Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
Ate enters, and the dumb show this time features Perseus and Andromeda. Her father Cepheus also enters. Phineus in black armor, with an army of Ethiopians, takes away Andromeda. Ate explains that Perseus “thought he had established well his crown” after marrying Andromeda (II.i.4). Ignoring Ovid’s story of Perseus raising Medusa’s severed head and turning the jealous Phineus and the attackers into stone at the wedding feast, Ate bemoans Locrine’s “foul day, this foul accursed day, / … the beginning of his miseries” (II.i.12-13). This all seems like a stretch in terms of relevance, but “Humber and his Scythians / Approacheth nigh with all his warlike train” (II.i.14-15).
Humber, his wife or concubine Estrild, his son Hubba (yes, Hubba), and followers enter. Humber gloats:
At length the snail doth climb the highest tops,
Ascending up the stately castle walls;
At length the water with continual drops,
Doth penetrate the hardest marble stone;
At length we are arrived in Albion.
And it wasn’t easy what with Dacians and Belgians, but Humber is here to subdue “Posthumius’ son” (II.ii.10) (the grandson of Aeneas) and his plans for prosperity among these “petty kings” (II.ii.19). Hubba similarly anticipates being “Enthronized” (II.ii.24). When Humber asks Estrild how she likes Albion, she provides a pre-Gaunt paean to England:
The plains, my lord, garnished with Flora’s wealth
And overspread with parti-coloured flowers,
Do yield sweet contentation to my mind;
The airy hills enclosed with shady groves,
The groves replenished with sweet chirping birds,
The birds resounding heavenly melody,
Are equal to the groves of Thessaly,
Where Phoebus with the learned ladies nine
Delight themselves in music’s harmony;
And from the moisture of the mountain tops
The silent springs dance down with murmuring streams,
And water all the ground with crystal waves;
The gentle blasts of Eurus’ modest wind,
Moving the pittering leaves of Sylvan’s woods,
Do equal it with Tempe’s paradise;
And thus consorted all to one effect,
Do make me think these are the happy isles,
Most fortunate, if Humber may them win.
Note the “marching figure” of lines 36-38, which we find in the works of Shakespeare (e.g., The Comedy of Errors) and the poetry of the Earl of Oxford.
Hubba is sure of success and uses a metaphor of a rock standing in the waves of the ocean remaining unmoved (II.ii.54-59). Segar brings in word of Albanact and his army approaching, but Humber is confident, going out of his way in alluding to Semiramis:
Yea, though they were in number infinite,
More than the mighty Babylonian queen,
Semiramis, the ruler of the West,
Brought against the emperor of the Scythians,
Yet would we not start back one foot from them,
That they might know we are invincible.
Segar and Hubba share a mania for Classical allusion. “And, lovely Estrild, fair and gracious, / If Fortune favour me in mine attempts, / Thou shalt be queen of lovely Albion” (II.ii.101-103). They prepare for battle.
Strumbo, Trompart, and Dorothy cobble shoes and sing, “We cobblers lead a merry life, / Dan, dan, dan, dan” (II.iii.1-2). The merriment largely seems due to their drinking on the job, as the song celebrates. A Captain enters with the oddly privileged Oxford-like reflection that “The poorest state is farthest from annoy; / How merrily he sitteth on his stool” (II.iii.37-38). But he also thinks that when Strumbo finds out he’s conscripted, he’ll “sing another tune” (II.iii.40). When commanded to appear tomorrow in the town-house, Strumbo calls King Albanact “King Nactaball” (II.iii.59) and the Captain a “Capontail” (II.iii.61) and promises to give the Captain “a canvasado with a bastinado” (II.iii.62) — a beating with a stick. The Captain will not tamper with the books, so the two fight.
Thrasimachus enters, finds that the brawl concerns Strumbo’s refusal of the “press-money,” and demands that Strumbo take it or be hanged. He is to show up at the common-house tomorrow. Strumbo quickly bids a melodramatic farewell to Dorothy and tells Trompart to close up shop, “for we must to the wars” (II.iii.86-87).
