... £2 and 19 shillings [i.e. 59 shillings]

    Uther Pendragon and Merlin, from British
    Library manuscript Royal 20 A II
    (early 14th century)
    Hooray, it's a holiday! Today is Whit Monday, the first day of Whitsuntide, a multi-day holiday celebrating the beginning of summer. Londoners are in a festive mood and ready for a bit of fun in the theatre. On this special day, the Admiral's Men have revived Uther Pendragon, their lost play about the father of King Arthur. You can read more about this play in the entry for 29 April.

    The company must be delighted by today's performance, which has drawn a huge crowd, almost filling the Rose. They must be particularly pleased to perform Uther Pendragon to such a crowd. Despite being pushed heavily over the last few weeks, the play has not been proving at all popular, so today is a much-needed burst of enthusiasm. The actors are probably revelling in it.
     

    Henslowe links


    Comments?


    Did I make a mistake? Do you have a question? Have you anything to add? Please post a comment below!

    Friday, 14 May 2021

    14 May, 1597 - Five Plays in One

    Here's what the Admiral's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

    Henslowe writes: 14 | tt at v playes in one | 00 | 07
    In modern English: 14th [May, 1597] ... total at Five Plays in One ... 7 shillings

    The number 5 in a
    column of figures
    in Henslowe's Diary
    Today, the Admiral's Men revived their lost piece Five Plays in One, which was probably a collection of one-act plays, perhaps linked by a narrative device; you can read more about it in the entry for 7 April

    The company has again waited a week and a half to return the five plays to the Rose. But now the box office has plummeted even further into truly awful territory.


    What's next?


    There will be no blog entry tomorrow because 15 May was a Sunday in 1597 and the players did not perform. Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will thus return on the 16th for a week that will include some festive fun!

    Henslowe links



    Comments?


    Did I make a mistake? Do you have a question? Have you anything to add? Please post a comment below!

    Wednesday, 12 May 2021

    12 May, 1597 - Uther Pendragon

    Here's what the Admiral's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

    Henslowe writes: 12 | tt at pendragon ... | 0 | 017

    In modern English: 12th [May, 1597] ... total at Pendragon ... 17 shillings

    Uther Pendragon and Merlin, from British
    Library manuscript Royal 20 A II
    (early 14th century)
    Today, the Admiral's Men revived Uther Pendragon, a lost play about the father of King Arthur. You can read more about this play in the entry for 29 April.

    The company is continuing to perform Uther Pendragon once every few days, even though it is not proving at all popular.

    What's next?


    There will be no blog entry tomorrow because for unknown reasons Henslowe records no performance. Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will thus return on the 14th - see you then!
     

    Henslowe links


    Comments?


    Did I make a mistake? Do you have a question? Have you anything to add? Please post a comment below!

    Tuesday, 11 May 2021

    11 May, 1597 - A Humorous Day's Mirth

    Here's what the Admiral's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

    Henslowe writes: 11 | ne |  tt at the comodey of vmers... 02 | 03

    In modern English: 11th [May, 1597] ... total at The Comedy of Humours ... £2 and 3 shillings [i.e. 43 shillings]

    Today, the Admiral's Men premiered a new play! And in a very unusual turn of events, this play has survived the passage of time and can still be read today, albeit under a different title.

    George Chapman, from a
    1616 edition of his
    translation of Homer.
    Although Henslowe calls it The Comedy of Humours, today's play is almost certainly the same one that will be published in 1599 under the title A Humorous Day's Mirth. The evidence can be found in Henslowe's 1598 inventory of costumes, which includes "Verone's son's hose" and "Labesha's cloak with gold buttons", referring to two of the characters in A Humorous Day's Mirth. In Henslowe's list of performances, The Comedy of Humours is the only title that fits the play well.

    A Humorous Day's Mirth was written by George Chapman, whom we met last year as the author of the wildly popular comedy of disguises, The Blind Beggar of Alexandria. For his follow-up, Chapman has provided another wacky farce, which this time belongs to the genre known as 'humours comedy'. 


