3 of Crowns - Armado
Dramatis Personae (in order of appearance) : Don Adriano De Armado; Jaquenetta; Holofernes; Moth; Sir Nathaniel.
Roman à clef : Gabriel Harvey; Thomas Nashe.
Text & Context: In a sense, the 3 of Crowns is a triumvirate constructed of the other suits - head [swords], heart [cups], heat [staffs] - and held together by hands [crowns]. The Pageant of the 9 Worthies staged within the play Love's Labours Lost, albeit aborted, boorish, and unworthy of the term honorificabilitudinitatibus, is nevertheless a labour of love. Don Armado's ardor may be languid, Holofernes' head a hollow furnace, Sir Nathaniel's soul incurable, but Shakespeare the craftsman will not join in ridiculing them as the men of Navarre court do, nor allow us to. As with the mechanicals of Midsummer Night's Dream, these performers hold up a mirror to the play in which their play exists. Neither by diminishing nor being diminished but almost by sleight of hand, the author infuses in us the audience an affection for the characters not quite inherent to them, thereby conveying the witchcraft of play.
Are there any grounds to credit Don Armado as the true father of Jaquenetta's child, or is he but chivalrously offering her the shirt from his back? Surely it's a role better suited to Costard, the empty-headed clown and bad apple whose Pompey the Big must play psychopomp to the curate's conquered Alexander the Great (and very good bowler). If he weren't so manifestly outfaced, we might ask the scholar Holofernes to speak his mind, whose biblical namesake was decapitated. In a very down to earth way, the lofty word-play of the play proper becomes tangible in the play-within-the-play. It isn't worth much, admittedly, but it's a start. One which will see remuneration - "Double six thousand, and then treble that."
Subtext: Shakespeare probably got the foot-and-a-half long word "honorificabilitudinitatibus" from Erasmus, or Rabelais, or the 12th Century Bishop of Ferrarra Uguccione, but where the bumpkin Costard gets it is anyone's guess. When (and if) he gets it off he is addressing the "young Juvenal" Moth, whose name is the near pun on the French word for "word", mot, and an acronym for Thom. The Elizabethan "tender Juvenal" was the satirist Thomas Nashe, a confrere of Edward de Vere. Thomas Nashe himself referred to Edward de Vere numerous times in print, using various epithets, including Gentle Master William, Apis Lapis and Will Monox.
Nashe, a mercurial mind, is mostly remembered today for his public feud with Gabriel Harvey. Don at Cambridge University, Harvey was a renowned pedant of antiquity with a knack for making enemies. The quarrel between Nashe and Harvey began with the Marprelate Controversy of 1589 and lasted well into the early 1590s. Edward de Vere had crossed swords with Harvey beginning in the 1570s, and would do so again during Marprelate and vicariously through the Harvey-Nashe quarrel. Don Armado is a parody of Gabriel Harvey, who originally took a paternal interest in Nashe's career. The "eel" Moth mentions is the "eel of Ely", a quote from Harvey's Pierce's Supererogation, referring to another of Harvey's enemies, the "slippery" Dr. Andrew Perne, vice-chancellor of Cambridge and dean of Ely. Harvey has been associated with "the goose", in part due to his fondness for the l'envoy, while Harvey himself more than once likened Nashe to Hercules. Nashe said of Harvey "Thrice more convenient time I will pick out to stretch him forth limb by limb on the rack, and afield as large as Achilles' race to bait him to death with darts according to the custom of baiting bulls in Spain." With this in mind, what we see in The Pageant of the 9 Worthies is Nashe as Moth as Hercules threatening Don Harvey as Don Armado as Hector to the labour of love Achilles subjected Hector to.
Speculation then, which has the scholarly characters written into the earlier court of Navarre scenes at a later date, is fairly corroborated by the early 1590s Harvey-Nashe dating of the former and the political England-France-Navarre placement of the latter.