“An analogous scene occurs in The Famous Victories (ll. 1208-50) when Dericke and John Cobler are forced to accept press-money” (Gooch 17). Dericke feigns injuries too, as will Strumbo later. And eventually these scenes will evolve into the similar ones in the Henry IV plays.
Albanact delivers a rallying speech to Debon, Thrasimachus, and other lords:
Now is the time to manifest your wills,
Your haughty minds and resolutions;
Now opportunity is offered
To try your courage and your earnest zeal,
Which you always protest to Albanact….
Thrasimachus reports having seen Humber and Hubba, armed in blue and on white horses, riding “to behold the pleasant flowering fields; / Hector and Troilus, Priamus’ lovely sons, / Chasing the Grecians over Simois, / Were not to be compared to these two knights” (II.iv.31-34).
Strumbo and Tropart enter, crying “Wildfire and pitch” over and over (II.iv.40ff). The “common soldiers of the Shitens, the Scythians–what do you call them?” (II.iv.61-62) have burnt down the city’s suburbs:
And that which grieves me most,
My loving wife,
O cruel strife,
The wicked flames did roast.
Albanact promises vengeance against the Scythians and remuneration for Strumbo to rebuild his house by the palace gate. Strumbo insists the rebuilding be near the tavern. “But, cursed Humber, thou shalt rue the day” (II.iv.96).
Humber instructs Hubba to take some soldiers to the grove of Caledon and assault the “Trojans” from behind when they’re weakened. Albanact enters and threatens to decapitate Humber. Strumbo has a threat too: “I’ll crack thy cockscomb, paltry Scythian” (II.v.20). Humber haughtily dismisses their “insolence” (II.v.22). The fighting begins. “In an academic tragedy these battles would have been merely reported” (Gooch 13).
Humber remarks that Albanact fights as impressively as Briareus (the hundred-armed Titan). He compares the assault to that of the sea’s waves beating against ships as if they were tennis balls (II.vi.18). Humber fears for Hubba. Albanact charges and Thrasimachus promises a crown of gold to whomever captures Humber or his son (II.vi.26-27). Hubba kills Debon; Strumbo falls down and plays dead. Albanact enters mortally wounded and delivers an apostrophe to Fortune, cursing “her fickle wheel” (II.vi.44) and hoping to “find that hateful house of hers, / I’ll pull the fickle wheel from out her hands, / And tie herself in everlasting bands” (II.vi.60-62). But he realizes, “The day is lost, the Huns are conquerors” (II.vi.64), and Humber will wear the crown. Thrasimachus tells Albanact to flee, but rather than let Humber brag “That he hath put young Albanact to flight” (II.vi.80), Albanact recites some Latin verses and kills himself with his sword.
Trompart enters, undercutting the valor of Albanact’s end and calling for his master. Strumbo keeps having to tell him that he’s dead, prompting Trompart to deliver up a woeful lamentation, until mention of “thieves” frightens Strumbo into getting up and scurrying off with Trompart.
Humber enjoys victory: “The slaughtered Trojans, squeltering in their blood, / Infect the air with their carcasses, / And are a prey for every ravenous bird” (II.vii.4-6). Estrild rejoices and prays, “Protect my love from all false treacheries” (II.vii.10). Humber rewards Hubba: “Lo, here a flow’ring garland wreathed of bay, / As a reward for thy forward mind” (II.vii.14-15) — seeming more poetic than military — but it inspires Hubba to promise further triumphs. Humber calls for all to drink “whole cups of Amazonian wine, / Sweeter than nectar or ambrosia, / And cast away the clods of cursed care, / With goblets crowned with Semeleius’ gifts” (II.vii.21-24) — Semele having been the mother of Dionysus — and to “march to Abis’ silver streams / That clearly glide along the champaign fields” (II.vii.25-26), the river that will eventually be called the Humber.