    What is humours comedy?


    The four temperaments, illustrated in a
    15th-century German calendar. Clockwise
    from left: phlegmatic, sanguine, choleric
    and melancholic.
    Confusingly enough, in Elizabethan times, the word 'humour' did not refer to comedy. Medical theory at the time held that the human body was affected by four fluids, known as humours, namely, blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. If one of the humours was present in greater amounts than the others, it could affect a person's temperament, making them sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric, or melancholic.

    The word 'humour' thus came to mean an eccentric character trait; hence, as Ben Jonson explains at the beginning of his comedy Every Man Out of his Humour:
       When some one peculiar quality
    Doth so possess a man that it doth draw
    All his affects, his spirits, and his powers
    In their confluxions all to run one way,
    This may truly said to be a 'humour'.

    A 'humours comedy' is thus a play in which the characters are dominated by peculiar characteristics. It is possible that Chapman actually invented the genre with today's play. It will be followed by Ben Jonson's Every Man in his Humour and Every Man Out of his Humour. And humours are mentioned  on the title pages of many plays of this period, including Shakespeare's: The First Part of Henry IV advertises "the humorous conceits of Sir John Falstaff" and The Merry Wives of Windsor announces the characters' "sundry variable and pleasing humours".  


    The play


    Set in Paris (but a Paris that feels exactly like Elizabethan England), A Humorous Day's Mirth showcases a variety of humorous characters. It is difficult to describe the plot because there is no central storyline; the play is better thought of as a a jumble of subplots, some quite vague in their execution. 

    The figure around which everything revolves is Lemot, whose own humour is his desire to laugh at other people. Lemot acts as a kind of onstage ringmaster, provoking the play's characters into displaying their humours and then commenting on them. When his friend Colinet excitedly says, "we may chance to have a fair day, for we shall spend it with so humorous acquaintance as rains nothing but humour all their lifetime", Lemot announces that he will preside over the affairs "like an old king in an old-fashion play" and will "sit, as it were, and point out all my humorous companions" (scene 2).

    Jan Steen, Leaving the Tavern (late 17th century)
    So he does. And really, that's all you need to know. Various characters are introduced with eccentric humours. Lemot provokes some storylines in which characters fall in love or become romantically jealous. Some of them have clear story arcs that come to a resolution in the end, while others feel more like short comic sketches. The play as a whole is more akin to a variety show than a straightforward narrative. 

    At the end of the play, the characters all end up at an ordinary (a kind of inn). And there, Lemot acts as a master of ceremonies at a lottery, presenting posies (little poems) that tell the truth about each of the characters. Finally, the King announces the conclusion.

    And here I solemnly invite you all
    Home to my court, where with feats we will crown
    This mirthful day, and vow it to renown. (Scene 13)

    If you would like to read A Humorous Day's Mirth, there are two modern-spelling editions available: Eleanor Lowe's online edition at Digital Renaissance Editions, and Charles Edelman's for the Revels Plays series.


    The humourous characters

    What's amusing about A Humorous Day's Mirth is not its story but rather its characters and the humours that they display. Let's look at a few of them.

    A classic image of a
    melancholic, from
    Robert Burton's Anatomy
    of Melancholy (1622)
    One of the most popular humours in this genre is melancholia, the state of depression that supposedly arose from an excess of black bile. Melancholics were gloomy, antisocial, and disgusted by the world, and were stereotypically portrayed with folded arms and with their hats pulled over their eyes, to illustrate their introverted withdrawal from society.

    One of the melancholics in A Humorous Day's Mirth is Dowsecar, whom the other characters find entertaining to watch. In one scene, they gather to observe him encounter a series of objects placed there to try to cure him: a sword (an emblem of warlike bravery), hose and a codpiece (the clothes of a fashionable young man), and a painting of a woman. But Dowesecar rejects them all. When his father tries to persuade him to marry and have children, Dowsecar replies he would be of more value to the world if he simply died, so that his corpse could nourish the grass that feeds the cattle in the field. He gloomily concludes that "Wealth is the only father and the child, / And but in wealth no man has any joy". Everyone thinks he's mad except the King, who thinks that on the contrary, Dowsecar has "perfect judgement" (scene 7). 

