In Thomas Dekker's The Shoemaker's Holiday, Firke is normally concerned with sexual humor, but he makes an allusion to mythological bawdry that has not been noted. In a familiar myth, Vulcan is suspicious of the chastity of his wife, Venus.(n1) To test her, he places an invisible metal net in the marriage bed. When Vulcan leaves, Mars arrives, and as Mars and Venus jump into the bed they are caught motionless, in the act. Vulcan then calls his fellow gods to see the lovers, and the gods laugh at all three players in the embarrassing comic scene.
In The Shoemaker's Holiday, Firke cleverly helps Lacey, who is disguised as the shoemaker Hans, marry Julia. Firke causes their fathers, the Earl of Lincoln and the former Lord Mayor--who are against the marriage--to arrive at the wrong wedding just at the moment when their children are getting married elsewhere. When the fathers demand an explanation, he feigns innocence: "Is he married? God give him joy, I am glad of it. They have a fair day, and the sign is in a good planet, Mars in Venus" (17.113-15).(n2) This comment has puzzled editors, who conclude that Firke's understanding of planetary motion is "astrologically faulty."(n3) But while Firke is pretending to allude to the planets, he is actually throwing salt in the fathers' wounds by alluding to the story of Mars being caught in carnal embrace with Venus. The frustrated machinations of the fathers are like those of Vulcan. Firke implies that if they were to go find their children, they might see the consummation and not the wedding. One does not need to consult astrology in order to imagine Mars in Venus.
(n1.) The story is told by Ovid in Metamorphoses (4.170 ff.) and in the Ars Amatoria (2.561 ff.). One of the most entertaining settings of the story is when the blind bard Demodocus sings it to Odysseus and the Phaeacians in the Odyssey (8.266 ff.).
(n2.) Thomas Dekker, The Shoemaker's Holiday, ed. R. L. Smallwood and Stanley Wells (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1979).
(n3.) Smallwood and Wells 183 n.
By MICHAEL BAIRD SAENGER, University of Toronto