    But one of the recurring jokes of this play is that humours are not as fundamental to the characters' personalities as they may seem, and are often revealed to be affectations that can can be banished by such things as the power of love. Among the observers of Dowsecar is the beautiful Martia. When Dowsecar sees her, he falls instantly in love, crying "am I burnt to dust / With a new sun", and realizes that his melancholia was not his true self (scene 7). 

    Martia herself is pledged to marry another humorous figure, Labesha. His humour is his extreme gullibility which him easy to fool, rather like Shakespeare's Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night. But when he loses Martia to Dowecar, Labesha takes on the humour of melancholia himself, affecting to be a misanthrope at war with the world: "I will in silence live a man forlorn, / Mad, and melancholy as a cat". The other characters test his new humour by placing a cream cake in front of him. He rails upon it in an absurd parody of melancholic posturing:

    O sour cream! What thinkest thou, that I love thee still? ... If thou haddest strawberries and sugar in thee - but it may be thou art set with stale cake to choke me! Well, taste it, and try it, spoonful by spoonful. [Tries the cake.] Bitterer and bitterer still! But O, sour cream, wert thou an onion, since Fortune set thee for me, I will eat thee, and I will devour thee in spite of Fortune's spite.
    Choke I or burst I, mistress, for thy sake,
    To end my life, eat I this cream and cake. (scene 10)
    Other humours are on display too. The old man Labervele is obsessively jealous of his young wife, Florilla. And Florilla herself is a religious puritan: on her first entrance, she realizes that she is wearing too many clothes for the warm weather:

    What have I done? Put on too many clothes?
    The day is hot, and I am hotter clad
    Than might suffice health.
    My conscience tells me that I have offended
    And I'll put them off.

    But then she fears that doing so would waste time that could be spent on godly things:

    That will ask time that might be better spent;
    One sin will draw another quickly so.
    See how the devil tempts! (scene 4)

    Failed Puritans in a woodcut from the ballad
    The Beggar's Delight (late 17th century)
    Labervele worries that if his wife encounters a young man, her blood will cause her piety to disappear. He is correct; once again, humours cannot be trusted, because her religious humour is an act that she performs to keep her distance from the old man. Lemot affects to 'test' her for the old man by wooing her, and although she rebuffs him in her husband's presence, she attempts a liaison with Lemot later. But he sends her back to her husband. 

    These are the kinds of things that happen in A Humorous Day's Mirth. They don't all come across as very funny on the page, but the talented actors at the Rose must have been able to bring out the comic energy that resides within them. 

    Responses


    We are fortunate to have a very rare thing for A Humorous Day's Mirth: an eye-witness report. John Chamberlain was a courtier whose letters to his friend Dudley Carleton contain all sorts of fascinating information about the age. On 11 June, Chamberlain wrote about seeing the play at the Rose. He was not impressed:

    We have here [in London] 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. 

    Chamberlain may not have liked the play, but his letter mentions that he was drawn by its great popularity. It seems that everyone in London was talking about A Humorous Day's Mirth. Although today's box office is not at all impressive for a premiere, things are going to change.

    What we learn from this


    What we learn from A Humorous Day's Mirth is that genres that seem baffling today could be massively popular in Elizabethan London. To a modern reader, the play seems a disjointed muddle of silly comic sketches, not a patch on the elegant comedies that Shakespeare was producing across the river. But Chapman's play will prove a tremendous success and will spawn many imitations. 

    The title page of the 1599
    publication of the play
    The other thing we learn is that the printed text of a play may not always reflect what was seen on the stage. A Humorous Day's Mirth feels inelegant on the page because the 1599 printed text is a mess; its stage directions and speech prefixes are muddled, there are confusing plot holes and characters who fade away, and the printer turned all the verse speeches into prose.

    One theory is that the text was printed from an early draft of the play, and that the finished version for the Rose may have been more coherent. The modern-spelling editions by Eleanor Lowe and Charles Edelman have done an excellent job of making the play more readable and restoring its poetic verse to the way it should be. As Edelman says in his introduction, "one of the aims of this edition is to show that, in the hands of a talented cast, it could prove a very humorous night's mirth in the theatre".


    FURTHER READING


    A Humorous Day's Mirth information


    • John Chamberlain, The Letters of John Chamberlain, ed. Norman Egbert McClure (American Philosophical Society, 1939), 1:32.
    • Charles Edelman, ed. An Humorous Day's Mirth (Manchester University Press, 2010)
    • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vol. 3 (Oxford University Press, 2013), entry 1073.
    • Eleanor Lowe, ed., "An Humorous Day's Mirth." Digital Renaissance Editions
    • Tom Rutter, Shakespeare and the Admiral's Men (Cambridge University Press, 2017), 130-64.

    Henslowe links



    Comments?


    Did I make a mistake? Do you have a question? Have you anything to add? Please post a comment below!

    Monday, 10 May 2021

    10 May, 1597 - A Woman Hard to Please

    Here's what the Admiral's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

    Henslowe writes: 10 | tt at womon hard to plesse | 00 | 17 

    In  modern English: 10th [May, 1597] ... total at Woman Hard to Please ... 17 shillings


    A woman looks deeply unimpressed by her
    rescuer in Paolo Uccello's St George and
    the Dragon
    (c.1470)
    Today, the Admiral's Men revived their enigmatic lost play, A Woman Hard to Please. You can read more about this play in the entry for 27 January.

    After a couple of disastrous performances, the company has waited three and a half weeks to bring back A Woman Hard to Please. This appears to have had some success in improving the box office, although it remains low. 


    Henslowe links



    Comments?


    Did I make a mistake? Do you have a question? Have you anything to add? Please post a comment below!

    Sunday, 9 May 2021

    9 April 1597 - Alexander and Lodowick

    Here's what the Admiral's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

    Henslowe writes: 9 | tt at lodwicke & elexsand ... | 00 | 14

    In modern English: 9th [May, 1597] ... received at Lodowick and Alexander ... 14 shillings

    A very generic illustration accompanying the
    printed text of the ballad of The Two Faithful
    Friends: The Pleasant History of Alexander
    and Lodowick
    Today, the Admiral's Men revived Alexander and Lodowick, a lost play about two friends who swap places. You can read more about this play in the entry for 14 January

    The company has again waited a fortnight to revive Alexander and Lodwick, having apparently demoted it from its once-a-week status. The box office has sunk again after an improvement last time.

    Henslowe links



    Comments?


    Did I make a mistake? Do you have a question? Have you anything to add? Please post a comment below!

    Friday, 7 May 2021

    7 May, 1597 - Uther Pendragon

    Here's what the Admiral's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

    Henslowe writes: 7 | tt at pendragon ... | 00 | 14

    In modern English: 7th [May, 1597] ... total at Pendragon ... 14 shillings

    Uther Pendragon and Merlin, from British
    Library manuscript Royal 20 A II
    (early 14th century)
    Today, the Admiral's Men revived Uther Pendragon, a lost play about the father of King Arthur. You can read more about this play in the entry for 29 April.

    For its third performance, the company has again rushed Uther Pendragon back to the stage. But the box office is already dismal. The company has not had a mega-hit for a long time, and it seems this play is not the one that will change things.

    What's next?


    There will be no blog entry tomorrow because 8 May was a Sunday in 1597 and the players did not perform. Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will thus return on the 9th for a week that will include a rather special new play. See you then!
     

    Henslowe links


    Comments?


    Did I make a mistake? Do you have a question? Have you anything to add? Please post a comment below!

    Thursday, 6 May 2021

    6 May, 1597 - Five Plays in One

    Here's what the Admiral's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

    Henslowe writes: 6 | tt at v playes in one | 00 | 16
    In modern English: 6th [May, 1597] ... total at Five Plays in One ... 16 shillings

    The number 5 in a
    column of figures
    in Henslowe's Diary
    Today, the Admiral's Men revived their lost piece Five Plays in One, which was probably a collection of one-act plays, perhaps linked by a narrative device; you can read more about it in the entry for 7 April

    The company has waited a week and a half to return the five playlets to the Rose. But the box office has now plummeted to half what it was. Value for money is clearly not much of an enticement.

    Henslowe links



    Comments?


    Did I make a mistake? Do you have a question? Have you anything to add? Please post a comment below!

    Wednesday, 5 May 2021

    5 May, 1597 - A French Comedy

    Here's what the Admiral's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

    Henslowe writes: 5 | tt at frenshe comodey ...  | 01 | 07

    In modern English: 5 [May, 1597] ... total at French Comedy ... £1 and 7 shillings [i.e. 27 shillings]

    Antoine Watteau, Actors of the
    Comédie-Française
    (1710s)
    Today, the Admiral's Men performed A French Comedy, a lost play. You can read more about this play in the entry for 18 April.

    The company has been staging A French Comedy more frequently than any other play. Today's box office is slightly higher than the last, and overall it has shown remarkable consistency.

    Henslowe links


    Comments?


    Did I make a mistake? Do you have a question? Have you anything to add? Please post a comment below!

    Tuesday, 4 May 2021

    4 May, 1597 - Hieronimo

    Here's what Lord Strange's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...
    Henslowe writes: 4 | tt at Jorenymo ... | 00 | 11

    In modern English: 4th [May, 1597] ... total at Hieronimo ... 11 
    shillings 

    Woodcut from the 1615 edition of The Spanish Tragedy.
    Today, the Admiral's Men revived Hieronimo, which is almost certainly an alternate title for Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy, a famous and much-loved old play about the revenge of a grieving father for his son's death. You can read more about this play in the entry for 14th March, 1592.

    The company has waited two weeks to return this classic to the stage after a much longer break beforehand, but these unpredictable revivals are making no difference to the slow but inexorable decline of the box office. 


      Henslowe links



      Comments?


      Did I make a mistake? Do you have a question? Have you anything to add? Please post a comment below!

      Monday, 3 May 2021

      3 May, 1597 - Uther Pendragon

      Here's what the Admiral's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

      Henslowe writes: 4 3 | tt at vterpendragon ... | 01 | 05

      In modern English: 3rd [May, 1597] ... total at Uther Pendragon ... £1 and 5 shillings [i.e. 25 shillings]

      Uther Pendragon and Merlin, from British
      Library manuscript Royal 20 A II
      (early 14th century)
      Today, the Admiral's Men revived Uther Pendragon, a lost play about the father of King Arthur. You can read more about this play in the entry for 29 April.

      The company has rushed back Uther Pendragon after its premiere four days ago. But the results are disappointing, as the Rose is less than half full. Dragons, wars and blazing stars do not seem to be enough to pack a theatre these days. 
       

      Henslowe links


      Comments?


      Did I make a mistake? Do you have a question? Have you anything to add? Please post a comment below!

      Sunday, 2 May 2021

      2 May, 1597 - A French Comedy

      Here's what the Admiral's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

      Henslowe writes: Maye 1597 | 2 | tt at frenshe comodey ...  | 01 | 00

      In modern English: 2 May, 1597 ... total at French Comedy ... £1 [i.e. 20 shillings]

      Antoine Watteau, Actors of the
      Comédie-Française
      (1710s)
      Today, the Admiral's Men performed A French Comedy, a lost play. You can read more about this play in the entry for 18 April.

      The Admiral's Men must be cursing their ill luck: yesterday's May Day holiday fell on a Sunday when they weren't allowed to perform. Today's staging of A French Comedy is thus just another day in May, and the box office is gradually shrinking. 


      Henslowe links


      Comments?


      Did I make a mistake? Do you have a question? Have you anything to add? Please post a comment below!